The New York Islanders’ feel-good (/feel-bad-about-your-predictions) story presented a new wrinkle on Friday.
The Islanders answered a “What if?” question few uttered heading into 2018-19: where are the Isles going to play their home games for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Assuming, of course, that they complete this run and clinch a spot.
As you likely know, the Islanders have played some of their home games at Long Island’s classic, creaky Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, while playing the rest at the shiny, not-especially-hockey-friendly Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Considering the Islanders’ comfortable placement as a playoff team (and frontrunner to win the Metropolitan Division), that decision was needed. Cynics probably expected the answer to be “all Brooklyn,” but that’s not how it is ending up. Instead, the team announced that if the Isles make the playoffs as expected:
All first-round home games would take place at Nassau Coliseum.
Any home games from the second round and on will be at Barclays Center.
That’s … odd, but kind of cool, right? Sort of like this Islanders run to begin with.
The actual statement is fascinating, particularly the phrase “reflecting that the Nassau Coliseum does not qualify as an NHL major league facility.” That’s only slightly better than asking a crush out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, having them accept, and then hearing them say “Who needs a romantic Valentine’s Day, when you can have dinner with such a nice friend!”
Following consultation with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, the New York Islanders and BSE Global have announced that should the Islanders qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, any first round home playoff games will take place at NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Should the team qualify for further rounds of the playoffs, any home Islanders games will take place at Barclays Center, reflecting that the Nassau Coliseum does not qualify as an NHL major league facility.
This agreement has been approved by the NHL, with the understanding that the scheduling of games will be in accordance with usual League practices.
Maybe that dig stings a bit, but … hey, more playoff games at Nassau. Who would have thought this would have happened just a few years ago? This Islanders team really is beating all of the odds.
EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — This season has played out beyond the dreams of New York Islanders fans through 49 games. The team sits in first place seven months to the day that John Tavares announced he would be leaving to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they’ve added their old home, Nassau Coliseum, to 21 dates on the schedule, which has resulted in plenty of nostalgia and wins.
As the Islanders prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night on Long Island, they look to build off their 5-1-1 record at the renovated Coliseum, the place they left for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center after the 2014-15 season.
The atmosphere that made the Coliseum a beloved place to play for the franchise from 1972-2005 didn’t miss a beat when they played their first game of the season there in December, a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“The Coliseum is a big part of the identity of this team,” said forward Matt Martin. “A lot of history there. You can feel it when you’re in there.”
As the Islanders await the ceremony where they’ll break ground on a new rink near Belmont race track which is expected to be ready for the 2021-22 season, they’ll play 14 of their final 17 home games this season at the Coliseum. Where will they play should the Stanley Cup Playoffs become a reality in the spring? That’s still up in the air, but no one is getting ahead of themselves yet.
“I’d like to get in it before I worry about that,” said general manager Lou Lamoriello. “That’s not on anybody’s mind right now. That’ll come at the appropriate time. The NHL will be involved in that.”
The switch to the Coliseum has made life for players much easier. Their practice facility is less than a mile away and with most of the players living on Long Island, their gameday commute is cut down dramatically, allowing them extra time with their families or an extended pre-game nap.
The atmosphere is the trait of the Coliseum that is known league-wide. With a capacity of 13,917, which is cut down from its original 16,297 before the renovation, the volume is noticeable, and according to Martin, who played the first six seasons of his NHL career in the building, it still exists.
“It feels similar. That building’s always been really loud,” he said. “I don’t think you really notice that there’s less seats. It’s got a little bit of a makeover on it. It always felt like the fans were right on top of you. That’s the great thing about old buildings.
“Everything’s being built bigger and wide and deeper and more expensive and for multi-purpose. To me, those old buildings, just that on-top-of-you feeling, you’ve got people right in your face all game and you hear the crowd and you feed off the crowd. It’s just a great environment for us to play.”
Barry Trotz knows all about the fans being on top of the opposition. The Islanders head coach was with the Washington Capitals when the two teams met in the first-round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Capitals would win the series in seven games, closing the door on the Coliseum the first time around.
He’s happy to be on the other side of things this time around.
“You have a great tradition there. The fans are on top of you,” he said. “Trust me, you can hear them. Theycan hit you with the odd beer or two as you’re going off, get in your face, all those things. It’s a quaint building in a sense that it’s not overly big. The new buildings everybody’s so far away. They don’t feel like they’re on top of you. Some of the smaller buildings, like Winnipeg’s building, is designed where they’re on top of you a little bit.
“Trust me, you feel it. You feel the energy from the other team and we get energy off our crowd. It’s a fun place to play.”
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders knew what to expect. As the players and staff drove home from Saturday morning’s skate at their practice facility not far from Nassau Coliseum, they saw fans already in the arena parking lot tailgating, preparing for the team’s return to the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike.
When the players hit the ice for warmups, the noise inside the building rose in a mostly-packed arena with Let’s Go Islanders chants belted out like the old days.
When Casey Cizikas broke a 2-2 tie 7:09 into the third period, completely erasing a 2-0 lead the Columbus Blue Jackets once had, the deafening roar of the Coliseum crowd evoked memories of the team’s 43-year run before moving to Barclays Center in 2015.
“It’s fun playing hockey when you go out there like that and there’s that energy, there’s that momentum,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee. “We knew it was going to be special.”
Back for the first of 21 games this season, the Islanders returned to Long Island and to the Coliseum Saturday night. As part of a split schedule, the team is calling two arenas home this season.
