PHT Time Machine: Remembering the Nassau Coliseum Santa brawl

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the Nassau Coliseum Santa brawl.

It may not have been as infamous or disastrous as the Cleveland Indians 10-cent beer night or the Chicago White Sox Disco Demolition Night, but the New York Islanders’ Santa Brawl of 2003 is definitely one of the all-time great sports promotions gone awry.

If you tuned into Wednesday’s NBCSN broadcast of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals game you may have seen it briefly recalled by Mike Milbury, the general manager of the Islanders at the time.

We are going to dig in once again here.

The scene: The Nassau Coliseum for the Dec. 23, 2003, NHL game between the visiting Philadelphia Flyers and host Islanders.

The promotion: The Islanders offered anyone that showed up to the game dressed as Santa free admission, as well as the opportunity to parade across the ice during the first intermission. Even though the Islanders had made the playoffs in consecutive seasons (following a seven-year playoff drought) it was still an organization that hadn’t won a playoff series since 1993, was struggling on the ice that year (14-16-2 record on the season), and experiencing a significant dip in attendance (down 14 percent from the previous season).

In short, they needed butts in the seats and this probably seemed like a fun holiday promotion to get a few extra people in the building.

The Islanders expected only about 250 Santas. More than 500 showed up, though some estimates had the number as high as 1,000 Santas.

As tends to happen when a bunch of people show up to the same event dressed as Santa, things quickly devolved into chaos (ever experienced Santa-con? No? Good. Keep it that way).

During the first intermission all of the fans dressed as Santa took to the ice and began their parade. That was when everything hit the fan. A number of Santas removed their jackets to reveal New York Rangers jerseys, the primary rival of the Islanders, resulting in a small, but not terribly violent, brawl on the ice.

The New York Times had an incredible play-by-play of the event.

Among the notable excerpts there, including some quotes from then-Islanders spokesperson Chris Botta…

  • “One Santa even brought a sign that read: ‘All we want for Christmas is a new GM,’ a criticism directed at Mike Milbury.”
  • “Soon, however, there was trouble. A few Santas ripped off their red jackets to reveal Rangers jerseys underneath. That was too much for the many Santas who were Islanders fans. It was as if the clock had turned back two years, and Theo Fleury, then a Ranger, was back on the Coliseum ice doing the chicken dance to mock the Islanders. Some of the Islanders Santas swarmed the Ranger Santas. A youngster in a Santa suit was seen pulling a Pavel Bure Rangers sweater off one subversive Santa.”
  • “The Islanders had budgeted three and a half minutes for the Santa parade. But the Santas were not cleared from the ice until five minutes had elapsed.”
  • “The public-address announcer had a script for the Santa parade, Botta said, but not for what happened after that. ‘He kept saying: All Santas will be escorted from the building.'”
  • “‘The crew assigned to resurface the ice was delayed, but the second period started on time,’ Botta said, who added that he hoped a fine from the league might be avoided. ‘I’m hoping we’ll get a little break,’ Botta said.”

By all accounts, they did indeed avoid a fine.

But the greatest quote from the aftermath came from then-Rangers defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, via Andrew Gross of the Home New Tribune a few days later.

 

“That was the funniest thing ever. At least Rangers fans have the guts to do that. Islanders fans wouldn’t do that.”

Kasparaitis, of course, spent the first four years of his career playing for the Islanders. No mercy in that rivalry.

The Islanders ended up beating the Flyers that night, 4-2, thanks to goals from Arron Asham (a pair of them), Dave Scatchard, and Jason Blake, as well as 32 saves from future Islanders general manager Garth Snow.

Other notable players on the ice that night were Jeremy Roenick (Flyers), Alexei Yashin (Islanders), Mark Recchi (Flyers), and a young Justin Williams (Flyers), the only player from that game that is still active in the league today.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
 Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

 Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
 The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
• The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen
• The Mighty Ducks and the most insane pregame introduction ever
When the Detroit Red Wings’ Russian Five was not celebrated
Paul Holmgren’s crazy year of Philadelphia Flyers blockbusters

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators-Avalanche postponed due to water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Friday’s game between the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche has been postponed because of a water main break that has soaked the downtown arena.

