Keeping in the spirit with this season, it is (long-past) time to look back on this arena. Look back on how much it has meant to so many, but also how much it means to people right now.
For those younger than myself, like my dedicated, GameCenter Live-watching, Philly-living, card-carrying Islanders maniac of a cousin, Shawn Bates's penalty shot was the epitome of that generation's Islanders. For me, it was the Easter Epic and the 1993 playoff run to the semis. For my godfather and uncle, it was the humble beginnings and the Dynasty.
My first game was on November 19, 1988 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Funny how memories change and fade over time. I was certain my first game was an exhibition game a month later against the Soviet Red Army. That game against the Red Army was a loss and I still have the ticket stub. But, as I rummaged through my ticket stubs (I try to save all of them), I found the Pittsburgh game, a game the Islanders won, 6-3. Bryan Trottier scored. So did Pat LaFontaine and Brent Sutter. David Volek scored on losing goaltender Tom Barrasso, just like he would less than five years later. Alan Kerr and Gerald Diduck, known more for their pugilistic talents than their nose for the net, potted goals, too.
I do not remember anything specific from that game. I remembered it was loud. My father, who is not a sports fan at all, actually enjoyed himself at a sporting event. He bought me a pennant that still hangs in my office. But, the love affair began. I knew I wanted to get back to the Nassau Coliseum as soon as possible.
I was grateful to see four more games that season, thanks to my uncle's season tickets, which he had for another two seasons. There was that game against the Red Army, a 3-2 loss, the Blackhawks, in which LaFontaine scored a hat trick in a 5-3 defeat, and 3-2 wins against the Flyers and Devils. I saw Bryan Trottier. I saw Billy Smith, although he was pulled in the loss to Chicago. Thanks to Hockey-Reference.com, I know this now. But, statistics aside, that season opened my eyes to the greatest sport in the world.
My godfather had season tickets in the inaugural season and my uncle had season tickets for three years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I made it a lifetime goal of mine to afford season tickets and keep the family tradition alive. My godfather passed away. My uncle moved to Florida. In fact, most of my family has left the Island, from East Meadow and later Farmingdale. But, I keep coming back. I grew up and live now in New Jersey, but I spent a lot of time visiting family on Long Island. These games keep Long Island alive for me.
A week after the 26th anniversary of my first game, my appetite for hockey and the Islanders is as insatiable as ever. It never waned, not through the losing and the mockery, not through the 1994 playoffs, not through the unfortunate logo change, not through the crooked owners, the tenuous scoreboard, Mad Mike, the slow and steady rebuild. Sometimes, I was resigned to being an Islanders fan. Sometimes, I was hopeful. But, I love this team, the players, and our fans (and this site, too).
The two best times to be a fan of a team is when your team wins its last game of the season and when your team "arrives". It is an exhilarating feeling and you hope your team can ride the wave as long as possible. And, some of what makes me really happy about this team and the fans who get to enjoy this season is that the ticket stub from last Saturday night against the Penguins will be someone's first. The first chance a child saw real-live hockey for the first time, the bright lights, the white ice, the Orange and Blue playing in front of them. The first chance to experience how it is when we win. The chants. The rituals. The family that surrounds them.
All of what we will gain when we move to Barclays is ahead of us. But, all of what we will lose when we leave the Coliseum is all around us.
Now, to the point of my little story. In this year's Islanders Yearbook, they have a couple of pages of old ticket stubs throughout the years and I thought it was a nice touch. They have gone from a piece of paper the ticket-taker would rip with impugnity to a collector's item. But, they have always represented a memory. That is why I have a couple of shoeboxes full of them. I vaguely remember my first game, but maybe you remember your maiden voyage to the Coliseum with crystalline perfection.
Add your first Coliseum memory in the comments below:
- When was your first Islander game at the Coliseum?
- What do you remember from that game?
- Do you still have the ticket stub?
- Islanders vs. Pittsburgh - Saturday, November 19th, 1988 - 6-3 win
- All I remember from the first game was the noise