Barclays Center has been since their rink since the 2015-16 season, but in an effort to find a permanent solution in “Islanders Country,” the team’s new ownership won the bid to build an arena near Belmont Park race track, which is set to open in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. While they wait, the team will play 61 of its home games over the next three seasons at the Coliseum, which has undergone a $165M renovation.
The Islanders have been back at the Coliseum since moving to Barclays, but the two preseason games couldn’t come close to the atmosphere that was inside the building during a memorable comeback win.
There was a different energy inside, one that’s impossible to replicate at Barclays Center. The Islanders were back and supplied an another memory for the 13,917 in attendance to take away following a trip back to what was once dubbed “Fort Neverlose.”
It had been 1,316 days between meaningful Islanders games at the Coliseum. Cal Clutterbuck’s empty-net goal to seal Game 6 against the Washington Capitals in the first-round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the final one in the building before the move.
The head coach on the other bench that game was Barry Trotz. He saw first-hand how the atmosphere provided by the fans in the Coliseum affected the players, which is why he started the line of Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, three of nine players who were on the ice that night against the Capitals. The trio brought their physical edge to the game’s opening shift, with both the fans and players feeding off each other’s energy.
Cizikas’ involvement was evident all night, and it was fitting that it was his goal that stood as the game winner and completed the comeback.
“I had a lot of emotions running through my body,” he said afterward. “I was more tired from screaming on the celebration than I was from the actual shift.”
Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has coached a lot of games at the Coliseum, but none were more memorable than the ones he was involved with while coaching the New York Rangers. The division rivals are known for their spirited meetings that see the on-ice emotions spill over into the crowd.
“The things that were going on in the stands, it was better than the game sometimes,” Tortorella said. “When other teams come in here, they don’t experience that. That Ranger-Islander game, no matter what building — MSG or here — they’re a blast to play in. It’s when hockey was hockey. The stuff going on in the stands was just incredible.”
Tortorella and the Blue Jackets played in the original final regular season game at the Coliseum in April 2015, but there were no tears shed or final goodbyes given at the end of that game as the Islanders still had a playoff matchup against the Capitals awaiting them. The head coach was glad to be back three years later.
“This building has seen some tremendous games and some tremendous players have played in here,” he said. “I’m glad we’re the first team doing it with them because I do think when they’re charged up, the crowd’s charged up, I think it helps the visiting team, too.”
From the pre-game tailgating to the Let’s Go Islanders car honks in the parking lot to the YES YES YES chants to the appearances of franchise legends Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom and Ed Westfall, it was a nostalgic return on an emotional night. The players couldn’t stop talking about the atmosphere afterward, praising the fans and speaking glowingly about being able to be back on that Coliseum ice.
Martin is the second-longest tenured Islander behind Josh Bailey with 452 of his 584 career games coming with New York. He made his NHL debut on the Coliseum ice in 2010 and quickly made himself a fan favorite. It was a difficult decision for the franchise to watch him leave for Toronto, but when it was clear the Maple Leafs were looking to move him over the summer, it was pretty easy to see where he’d find a perfect fit and be welcomed back with open arms.
Being able to start Saturday’s night game and feed off the vibe in the arena was something Martin won’t forget.
“It’s a rambunctious group. It’s awesome,” said Martin. “They’re so fun to play in front of. … It’s the best building I’ve ever played in.”
In a unique arrangement, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that beginning next season the New York Islanders will split time between Barclays Center and their old arena, Nassau Coliseum, until a new rink project at Belmont Park is completed.
The deal is expected to last three seasons with the Islanders playing 12 home games at the renovated Coliseum next season and splitting games between Long Island and Brooklyn through the 2020-21 NHL season.
Islanders captain John Tavares, speaking during All-Star Weekend in Tampa, was very happy with the idea of going back home.
“The Coliseum is a special place. We had an exhibition game there this year and it brought back a lot of great memories. For me, it’s where I started my career, it’s where so many great things have happened. I really haven’t thought about it a whole lot. But I’ve always said the team belongs on Long Island. It’s where the team was born, created its identity . . . If that’s the case, it’s going to be a great opportunity, a great experience to go back there and to relive — and create some more — great history.”
Tavares, of course, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and the team’s arena issue was something many speculated would have an impact on his decision whether to re-sign.
“There are a variety of things that have to be upgraded, whether it’s the locker rooms, and training facilities and the like. That’s something we’re in touch with the Islanders on,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Saturday. “The Nassau Coliseum has been given a nice refresh in terms of the way it looks, but it’s still the Nassau Coliseum. So anything that may or may not take place there certainly would have to be on a temporary basis.”
There will be plenty of upgrades to the facility before the Islanders set up shop there again, but NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly added it’s “not a long-term facility.” The renovated Coliseum can hold 13,900 for hockey, whereas prior to the upgrades it held close to 17,000.
The New York Islanders could make a triumphant (and temporary) return to Nassau Coliseum while they wait for their new digs at Belmont Park to be constructed.
Newsday reported Tuesday that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured the former Isles arena, which was renovated in last spring. Bettman was on hand to look over the improvements made to the facility, which was built in 1972.
The Isles called Nassau County home from the Coliseum’s inauguration until the end of the 2014-15 season when they moved to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center.
The marriage between the team, the facility, and the area hasn’t gone well, with the team complaining of the poor ice surface, the marketing of the team and the atmosphere for its fans.
The news comes on the heels of the Islanders making a winning bid for a new arena to be built in Belmont Park late in December and they are now set to return just five years after announcing plans to leave.