UNIONDALE, NY – It’s a little after 5 p.m. ET on June 17 and the sun is shining on Long Island. The puck for Game 3 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals is over three hours away, but that hasn’t stopped Islanders loyal to their own pre-game rituals in the parking lot of the Nassau Coliseum. Some set up tents while others light the gates. Music fills the air from the car radios and the nearby band play WAR’s “Low Rider” as adult drinks are opened.
“This is the most incredible start we could have hoped for, playing Stanley Cup hockey in June,” said Alex Klein, sporting an Islanders tank top in front of his Jets-turned-Islanders-decorated minibus. . “There is nothing better than this.”
Of course, a spot in the Stanley Cup final and a chance at the franchise’s fifth championship would be better. It’s been 38 years since the boys sporting orange, white and blue sipped the biggest trophy in the sport. It happened on the same ice as the team raised their stick to greet their fans after a last second save by Ryan Pulock in Game 4 on Saturday and a spectacular 3-2 win in Game 6 on Wednesday which brought forced a the winner takes it all.
“This building that worked overtime smelled of cigarettes, and now it smells of beer,” winger Anthony Beauvillier said after his overtime winner which was celebrated with beer cans (some empty, others not) thrown on the ice. “This place was going crazy.”
Now comes the wait (which, as the great Tom Petty said, is the hardest part): Friday’s Game 7 result will determine whether Wednesday’s game was, in fact, the last in this building. – officially, and finally.
The building nicknamed “Fort Never Lose” should in fact have been called “Fort Never Close”. He always seems to have one last dance. In 2015, what is currently the second oldest building in the NHL, closed its doors after the Islanders won in another Game 6 before the Isles fell in Game 7 against the Capitals. And, as we now know, the subsequent move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn was temporary, and a back-and-forth between the two arenas began until the team decided the full 2020-21 roster would stand. at the Old Barn.
But in 2021, the doors will close for good at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
“It’s bittersweet to see them go. I’m very happy they have a new home but I’m not happy to be leaving here,” said Victoria Dee, member of the Blue and Orange Army, the group of franchise supporters perched in what was Section 329 before the renovation between 2015-17 and is now (technically) 229.
From next season, the team will be donning them at UBS Arena in Belmont Park. While the new ice rink has been designed to mimic the atmosphere of the Colosseum – the low ceiling that makes the barn special is raised only three feet higher in the new building – there is something about the old ice rinks of hockey that new digs just can’t replicate.
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“Very unique atmosphere. The passion of the fans. How noisy it gets. The sight lines of the old barn. It’s a great place to watch a hockey game, ”said Michael Blizzard, who was in Game 3 with his brother-in-law. Jonathan and Thomas Lovaglio de Law.
If you’ve never been to the Hempstead Turnpike building, the now aluminum finned building, this atmosphere has long been admired by NHL players and fans.
“For me it’s the loudest building I’ve ever played in,” said Shawn Bates after raising the crowd outside the arena. Maple leaves. “It’s effective for the team. Once the fans support the team, it kind of motivates them to improve and it works.”
It worked in Game 4 (also a 3-2 win for New York) and, in particular, in Game 6 as the team were down 2-0 and started to work their way through the middle of the third period. If you looked around at the time, it seemed like no soul – 13,917 devotees – was sitting the rest of the way. The songs began to develop and grow – “Let’s Go Islanders,” they shouted – as moms, dads and kids of all ages pushed their teams to their limits. Their hope for another day, that deafening roar, enveloped everyone in the building.
“Incredibly loud. We bring the noise to every game. It’s electric. The building is actually vibrating and shaking,” said Craig Richardson after showing off two Islanders tattoos, one being the iconic circular logo.
There have been lean years in this building and for its followers, but also huge moments.
After entering the NHL in 1972, in the club’s eighth year of existence, the Islanders won the Stanley Cup with an overtime goal from Bob Nystrom.
“I had taken a scalpel out of the coach’s bedroom and sat in the bathroom and actually cut a notch in my stick meaning I was going to score the goal,” Nystrom recalls, whose number 23 hangs from the rafters, on the phone with Sporting News. “Indeed, I had the chance to score the goal after a great play from Lorne Henning and also from John Tonelli.”
He later added, “We cried, we just congratulated each other in the corner. It was just a magical moment. It was something none of us will ever forget.”
Neither do fans, including NHL Network’s EJ Hradek, who grew up in Westchester County cheering on Long Island guys and was in the building that day.
“When they scored the place erupted and I just remembered yelling ‘let’s go!’ And go crazy like you do when a team wins a championship, ”he said. Hradek was in the 300 behind this fateful net and has only one regret: “It was such a crazy environment, the fans jumped over the glass… and I was a little angry with myself, I should have run and jump over it.
“[But] so I remember the Cup coming out of the tunnel and there wasn’t a lot of pomp and circumstance, it came out and it was almost like it was levitating. “
That 1980 win was the first of four straight wins for Nystrom and the Islanders – which Nystrom enjoyed because he never touched the Cup on the ice that day on May 24 – and only the 1982 Cup did. been won on the road. Nystrom mentioned that the decisive victory in Vancouver just wasn’t the same without the fans.
“I think everyone is like family when you’re in the building,” Seth Godnick said. “I also don’t think you get the corporate vibe you get in a lot of these other cities. They’re normal, real blue-collar workers just going to a hockey game.”
While these are the only years that have ended drinking the holy grail of trophies, the memories in the building overflow. There were Bossy’s 50 goals in 50 games in 1981; Bryan Trottier scored eight points (five goals and three assists) against the Rangers in 1978; The unforgettable 1500th Al Arbor game has been trained; John Tavares ‘winning goal in 2013 that secured the Isles’ first playoff victory at home in 11 seasons and his memorable return as a member of the Maple Leafs in 2019.
And now there’s that 2021 Stanley Cup playoff run.
“The building is quite difficult to kill,” Hradek told Sporting News. “It has a lot of character and there are a lot of memories and a lot of history. Ultimately it will be different, even if they go into a nice new facility, it won’t be the same in terms of, let’s say, the comfort of the fans and the players because it’s an old-fashioned building. “
If this is really the case for the Coli, it was quite a farewell for a building that is just as blue collar as the fans who go there. (Damn, even the ice team wears overalls and peacekeepers.) Last year was not easy for anyone, but the heroism of Game 4 and the overtime victory of Game 6 helped enrich the memory of Islanders fans.
“It’s kind of, basically, in the heart of Long Island so that’s why it’s our place, it’s our barn.” Said Charley Mcanulla, who wore a Steve Thomas jersey from the 1992 season. -93, a blue and orange. wig and a beard dyed blue and orange, when asked what makes the Colosseum special.
Yes, the fans. The building is brick and mortar, an inanimate object. It may be closing its doors to hockey, but it’s just a building. It’s the fans who really make it special. And, one summer evening in Long Island, they chanted “Var-ly” for Semyon Varlamov and sang “Pag-water, Pag-water, Pag-water” for Jean-Gabriel. They serenaded oldest islander Josh Bailey by twisting DJ Otzi’s lyrics to “Hey Baby” and asking if he would score a goal. And there were also “warm greetings” for the visitors.
They stood up and cheered long after beer cans littered the ice and players entered the locker room on their way to Tampa Bay. They stayed and soaked in the friendly confines once more, because after 49 years, if that was it, it was quite a memory.
After all, as they all sang with Billy Joel from Long Island less than an hour before:
“Well, we’re all in the mood for a tune, and you made us feel good.”