The NHL said the water main break has “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store.

The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

A makeup date for the  game will be announced later.

Also, a decision on whether to postpone the Predators’ home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be made later.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue in Nashville for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.

Carrier, Pietrangelo rally Golden Knights past Canucks 5-4

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Pietrangelo scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period and had two assists as the Vegas Golden Knights rallied past the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 on Monday night.

William Carrier scored twice and Mark Stone had a goal and an assist for the Golden Knights (15-4-1), who overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third. Reilly Smith also scored, while Jack Eichel and Alec Martinez each had two assists.

Logan Thompson made 25 saves for Vegas, which had a go-ahead goal wiped out in the third but still kept pushing.

“I don’t think that’s really how we drew it up,” Pietrangelo said. “A lot of emotions. Obviously we score and then it gets taken back. But I’ll tell you what, it’s not easy to win on the road and you’ve got to give credit to our group – we were resilient no matter what happened.”

Vancouver (6-10-3) got a goal and an assist from Andrei Kuzmenko. Bo Horvat, Luke Schenn and Elias Pettersson also scored, and Quinn Hughes had two assists.

Thatcher Demko stopped 33 shots for the Canucks, who gave up a multi-goal lead in a loss for the seventh time this season.

“Inexcusable,” defenseman Luke Schenn said.

“That’s nothing to do with systems or what the coaches are telling us. That comes down to battle and compete and, we’re getting outmuscled and outbattled in front of the net and in the blue paint,” he added. “Everyone just needs to be better in front of (Demko) there and that’s where games are won and lost.”

Vegas appeared to take the lead midway through the third period, but the goal was disallowed because of a bizarre bounce.

A clearing attempt by the Canucks hit the lens of a camera sticking through one of the media holes in the glass, knocking a piece of it onto the ice. Play continued at that end and Stone put the puck in the net. But after a video review, the goal was overturned and an official said the whistle should have been blown to stop play.

About four minutes later, Pietrangelo did give the Golden Knights a 5-4 advantage when he collected a puck from Stone and sent a backhand past Demko from the low slot at 14:14.

Vancouver scored three straight goals early in the third to go up 4-2 before Vegas roared back.

“We let them score one, kind of changed the momentum quick and then they scored another one. So I don’t know,” Pettersson said. “We just can’t let that happen. It’s been happening way too many times this season.”

Carrier made it 4-3 with his second of the night at 6:54, sending in a rebound from the top of the crease for his sixth of the season.

“Once they scored one it was like, `Uh oh, here we go again.’ And we’re back on our heels and they came at us, and then they got three,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Smith shoveled a puck into the Vancouver net at 8:57 to tie it.

“We just win some pucks below their goal line and get it to the front of the net and force them to defend an area they haven’t done as good a job as they’d probably like this year there,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We didn’t do a very good job to start a third there, and then it snowballs a little bit. You have a little life and you get a couple more pucks to the net and a second chance.”

ON A ROLL

Horvat drew the Canucks even 1:47 into the third with a wrist shot from the hash marks. Vancouver’s captain has 15 goals, second-most in the NHL behind Connor McDavid (16). … Brock Boeser‘s assist on the first goal of the game extended his point streak to seven games (two goals, six assists).

MARKING MILESTONES

Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault played his 500th regular-season NHL game. Now in his 10th season, the 31-year-old center suited up for Columbus, Tampa Bay and Florida before Vegas selected him in the 2017 expansion draft. … Vancouver defenseman Ethan Bear made his 200th regular-season appearance.

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday in the opener of a three-game homestand.

Canucks: Begin a three-game trip Wednesday at Colorado.