The New York Mets held their first Old Timers' Day since 1994 on Saturday, and it was a resounding success. Players spanning generations, from the original Mets to Division and World Series champions, appeared along with fan favorites from leaner periods in team history.
The players were older, grayer, and slower, but nevertheless, they put on their uniforms and played. The nostalgia was thick with the return of familiar names and faces providing an opportunity to reminisce about the most memorable moments in franchise history. Whichever era meant most to fans in attendance, there was something or someone for them.
Islanders should host hockey version of Old Timers' Day at UBS Arena
Heading into their 50th year, the New York Islanders could create their own special tradition by building on a tradition that they've already started. They should play a game on home ice.
Islanders co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin have emphasized the importance of alumni events in recent years and the "once an Islander, always an Islander" mantra. The recent alumni weekends have been a well-attended boisterous, and joyful celebration of Isles hockey.
A key component of that has been the welcoming spirit of ownership. The concept of an Alumni weekend came from Bryan Trottier, Pat Flatley, and Glenn Healy, and after a quick "Yes!" from Ledekcy, the first weekend was held in 2017, with the invite list extending out to players that some even die-hards may not have heard of, let alone remember. For example, at the 2018 Alumni Weekend, the list of players included Don Cutts, a goaltender drafted by the team that dressed four times as a backup but never played in a game. Once and Islanders, always an Islander indeed.
""The sincerity of the ownership group is beyond words. They've extended it to every player, not just players that had 10-year careers, they want everybody to be involved with this organization."- Mick Vukota
Last April, with a somber backdrop following the passing of Isles legends Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin, and Mike Bossy, the weekend was an opportunity for former teammates to get together, reflect and pay tribute to those that they miss. "It's still really tender and raw," Trottier said of losing his former teammates. "It's really difficult to talk about, but when we got together, we had a toast. We raised a toast to them. They're still here in spirit."
It's now time to consider another step, one that would be unique to the Islanders.
During the 2022 Alumni weekend, there was a rivalry game held at the Northwell Ice Center in East Meadow between the Islanders and New York Rangers. The game featuring Pierre Turgeon, Benoit Hogue, Mariusz Czerkawski, and others raised $25,000 for the Northwell Health Foundation. Turgeon scored in the shootout as the Islanders won 9-8. So if they can play a game there, why not play at the Islanders' brand new fourth-generation arena?
Here's the idea: Play an Alumni Classic at UBS Arena before an Islanders regular home game as the highlight of alumni weekend. It can be played amongst Islanders, against the NYR, or perhaps a collection of former NHL players. They can play 5-on-5 or even 3-on-3 (Trottier is familiar with that after his Patrick Cup 3ICE championship ). The game doesn't happen every year, perhaps every four to keep it fresh with younger former Islanders able to participate.
If baseball fans are willing to spend hours outside in the sun to watch 40, 50, and 60-year-olds, why couldn't UBS Arena, with all its amenities, be able to accommodate fans for an afternoon exhibition to be followed by an Islanders home game? I think Belmont Hall would be quite festive.
A Shawn Bates penalty shot on Kelly Hrudey? Wade Dubielewicz trying to poke-check Derek King? How about Garth Snow trying to stop Ryan Smythe? The possibilities are endless to think about. Who knows, maybe we haven't seen the last of John Tavares in an Isles uniform?