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Atmosphere on display as Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders to return to Nassau Coliseum on part-time basis

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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.

From Newsday:

“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 Islanders played at Nassau Coliseum until 2015 and have spent the past four seasons in Brooklyn at Barclays Center. Last month, the team won the bid for a new arena project by Belmont Park.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

New York Islanders could return to the renovated Nassau Coliseum: report

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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.

They will play there through next season, but the Islanders and Barclays can choose to opt out of their 25-year agreement this month, with both sides having a Jan. 30 deadlines to deliver an opt-out notice, which Newsday called “a formality at this point.”

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.

Last week, Newsday reported that the NHL was open to allowing the Islanders to return to their old stomping grounds while they await their new arena’s arrival.

“I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in the story.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Saying goodbye to Nassau Coliseum, plus the making of NHL ’94

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

NHL.com’s Sunday Long Reads series continues with a look at the New York Islanders’ final season at Nassau Coliseum. (NHL.com)

Want another lengthy, interesting look at a piece of hockey history? This is some great stuff on the making of the classic hockey video game NHL ’94, and really the origins of EA Sports’ beloved series in general. (Read Only Memory)

Editor’s Note: Play one-day fantasy hockey tonight! Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $25,000 league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first place wins $2,000. Starts Monday at 7:00pm ET. Play Now!

Maybe these NHL rivalries are really working out, huh? (The Hockey News)

The Edmonton Oilers signed Kyle Platzer to an entry-level contract. Apparently he has some golf-course prowess to go with his hockey skills.

Quite an interesting moment as a goalie doesn’t realize a shootout attempt begins, yet makes the save anyway. Click here for the story behind it.

Task force proposes $346.5M renovation plan for Nassau Coliseum

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While the on-ice future of the New York Islanders seems promising (unless you look at gambling odds), the team is still in limbo when it comes to their arena. Voters shot down a plan for a new arena on August 1, which seemed to curb a last-ditch effort to keep the team in Long Island.

As it turns out, that might not be the last trick locals have up their sleeves, though. Randi F. Marshall of New York Newsday reports that a task force revealed a $345.6 million plan to renovate Nassau Coliseum and its surrounding area (reportedly 77 acres) into a “sports-entertainment complex.” Here’s a quick rundown of what the proposal would entail, according to Marshall’s report.

  • A private developer would spend $100 million to renovate Nassau Coliseum. The goal would be to literally raise the roof of the arena by 25 feet, which could boost the maximum attendance from about 16,000 fans to between 17,000 and 20,000 seats. (This would obviously maximize the profits that the Islanders could generate if they become a bigger draw again.)
  • As far as the surrounding area, the plan would call for a minor league ballpark, a large parking garage, a new indoor rink intended for practices/the public and 70,000 square feet available for other businesses.

Francis Corva – one of the architects who helped put together the proposal – believes that it would be a good move for the area.

“It would be an economic boost for Long Island,” Corva said. “This is vitality being brought to a site which has none at the present time, which is something we will need.”

So far, Newsday reports that government officials are divided (or not commenting) on the issue. Here’s how Islanders owner Charles Wang reacted to the report.

Wang, who has said the Islanders will not play in the current arena after the team’s lease expires in 2015, said, “If somebody comes up with anything definitive, we will obviously look at it. I can tell you one thing very definitively. Oct. 8 the puck drops. And we will have a hell of a season.”

The idea is obviously in its earliest stages, so there’s no telling if it has legs. It would certainly be interesting to dramatically alter Nassau Coliseum to avoid building a new arena altogether, although renovated arenas haven’t always worked out so well for teams in struggling markets.

It might be a while before the proposal gets in front of government and Islanders officials, so we’ll keep an eye on the situation. If nothing else, it’s great to see that locals aren’t giving up on the concept of keeping the team around.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)