Sometimes the Dark Side creates something good. Mostly limited to Norse Americans who switch sides in the eternal conflict.
Where did it all begin? It's a simple question with a multitude of answers for Islander fans. During the team's 40th Anniversary, it's time to do some exploration into that simple premise. So beginning on U.S. Thanksgiving, we're going to start looking into how some of the writers at LHH became Islander fans themselves. Then we'll continue the trip down memory lane, looking back at first games, favorite moments, and so on.
It is amazing when you think of the team being 40 years old this year. It means that some people who were in their 20s when the team came to town are now watching the games with their grandkids. Being 40 means that there are probably a countless amount of ways that a person has become a fan. Being 40 also makes the Islanders the youngest team of the 4 major sports in NYC, and yet it seems like they have one of the richest histories.
Today we start with David Hanssen's story. For those of you who don't know Dave, he was brought on board at the same time as me. Since then he has moved to Minnesota and is on his way to become a protestant preacher. His way with words and insightful comments are definitely missed around here.
After the jump, Dave's story. In this or any that follow, by all means share yours.The year is 1995. It's April. I'm at home in Pleasantville, New York, celebrating my 12th birthday with my mother and father. My mother hands me a box, it's my "big" present. I had asked for a Rangers jersey for my birthday, but I did not get a Rangers jersey. What I got instead was the initiation into the long suffering fandom that is being an Islanders fan. And it was all because of a simple mistake.
For those of you out there who are wondering, yes, I was at one point a Rangers fan. Honestly, I still have a lot of respect for the Rangers and don't hate them nearly as much as a vast majority of Isles fans do. In terms of teams I just can't stand, they're easily behind the Maple Leafs (There is so much residual hate from 2002 that will never go away until someone kneecaps Darcy Tucker), Flyers, Pens, Devils and Red Wings. If you think less of me because of that, I could care less.
This story begins, as with most sports fans stories do, with my Pop. My Pop is the son of Norwegian immigrants, born in Brooklyn and raised in Thornwood and Pleasantville, New York. He is an avid Rangers fan. Growing up I heard stories of the Saturday and Sunday afternoon matinees at the old Madison Square Garden where he would get cheap seats and watch Eddie Giacomin (My Pop's all time favorite Ranger) in goal. My favorite story of his was the game he attended during the 65-66 season, Reggie Flemming had just been acquired from the Bruins, who coincidentally, the Rangers were playing that night. Flemming collected 3 fighting majors and put one of his ex-teammates through one of the glass boards.
I am the youngest of three and the only boy. So when I came along, all my Pop's love for hockey he started passing to me. I remember getting a pack of hockey cards (the Score 91 series I believe) as incentive to stay in Sunday School one morning, getting a Mark Messier card in the pack and my Pop teaching me how to say the name correctly. And here I am now in school to become a minister! During the 93-94 season, yes, I was excited and happy when the Rangers won the cup. The summer, my father took me to an event for Ice Hockey in Harlem that he had an invitation to through his business connections. I got to meet many of the 94 Rangers and several ex-Rangers. Jeff Beukeboom and Jon Vanbeisbrouck are the only two I can actually remember meeting, but somewhere in my parents house is a shirt where I have at least a dozen autographs from that team.
The following spring, I asked for a Rangers jersey for my birthday. In my hometown it was a rite of passage. It was my mom's task to get my presents. She can't tell a hockey puck from a basketball. So when I opened my present, instead of the diagonal R-A-N-G-E-R-S I was greeted with the newly unveiled Gorton's fisherman.
I was not happy.
I remember exclaiming to my mom "You got the wrong one!" She didn't understand what she had done to screw up. As much as I was disappointed, I was just happy to have a hockey jersey. So I began to wear it even if it was an Isles jersey, as hideous as it was. Then something happened...
The Islanders jersey was something different. It was something that separated me from everyone else. I kind of liked it for that. This was the beginning of the end for the Isles too, the start of the Milbury era. And I was jumping on board! And the Rangers had just won the cup not too long ago! But there I was, cheering for Ziggy Stardust and Steve Webb. I remember dreading having to go to school the day after Palffy kissed Travis Green.
There must be some inner sadist in me, sticking with the Islanders when no one around me would have blamed me for jumping ship. I was the only Isle fan in my high school, the only one I knew for the longest time. I remained loyal.
In the fall of 2001, I started my undergraduate studies at SUNY Albany. My first year an a half there was a difficult time in my life. I was struggling with classes, being away from home for the first time, all the life adjustments that come with growing up. I was in a horrible living situation with one roommate being a ‘roid rager and the other two being drug dealers. Life sucked.
Hockey was my outlet. This was the Islanders revival under the new money infused by Charles Wang (Who my Pop has some unpleasant things to say about regarding his business dealings with CA) and the on ice product lead by Mike Peca, Alexei Yashin and the highly underrated Adrian Aucoin. Seriously, when people discuss the revival a decade ago, Oakie gets shorthanded. The dude played almost 40 minutes a night!
It wasn't just the Islander though. It was also my Pop. He would come pick me up and we would go to AHL games, whether they were River Rats, Hartford Wolfpack, Providence Bruins, Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It was his way of supporting me. It was my way to escape all the crap I was going through.
The Islanders sure helped too. That season was amazing. Chris Osgood's red pads and mask right after he was claimed on waivers from the Wings. Shawn Bates and Mike Peca scoring shorthanded goal after shorthanded goal. Kip Miller's improbable 24 points after being plucked out of Grand Rapids. Steve Webb tormenting Theo Fleury. Alexei Yashin getting involved in a Pier Sixer against the Rangers, fighting and not getting ejected even though he didn't have his jersey strapped down. So many fond memories...
That screeched to a halt with one play.
Darcy fucking Tucker.
I am always kind of left wondering "what could have been?" though. What if my mom had got that Rangers jersey? What if I didn't stick with the Isles after receiving that jersey? Would I be writing this over at Blue Shirt Banter?
Those don't matter though. I love the Isles, even if they're shitty and rebuilding. I bleed blue and orange. Andy Mac is my homeboy. I will forever be optimistic about prospects, especially the Scandinavian ones (Although I'm now ready to admit I was totally wrong on Jesse Joensuu). And I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who has fond memories of the Gorton's jersey. I even own an authentic one I picked up about ten years ago.
I love the Isles, I love this community, and I love hockey.
But now that you've read through the whole story, the short answer at why I'm an Isles fan?
Blame my mom.