EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — It took almost 900 days but hockey returns home, temporarily. Did you have your countdown marked?
For the first time in two years, four months and 23 days, the New York Islanders will be back in a place they resided for 43 seasons. It’s a bittersweet moment for the organization, the players and faithful flock of orange & blue fans as it takes a trip down memory lane while bringing up an uncertain geographic future.
“Just thinking about it the last couple of days, you think about it as the same old Coliseum,” said Captain John Tavares. “Obviously, it’ll be a little different. But, it’s going to have the old feel to it, I assume, some good memories will come back, but certainly should be a great atmosphere, Sunday 1 o’clock game will get the fans excited.”
It’s the same location with the same parking lot. Walk inside and the corridors resemble what once was. The seats have been shaded to black and capacity shrunk in size but the face-lifted barn on Hempstead Turnpike is still expected to be packed and rocking, even for a preseason game.
“I still think about what it was like when we won that Game 6 [vs. Washington in 2015], how loud it was and how special it was for everyone part of it,” said defenseman Scott Mayfield. “It’s going to be fun. It’s big for Long Island. It’s big for the fans. I think everyone is excited.”
If you ask any fan on the Island, they’ll likely pinpoint the exact moment Mayfield alluded to. The day the Islanders outplayed the Capitals to force a Game 7 in the first round of the 2015 Eastern Conference First Round was one of the greatest moments of the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum’s history. The Islanders kept their season alive that day, defeating Washington, 3-1.
Cal Clutterbuck scored the final NHL goal in the building, an empty netter at 19:07 of the third period sending Long Island into chaos. He thought about the roar of the crowd, fondly, and seemed anxious to find out the lineup head coach Doug Weight will set by Sunday morning.
“That series was so much fun, definitely the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever been part of,” said Clutterbuck. “That place is special to a lot of guys. It’s probably the first time a lot of veterans said they want to play in the first preseason game. It’s going to be a fun afternoon.”
He’s right. How many times in NHL history can you say every veteran wants to play in the first preseason game? From John Tavares to Johnny Boychuk, these Islanders want to experience the atmosphere for perhaps the final time.
The players remember waking up to the sound of horns blaring, “Let’s Go Islanders” chants and the smell of charcoal grills. The tailgating experience is something that resonated with the veteran defenseman.
“Hopefully, I get to play in it,” said Boychuk. “The playoffs were bananas. It was awesome. To get back there, it’s going to be fun to see the crowd’s atmosphere.”
He made it a point to single out the first playoff game he played at the Coliseum. Boychuk and the rest of the team fed off the energy from the crowd, saying the dressing room literally shook from the chants from the rafters. Those are the experiences these players will never forget.
Perhaps, for one final time, the veterans, rookies and coaching staff will get to experience another old barn moment. They’ll get a chance to hear the car horns sounding in the parking lot. They’ll get a whiff of those charcoal grills. They’ll get another shot at feeding off the crowd’s energy.
It may be labeled as a preseason game on the schedule, but to these Islanders, this will be an important game they’ll never forget.