Right Where They Belong: Islanders give fans an emotional 3-2 win over Blue Jackets in return to Nassau Coliseum


Photo courtesy of New York Islanders via Twitter.

They had waited and waited for this day. Ever since it was announced that the Islanders would play some of their home schedule back at the Nassau Coliseum, Saturday, December 1 was marked on the calendar by diehard fans. And so if you bleed orange and dark blue, do yourself a favor and watch the nice tribute video above on their return. Even as a rival fan who gets the passion Islanders fans have for this franchise on Long Island, I enjoyed it.

When they played that final time in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs, they sent those fans off happy with a 3-1 win over the Capitals in Game Six on Apr. 25, 2015. A tough first round series they lost in seven two days later. This is what the final home introduction sounded like for that game.

As a Rangers fan and blogger, that’s the first time I watched that. Honestly, I think what they did was awesome for those fans. I’m a huge fan of classic video montages showcasing the team’s history. It was fun to see and gave me a new perspective on the Long Island side of the rivalry.

The Islanders are Long Island. They are that New York team who played their home games off the Meadowbrook Parkway and Southern State. I never attended a game there. I have been to the arena four times. Once for the old Barnum and Bailey Circus with my cousin. Twice for Monday Night Nitro with my brother. Once with the legendary Maven, Stan Fischler on a very cold winter day for a special Isles shoot.

It might be an old arena getting a new look. However, ask my Dad about seeing a game there. He’ll tell you there isn’t a bad seat in the house with great sight lines. Of course, the old narrative of it being a dump has been more played out than a hot take from a Corsi enthusiast. Sure. It’s not beautiful. But it doesn’t have to be. If you poll most old Rangers fans on the renovation, it’s been unsuccessful. The new MSG has lost its luster and become way too corporate. You can’t even walk downstairs anymore in the arena. From the over priced food to the lack of atmosphere due to increased costs, it’s no longer full.

One thing about old arenas and stadiums. They have appeal and a built in history. I’ve never been to the new Stadium to see the Yankees. I know just from watching, it doesn’t measure up. Nothing compares to the old Stadium. That was the House that Ruth built. Not the Golden Palace. At least when I went to Citi Field once, it felt like a baseball stadium.

For three years, the Islanders have played home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s not a good arena for hockey. Why they chose to partner with the Nets never made any sense. It was never gonna work. That’s a basketball venue. It also is a inconvenience for loyal Islanders fans, who were accustomed to driving to see their team play. Public transportation isn’t bad. But when most of your fanbase is from Long Island, it’s not around the corner. You’re talking about the Long Island Railroad and the MTA. With unrealistic ticket and food expenses, they were never going to draw.

It won’t be until 2021 that the new arena in Belmont will be completed. Construction isn’t expected to begin until Spring next year. So, the Isles have another two seasons following this one splitting home games between Brooklyn and Long Island at the old barn.

Judging from the way the crowd and team responded to their first game back at the Coliseum on Saturday night, it was amazing. The energy that was on display from the stands to the ice was unbelievable. When fans have that kind of love for a team, it shows why they never should’ve moved in the first place. Shame on all the corrupt politicians in Nassau County for not seeing how much the Islanders mean to those fans.

Even when they fell behind the Blue Jackets by a pair of goals, I never got a sense the Islanders were out of it. With plenty of “Let’s Go Islanders, Let’s Go Islanders,” chants reverberating throughout a packed arena, it was the new captain Anders Lee, who got the first goal in classic Lee fashion. Parked in front of Columbus starter Sergei Bobrovsky, he had a Jordan Eberle rebound carom off him and just over the goal line. Initially, they waved it off. But there was no doubt it would get reversed. When it did, Lee’s ninth goal was announced to thunderous cheers.

The Isles were back. You knew it was only a matter of time before they got the game tied. Sure enough, Anthony Beauvillier got free in open space and steered in his own rebound from Josh Bailey and Scott Mayfield, tying the score at two. That was two goals in a 4:25 span. No doubt spurred on by the enthusiasm in the building.

There’s something about fans and old arenas. They’re louder. Maybe it’s the fact the seats are right on top of the ice unlike most new state of the art facilities. The acoustics are completely different. It was similar at Yankee Stadium when I went to games with Justin and Ivan in the early 90’s before they were good. That was when they drew like 18,000. The energy in the place always gave you a different feeling. You genuinely felt you made a difference when they did something good or won. I was at Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter. I know about this.

That’s exactly how it sounded at NYC Live/Nassau Coliseum before 13,197 screaming and adoring fans the other night. Once Lee scored to get them on the scoreboard, you knew they were coming back to win. There was no way they would be denied. Much like that 3-1 victory versus the Caps over three years ago to force a Game Seven. Players feed off that energy.

It was Ryan Pulock, who patiently held onto the puck skating around the net to feed a wide open Casey Cizikas for the game-winner with 12:51 left in regulation. The reaction from the crowd told the story. Even if you grew up hating this team like I have, you had to feel good for the fans. That is their team and always will be.

Everything from the organ playing to the crowd for old familiar chants for winning goalie Thomas Greiss worked. When a proven coach like Barry Trotz admits that playing in that arena meant a lot and could be worth an extra 12 points due to the home ice advantage, you begin to understand exactly why the Isles belong in Nassau Coliseum. They have another 20 games left at the old barn.

The same place that blew the roof off when popular cult hero Shawn Bates scored on this emotional penalty shot against Curtis Joseph to win Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal versus the Maple Leafs. Listen to the eruption and play-by-play call of Howie Rose.

Here also is how it sounded on ESPN2. A classic seven-game first round series I worked on as a statistical hockey researcher for ESPN back in the glory days.

In rewatching Game 7 of that closely fought intense series, they really should’ve won. The Leafs held on to win 5-3 to take the series at Air Canada Centre. They had enough experience and skill to prevail thanks to key performances from Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts and Joseph. The same series that public enemy number one Darcy Tucker low bridged Michael Peca in Game Five, knocking him out of the remainder. It really shortened the former Islander captain’s career. It was dirty. That was a very different era of hockey where anything went. Personally, I don’t think all the artificial changes they made have been good. Some had to happen like Player Safety legislating dangerous hits. But other stuff I still don’t understand.

I’m really happy for Islanders fans. They finally get to go back to Nassau Coliseum and cheer on their team. Even if it’s not every home game, it’s good to see. It won’t last forever. But moments like Saturday are special. Hearing what it meant to some players including the game’s number one star Cizikas, is bone chilling. A nice touch by Trotz having the fan favorite fourth line of Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck start the game.

The franchise’s first ever captain, Ed Westfall was in the house. The crowd was alive. And the old barn was on fire. Just the way it should be. The Islanders were back. Right where they belong.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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