I have only been to one Islanders game this year, mostly due to location and other factors beyond my control. But you quickly get the feeling that none of the analysts who take the time to mock the Islanders on a weekly basis (looking at you Scott Burnside, The Columbus Dispatch and plenty of others) have ever stepped inside the Coliseum to see a game themselves. Nearly everyone at the game had a jersey or some sort of Islanders gear on. These aren't fans who show up just if the Isles are winning, or because it's the thing to do. They names on the jerseys run the gauntlet from the glory days to Mike Comrie.
The crowd was quiet for most of the game as the Isles trailed 1-0, but you could tell the flood gates were just waiting to break. That they did in the third as the Islanders potted two quick goals to take the lead. The crowd went absolutely nuts and it almost felt like a weight had been lifted. Although the Isles went on to lose the game, it was easy to see why people would continue to come back to games even in the bleakest of times.
With all the talk about moving, with opposing teams fans showing up in busloads, with games hidden on MSG +2, with the general derision even some fans hold the team, it seems what is being lost in the shuffle are the fans. This is not a team that doesn't have a fan base despite winning records (eg: Atlanta Thrashers, Phoenix Coyotes) or fans who show up just because it's the thing to do (eg: New York Rangers, Toronto Mapleleafs).
Time and again when the Islanders have had events the outpouring of fan support has been overwhelming. How many other teams can have 5,000 fans show up to a hockey game in July that didn't feature a single player from the current team? Or the continually sold out draft party? Public appearances and activities by the Islanders seem to always gather a large crowd for example:
- Bowl-A-Thon with Lady Islanders [Gallery]
- 600 Kids Show up for Islanders Jamboree
- Even Joel Rechlicz has people lining up for his autograph
- Or any number of Islanders with lines of people for their autograph
Just like that game though, it's obvious Islander fans are there. But it's tough to describe to other fans how bad the Islanders have had it. Just try to imagine everything that could go wrong going wrong for nearly 20 years now. The Islanders have only won 451 games out of nearly 1200 games since Al Arbour left. That's a .377 win percentage. In comparison the Florida Panthers, who haven't made the playoffs since 99-00 and have a .378 win percentage since 00-01.
It's amazing that it's been a decade since the 01-02 playoffs, but looking at a video you can tell the place was rocking. Everyone who was there has fond memories and has reported that you could feel the Coliseum shaking. The passion for the Islanders among the fanbase can't be denied. It was an unfortunate start to the season, as injuries crippled the team, a poor economy and higher ticket prices crippled the attendance.
We aren't that far removed from a nurse yelling at the Islanders that they were losers as they did a public appearance. Or from D-List Wanna Be Celebrities making Youtube videos of them throwing their tickets out the window. Of course someone could point out that he could get the tickets replaced at will call. People on Twitter were yelling at Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson. Rob Schremp even stopped tweeting, and only started again since his move to the Thrashers.
When I originally started writing this over a month ago, I actually didn't know how to finish it. I felt like Islanders fans were just waiting for something, anything to cheer for. To only cheer for a team because they've made the playoffs or are fighting for the playoffs feels like a cop out to me. It's just that much more gratifying when you were there for the whole ride, the ups and downs. When the Islanders are winning in the playoffs, we can reminisce about those nights a 3 goal lead going into the third was the most dangerous in all of sports. As JT makes sweet passes on game winning goals in the playoffs, we can talk about his first season struggles.
The match that set off the powder keg came in the form of the Penguins game. The Islanders lowered ticket prices for the month of February, and in front of a sell out crowd they put on a show. Let's forget about the fights and the Islanders standing up for themselves. It was a 9 goal demolition of a team that is one of the best in the league. Ignore those who claim the Pens were injury ridden, even today the Pens are only 3 points behind Eastern Conference leading Flyers.
Since then it seems like the crowd is louder then ever at the Old Barn. There were even some Let's Go Islander chants at the Rock during the last game against the Devils. They've even managed to claw their way back to a winning record at home.
The strong finish means a lot heading into next season. Not just momentum for the team, but support from the fanbase. It feels like there are a lot more Islander fans opening their eyes and realizing there's a talented team with something special going on. With the team on the apparent rise and the fanbase embracing them, next year could be something special.