I had become a different person in the 7+ years that had elapsed between the game in my last post and this one. And the Islanders had become a different team. In both cases, "different" meant "much better."
Looking back on it now, almost everyone from the team on Al Arbour's 1,500th game (11/3/2007) had moved on in some way. I had moved on as well: to a new job in a new city in a new state. And I had a new relationship in my life, the woman I plan to marry.
Through all these new things, I watched with delight as my once-lowly Islanders began to make winning the rule rather than the exception that I saw on Al Arbour night. Like most fans, I also watched with some sadness, knowing that the Coliseum would be closing and the team would move to Brooklyn. The Islanders hadn't been very competitive for the lion's share of my adult life, but I didn't care. I spent a lot of time in that building in many different stages of my life, often with my parents, uncles and friends. I was sad to see them move, but took solace that Barclays Center was closer to my new home at least.
This Saturday night Valentine's Day game against Columbus was special to me on many personal levels. It was my first (and sadly, the only) Isles game I attended that season. The Coliseum would be closing. And it was the day I brought my girlfriend home to meet my parents, the first time (and you'd better believe ONLY) time I've ever done that. The four of us went to the game through the snow after a big dinner at Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza, sharing those great seats in Section 116, a few rows up from the visitors bench. Almost as close to the action as you could get.
Oh, and this was her first Isles game, so a romantic win on Valentine's Day would have been nice.
The Columbus Blue Jackets had yet to go on their late-season, franchise-record-rewriting win streak, but were a decently competitive team at this stage nonetheless. The almost-full Coliseum had a new energy to it that I wasn't used to seeing (remember, I'd seen many more Isles losses in person than wins over the years). Loud and energetic, tonight's audience was a testament to the team's surge in competitiveness.
It was a back-and-forth, call-and-response game initially. Josh Bailey would score first (twice), then Columbus would tie it up. We'd take the lead, and then they'd keep pushing back and tying it. But in the 3rd period, our Isles pulled away and didn't look back, leading to the blowout score of 6-3 for my hockey Valentine's Day (though the game was closer than it appeared for most of it! Frans Nielsen had the tiebreaker, and Mr. T piled on with two goals to put Columbus away late.
That 3rd period, especially, was like a party with 16,000 other Islanders fans. I got to do "YES! YES! YES!" after only seeing it on TV. We got to use it many times that night. There's just something awesome about looking around at 16,000 other people doing the same fist-raise as you.
I added to the din by pounding on my chest with both fists and whooping like Tarzan on crack. The older couple next to us were frightened. The young guys in front of us kept giving me high fives. I gulped down Oyster Bay IPA as if it was water. the atmosphere was like the different between night and day. I looked across the aisle at my parents in their section, standing and applauding. I looked at the new team on the ice and the many new fans around me.
And I felt that my team was finally about to turn a corner into a new time of glory as of old, still glimpsed only dimly. I felt the coming of a new time, as the old fans must have felt before what would become the dynasty years. As Captain Tavares and the players led the fans in the chant with their sticks held high from center ice, I sprinted up the stairs, holding my index finger high above my head, soaking it all in. Al Arbour's night 8 years ago was the best and most historic game I ever witnessed live at the Coliseum, but this game was by far the most fun.
My Isles were #1. A true Valentine's Day gift if there ever was one.
Written by Matt P