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Islanders vs. Capitals Playoffs: Loud Nassau Coliseum Crowd at Game 3 Was Loud

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If you don’t think sound waves are real, forceful, honest-to-Frans physical things, then you’ve never had your eardrums ruptured at the Coliseum.

Any game that ends in a group-hug is a good game
Any game that ends in a group-hug is a good game
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I'll get to the noise.

But first, some science. Or maybe math? (Physics, probably?) Whatever. Science. This isn't a classroom setting, so it really doesn't matter what we call it. Anyway: let's talk decibels.

The decibel (dB) is defined as the unit that measures the intensity of a sound by comparing that sound with a given level on a logarithmic scale; it's commonly used in acoustics as a measure of sound pressure level. Here's the field version of the unit definition, because sound pressure is a field quantity (duh), and that's totally something you knew before you came to this page to read about what you thought would be hockey:

LƤ = 20 log10 ( Ƥrms / Ƥref ) dB, where Ƥref is the standard reference sound pressure of 20 micropascals in air or 1 micropascal in water

I don't know what any of those numbers/letters/words mean, but the whole thing is pretty official-looking and effects a level of scholarliness not often found in my posts. Which, to be honest, is the main reason it's there.

You could just feel—after every hit—the crowd just roaring -Boychuk

It's also there to introduce the concept of how sound is measured, which is an important thing to consider when you're sitting with the assembled media at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum during the postseason, perched above 16,170 hockey fans, most whom weren't waiting until warmups ended before trying to destroy what little voice they had left.

This is known as a typical New York Islanders home playoff game. There's generally a high level of sound pressure in the building at these things, which means there are a lot of decibels.

Welcome to Long Island, indeed.

Crank the volume up to 11. Stencil a '12' on the amp. Crank it up to 12. Now you're in the neighborhood.

Not to hyperbolize, but Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and the Islanders—a 2-1 Isles overtime victory thanks to John Tavares's goal at 0:15 of the extra period—might have earned its very own level on the decibel scale, well above the "Threshold of pain (~130dB)" category, and on par with the "Jet engine at 30m (~150dB)" category on most sample charts.

(Disclaimer: I'm not a scientist. Just a guy whose ears are still ringing from Sunday's game.)

The theoretical limit for an undistorted sound wave at one (1) atmospheric pressure is approximately 194dB, give or take, so there's an accepted limit to how loud a sound can physically be. (Thanks, Google!) But, if there are any physicists roaming the comments section, they might take issue with that, and point out that "actually, a distorted sound wave (shock wave) can have a sound pressure of >101,325Pa, which translates to a decibel level of >194dB. Maybe read a textbook once in your life LOLZ."

To which I'd reply: please don't tell the crowd at the Coliseum that. They don't need another reason to be loud; they have enough reasons already. Testing the sound barrier doesn't need to be one of them.

Not that the Islanders players would mind if Tuesday's Game 4 crowd tried to outdo the raw amount of sound that was generated on Sunday. Soaking in the noise when the fans are in full voice and rocking was the common theme among members of the home team in the dressing room after Game 3.

"It was awesome, it was extremely loud. In the first period, you could just feel—after every hit—the crowd just roaring," said Johnny Boychuk. "This is probably the loudest building I've ever played in."

The thing about how sound travels at the Coliseum is that it's like the ball from that Atari arcade game, Pong: it goes from the crowd, to the ceiling, right back to the crowd, and back to the ceiling again and again and again until you're not sure whether you're still cheering right this second or if that's just your shout from eight minutes ago being broadcast back to you courtesy of the barn's wonderfully 1972-era acoustics.

The place is woefully outdated and mostly concrete, which means a) the seats aren't the most comfortable (or, at times, intact), and b) there's really nothing to absorb sound waves other than the fans themselves. And since the fans are the ones making all the noise, their noise-cancelling benefit is, um, not a thing.

To the assembled media, sitting below what could be described as the drop ceiling from your parents' basement if it were built on an industrial scale and were somehow much lower-slung, the crowd noise reverberates among the catwalks and Isles banners with a force that effectively renders talking to your seatmates pointless.

They can't hear you anyway.

Stepping off the shuttle launchpad, slowly regaining your auditory faculties

It wasn't that the crowd was roaring for the full 60-plus minutes of game time.

That doesn't happen, because that's impossible no matter who you are and where you're watching a game. The full effect of the Coliseum crowd was heard, rather, in how forcefully the fans voiced their approvals at every big hit, each timely save, and both of the Islanders' goals (especially Tavares's OT winner).

Still, the lulls in the crowd noise weren't so much "lulls" as they were reminders of how quickly and effectively the fans in blue and orange would punish the structure of your inner ear if and when something good happened for the Isles.

"I didn't think it could be any louder than when we played Pittsburgh [in the 2013 playoffs], but it was," Jack Capuano told the media after the game, while sitting in an improvised pressroom set up in a corner of the Coliseum's cavernous exhibition hall. "There was a lot of energy in the building."

The difference in venue for the postgame press conference—"Coliseum seating area full of rabid fans" vs. "cordoned-off section of exhibition hall with various media types"—provided stark relief for just how loud the Coliseum was after the final goal horn: here was Capuano, his voice amplified through two big speakers so reporters at the back of the area could hear him, asking more than once that a question be repeated more loudly. At one point, wireless microphones were distributed to the reporters so their questions would carry to the podium.

I'm not saying everyone in the room was having trouble hearing because they'd been subjected to (at times) jet turbine-level noise for the preceding few hours. I'm not not saying that, either.

In reality, the need for microphones was because the exhibition hall is massive, and because what essentially amounted to an open-air setting for a press conference wasn't the most acoustically efficient place for a question-and-answer session. But it's still fun to think about the crowd having one final impact on the game, even if that impact came after the score went final.

And to be fair: the echoes of celebratory chants from fans on the concourse were heard in the exhibition hall, because noise travels well at the Old Barn.

There are a lot of decibels.