Maybe no one will read this, maybe no one cares about the reflections of one fan amongst thousands in the wake of the final home game, but I need to type this anyway. To get it out, to reflect, to ponder. That is how I've always done things.
It's taken a bit of time to collect my thoughts from last night, and with more time will come further perspective, but for now all I would like to say is this. I traveled back home to Long Island for the game. The last regular season game the Islanders will ever play at the Nassau Coliseum. I think for many people, myself included, the reality we have known for two years did not become real until we arrived in the parking lot last night - looking up at that building where we have all made so many memories, and realizing that the number of times we will walk through those doors again is now quite finitely numbered.
I was blessed growing up with three different avenues to free tickets to Islanders games, and over the years went to more games than many kids growing up on Long Island would have been able to. Though I do not have a hard count, I can safely say that I have been to well over a hundred Islanders games in my short life...maybe two hundred. I've been to every home-opener since 2008. I've been to six home playoff games for a team that has only had twelve in my time as a fan, dating back to the waning years of the twentieth century. I've been to the Coliseum at it's boisterous deafening glory, packed to capacity and rocking to its foundation, and I've been there on nights when the actual attendance probably didn't crack 10,000 people.
It is, as fans and pundits across North America have put it, a dump. But there was and is a beauty to it. Its size gives it the best sightlines of any building in the league, and its acoustics are criminally under-appreciated. No television broadcast or video recording will ever be able to replicate the roar that building had in big games like the one I saw last night. I have heard it, my brother has heard it. My father had it's echoes ringing in his ears before we were ever born. In the worst of years, when the Islanders set an NHL record for man-games lost to injury, and the team had no prospects, no future, and no hope - that roar was absent for many years.
But we remembered, we knew.
Future fans of the team will never know that legacy. The intimacy of a building you could drive a family of four to on a school night, and see with your kids on a working-class budget. The unique feel of the only arena in the National Hockey League where every person in the building was a fan in a jersey who would sell an arm and a leg to be there - not a businessman in a suit who dropped four figures on his seat. That will not be the case next year in Brooklyn, that legacy...that intimacy...will be lost forever.
For me personally, that game was particularly bittersweet. Though the Islanders play on, they will likely do so without me in attendance. I am a college senior now, I study far away from home, and exams papers and law school applications fill much of my time. Soon, graduation prep will fill even more. Unless the Islanders make a run to the Conference Finals, I knew one thing. While that game would not be the last that the Islanders played at the Coliseum, it would - in all likelihood - be the last game I ever attended there. The last time I entered the building where my childhood heroes came to life. The last time I could look around and point and say, "That's where I was when Shawn Bates scored his penalty shot goal against Toronto in 2002." "That's where I was when John Tavares scored his first NHL goal." "That's where I was....that's where I was...that's where I was..."Yes! Yes! Yes! Our team, our shared history
For fans of other teams, they are perhaps paltry memories. Moments overwhelmingly collected in regular seasons, or in the first round of postseasons. But for us...they're our memories. And though they may seem small in magnitude to some, we know. We understand. Because we were there, we lived it. And to us, for our team, with what this community has always been...they felt larger than life. But at long last, there is a team in that building capable of so much more. Maybe it will not happen this year, but it will happen very soon, and when it does it will be all the sweeter for fans like me - who have waited a lifetime for even the slightest taste of success.
That is why I think the chant of "Yes! Yes! Yes!" has struck a chord with so many fans on Long Island. You see, it is not just a slogan borrowed from a pro wrestler most hockey fans have never heard of. It is an exclamation of something that most sports fans cannot ever understand, because so few have ever lived through what this generation of Islanders fans have. Through all of those years, all of those fleeting moments of success parsed between failure, the Islanders and their fans have labeled a laughing stock. Their players and their fans alike disrespected and degraded around the National Hockey League. The threat of relocation loomed above us all for a decade, and the arrival of John Tavares was greeted by reassurances from naysayers that he would be leaving to go to a "real" team like Toronto as soon as he possible could.
But now, at last there is hope for those fans who have not seen a true playoff contender since 1993. A team that isn't just a blip on the radar, but has all the makings of a legitimate contender for years to come. And that is why with every goal, with every win, with every step this team has taken closer and closer to that new reality, all we as fans have been able to say is "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Yes, this is real! Yes, this is happening! Yes, we're still going to have a team to root for! Yes, it is finally our turn! It was the right rallying cry for this team, for this season, for this moment.The People of the Coliseum
So much of what I loved about the Coliseum was the people who inhabited it. The ability to walk around any game at any point in the season and run into no fewer than a dozen people whom I knew. And even with those whom I did not, there was a shared unity, a friendliness and hospitality offered to our fellow fans. Will that same sense of community migrate from the suburbs to Brooklyn? Will that unity that flourished in Nassau survive in the more corporate environment that the Barclays will inevitably be? I don't know...but I feel that some part of what we had there will not, cannot follow us.
The ceremony, the game. I will have more time to process them later. For today, I don't want to talk about the coach, or the players, or upcoming playoff matchups. I just want to appreciate what I had during my formative years as a hockey fan, and what losing it means. The pregame ceremony had me quite choked up, but the end of the game had a distinct sense of anticlimax. Perhaps because of the disheartening result, or because we all know there is more to come. But I left the Nassau Coliseum with very mixed emotions that day. Lingering at my seat for a few moments, with the knowledge that I would in all likelihood never be back.
Outcome aside...I couldn't have asked for a better game to go out on. The building was electric, the fans were deafening, and I shook hands with a man with four Stanley Cup Rings to his name.
Thanks for the memories, I look forward to many more in the Barclays Center.
Let's go Islanders!