With the recent news of the upcoming referendum, the Gloriously Unsponsored Coliseum inches closer to its end. While there will be those happy to see it go, and to see a new Areener rise up from the ashes, an arena doesn't last 40 years without building up some memories. Even more so when that arena is home of the last great sports dynasty.
It's where Tonelli never gave up, a crease that Billy Smith made his home for 20 years, a row of banners that are looked on jealously by 90% of the North American franchises out there, and an arena where for three generations parents have brought their kids to their first hockey game.
Nothing in life is butterflies and sugar all the time though. As much as there's been joy in the arena there's been sadness and struggles. As a community we've been on those ups and downs the last two years. From Al Arbour being run out of town, to watching an aged John Vanbiesbrouck desperately try to keep an underage Isles team in games, and everything in between. There's a lot of memories, good and bad, that are tied into the Coliseum. Talking to Mets fans, as bad as Shea was considered, there's still a lot of good memories tied into that place, memories missed now that they play in Citi Field.
So I figured as the end (hopefully) draws near we can reminisce about our favorite Coliseum memories. I asked the other guys for their thoughts too. Dominik of course had the best memories, while Mike turned up an interesting nugget in his reminiscing. Please leave your favorite memories in comments.
My favorite memory was my first trip to the Coliseum. I grew up on Staten Island, and my dad hated sports and hated to drive. So it isn't surprising then that despite being a huge Islanders fan, most of my first games involved the Devils at Brendan Byrne Arena. When I found out about the Islanders draft party, it was perfect. It was on a weekend, and my dad wouldn't mind taking me out there since it was free. It was Milbury's first draft and there was a lot of hope at the time. We eventually drafted JP Dumont to a cheer.
But what I will always remember (and some of you have heard before) is that Travis Green had shown up. He wasn't under contract at the time, so this drunken maniac behind me decided to start screaming at him to sign a contract already. It was definitely an interesting way to see the Coliseum for the first time.
I was also there the night that they retired Clark Gillies' number. It was actually this guy doing something nice, because I had bet him 50 bucks that the Islanders would beat the Rangers in '94. (So yes, I've just about always been an insane fan.) The place was packed, and the way the Coliseum rocked is like no other arena I've ever been in. They played the Capitals that night, and it was no given that the Isles would win. Jim Carey was coming off his Vezina winning year. Dale Hunter was still being booed. But with the place rocking like it was, you just knew they weren't going to lose. They won 2-0 and it was such a great feeling, and still puts a smile on my face today even knowing how long it would be before another great season.
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Mike mentioned that his two main memories were seeing a Harlem Globetrotters game at the Coliseum and a MISL New York Arrows game against the Pittsburgh Spirit. Quite amusingly though he discovered that in 1983-1984 the Pittsburgh Spirit averaged 8,000 people a game at the old Igloo. During the same season the Penguins averaged only 6,000 people a game while the team tanked for Mario.
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Finally, Dom's favorite memories:
I've watched games in Nassau Coliseum on TV all my life. Despite being out of town, the Islanders were decently televised on national and playoff games in the '80s. Thinking about my history of Isles fandom, there are milestones in my head like the final Cup win (I try to forget the Cup loss), Easter 1987, and beyond. ESPN was my conduit to every hair-raising game in 1993. But it wasn't until 2002, after the wilderness walk that was that Maloney-Milbury playoff drought, that I fully appreciated what we'd been missing in the intervening years. Where I understood how lucky Isles fans were in the glory days.
I was not there for the Shawn Bates penalty shot; it only felt like I was, sitting on my couch living and dying with a team none of my friends cared about. The Islanders were alive again and the Internet let me keep up with Isles action and news like never before. I'd routinely curse Neil Smith -- who was doing color on ESPN2 at the time -- throughout those playoffs and hated that he was the voice for that pivotal game. I'd been to old NHL barns, but never to the Coliseum. Yet somehow the crowd and atmosphere in that game translated over the airwaves, and I felt such joy that the Coliseum was seeing something special again. That it was rocking like only the NHL's ever-dwindling number of barns could. (There was no Maple Leaf Gardens in that series, which is either a tragedy or a proper reflection of that soul-less Leafs team.) That Bates moment is why in some respects I'm happy the Coliseum has survived to near the end of its lease. It's like the old ballparks that can never be replicated, no matter how much faux brick you toss in.
So I write about this team from afar. I'm a carpetbagger, an outsider who's adopted the Isles as if they're in my backyard. I think maybe my lack of true Coliseum experience is what makes me relish so much when LHH "old timers" share their memories.
See, it wasn't until 2009 that I got to see the Islanders play at the Coliseum in person. The first game of the 2009-10 season. Home opener, with the New Hope vs. Sidney Crosby, the kid who saved the Penguins. Such a mix of emotions I brought into that trip and that game, it was overwhelming. My seats were in the last row on the ends, where you can choose to clap or simply slam your hand against the ceiling. (I had similar seats in St. Louis for years, and my buddies and I kept them despite offers to move down because "we can stand and do WTH we want there.")
Honestly, I was just thrilled to be at the Coliseum for a sold out game and hear the place truly sound like one of the NHL's old barns. Better yet, the Isles wore their new retro thirds in that beautiful shade of blue and orange, so all felt right to me. The rest was gravy. But John Tavares getting his first assist and then, later, scoring his first NHL goal on the backhand at the end where I was sitting? Fantastic. An eruption from the Isles on the ice, on the bench, and all the fans in the crowd. The place exploded. If this is what it felt like after goal #2 of the young season, I could only imagine what the place felt like when the Cup was on the line.
Maybe one day we get a small taste of that before it's too late.
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So what are some of your favorite memories of the Coliseum?