Zeitgeist: Islanders fans flock to annual Drift Party

Welp. See you next year. - Mike Stobe

Despite being cancelled last season, the yearly event in which Islanders fans say goodbye to their favorite team and move on with their lives is bigger and more popular than ever.

It's become a tradition among friends and family, and this year's might be the largest Long Island has ever seen.

The New York Islanders' annual Drift Party, the team-sponsored festival that gives fans a chance to walk away from their team for another year, was attended by thousands Monday. The event, generally held in November of a current season, has been a highly anticipated gathering for years and the attendance at this edition was expected to be the highest ever.

"I really look forward to The Drift every year," said 25-year-old fan Kyle Coke. "It's great to get together, throw up your hands and say, 'the hell with it' and go on to do things instead of watching the Islanders.

"And the team does a great job at hosting it."

The Drift Party allows fans the opportunity to take one last look at the Islanders before forgetting all about them for the rest of the season. Activities include tours of the team's injury list, meet-and-greets with other fed-up fans, packing away memorabilia into attics and basements, and taking photos in Islanders gear to mark the day when they said goodbye.

"I stopped wearing my Islanders cap to work and took my Islander-a-Day calendar off my desk," fan Geoff Karp said. "My wife got me a wall calender with dogs in cars and I decided to grow my hair long, so I'm good to go."

A number of local businesses were also on hand and offered fans specials and incentives for attending the Drift Party.

"The energy from last season is pretty much gone now and being back at the Drift Party is a really comfortable feeling. It's like a family reunion." - drifting Islanders fan Donald Levi

"We stopped ordering Islanders merchandise weeks ago in anticipation," said Doug Lauren, who runs Doug's Dugout in the Source Mall in Westbury. "Fans at the Drift Party will get 10 percent off all Yankees or Mets items when they come in. And we'll give our leftover Islanders stuff to the Salvation Army."

Last year's Drift Party was postponed following the Islanders' very successful second half of the season and return to the playoffs after a five-year absence.

But at 8-13-3 and in last place in the Metropolitan Division with three quarters of the season to go, Monday was the perfect time for another get-together.

"After the playoffs, I thought they wouldn't have a Drift Party this year," said Donald Levi of Massapequa."But when they didn't get a new goalie, traded for Cal Clutterbuck and didn't get anyone good on defense over the summer, I started getting excited to come again.

"The energy from last season is pretty much gone now and being back at the Drift is a really comfortable feeling. It's like a family reunion."

The Islanders have lost three in a row, including eight straight road games, and are 27th in the NHL in goals against per game. Top defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky has been missing for a month with a concussion, and a number of other players are battling injuries.

Between the Islanders lack of off-season upgrades, anemic record, demoralizing losses, questionable trades and continued concerns about their payroll and direction, every fan in attendance agreed that this year's Drift Party was a great success and, in many ways, a relief.

"This is absolutely the best time to forget about these guys," Jeff Karp, a 16-year-old fan experiencing his first Drift party said. "I'll probably check in at the end of the season to see where they end up, but other than that, I think I'm ready to pay no more attention."

Following the party, many fans choose to ignore hockey altogether, while some drift towards other NHL teams.

"They traded Matt Moulson, Nino Niederreiter is on the first line in Minnesota, and Brad Boyes is in Florida now. I think," said Muriel Zimmermann, an original season ticket holder from 1972. "I'm gonna cheer for them instead."

___

This is a satire. Until the team accomplishes enough sustained winning and gives fans reasons to trust them though the slumps and gambles, the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly Drift Parties will continue.

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