Carpooling to Nassau Coliseum isn't anything new. The Old Barn on Hempstead Turnpike was built during an era in which people drove to an event, watched it and drove home. Taking a bus anywhere in Nassau County is a punchline to a inside joke between 1.3 million people.
But carpooling three guys from four different states to meet up with five other guys at an Islanders game is an entirely different (and slightly more difficult) kettle of fish. Without a moment's hesitation, I volunteered to do some driving to the Islanders-Flyers Martin Luther King Day matinee because it meant spending a day in person with people I mostly know through e-mail.
We at Lighthouse Hockey Industries are, on the surface, a disparate group. We have married guys, single guys, young guys, old(er) guys, suburban guys, city guys, guys with kids of all ages, guys with hobbies and interests and lives all their own. But, somehow, through this one thing - Islanders hockey - we all trekked way the hell out on a cold holiday to sit next to each other.
Some of us had met before in smaller groups during less successful seasons. But this was an almost complete set (sans one McNally, one Hanssen, and HockeyGoalieEh) gathering during a season in which the Coliseum was lit up like a Tesla Coil.
My own day started at 8 a.m., when I left to pick up Mark from a New Jersey train station. Of course, I got lost and was late. But we still made it to the LIRR station in Merrick to pick up Michael Willhoft and Dom, who were finishing up their own journeys from wherever. I coordinated the pick-ups to leave plenty of time for traffic and other problems. There weren't any. It was 10:30 a.m. Game time was 1 p.m.
Fortunately, this wasn't an issue. We headed right to the Marriott lobby and soon the rest of the crew rolled in one-by-one. We talked about jobs and kids and weather and hockey and the blog we spend all day every day surfing. We drank beers earlier than I ever have in my life.
At the Coliseum after the doors opened, we met our fourth and final Michael, Leboff, and drank more (tasting the very crisp Barn Rocker Ale from Oyster Bay Brewery). We saw Rick DiPietro talk with Shannon Hogan in his return to the arena as a broadcaster. Then we climbed up to our seats and sat and watched the main event.
I realize this isn't a scintillating or exciting recounting of a bawdy, boisterous adventure. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about this day other than the fact that it was actually happening. Years of e-mails and DMs had finally paid off. And when it did, it was just what it was supposed to be; friends getting together to watch a hockey game. Any outside observers would have thought we did this every week.
We sat, we drank, we made fun of the Flyers, we chanted "Yes!" We had a few special guests swing by between periods because that's what happens when word spreads that you're at a game.
Online friendships are a funny thing. Finding yourself a forum, game or a community with people with which you share an interest is extremely easy. But there's no guarantee that you and the person at the other computer are actually on the same personality wavelength. Outside of your World of Warcraft guild, that Night Elf Druid you spend so much time with might be a person you absolutely can't stand.
All of us came from different backgrounds and declared our Islanders fandom for different reasons. And yet, this game - and the time spent before and after it at Champions at the Marriott, totaling anywhere between six and 10 hours together - were confirmation that we get along pretty well beyond this blog or this team. That news was as comforting as it was uncomplicated.
In the third period, Nikolay Kulemin had already scored twice, and me, Dom, Leboff and Garik spoke openly about pulling hard for a hat trick for one oddly specific reason that only a group of plugged-in, hockey obsessed Islanders fans could have. The Islanders didn't need the goal at that point of the game, but we wanted the hat trick just so we could troll the Toronto media blowhards that helped run Kulemin and his buddy Mikhail Grabovski off the Maple Leafs and towards Long Island. A three-goal performance by a Leafs cast-off in a blowout win featured on NHL Network while the Leafs fall further and further down the standings was a tantalizing proposition we all relished.
Yes, that is very childish. But we didn't care. We also didn't get the hat trick we wanted as the Islanders finished off a 7-4 win without a third goal by Kulemin.
As we were stood and gathered our stuff, I opened the game program I received on the way in. It folded out to a poster of one Nikolay Kulemin.
Along with the poster was a Q&A with the man himself. The first question was, "Who was your favorite player growing up?" Kulemin's answer: "Mikhail Grabovski (laughs)."
We of course all found this uproariously funny. Even the players seemed like they were on our same wavelength.