A Playoff Homecoming, and Swan Song, for the Islanders

A Playoff Homecoming, and Swan Song, for the Islanders
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A Playoff Homecoming, and Swan Song, for the Islanders

A Playoff Homecoming, and Swan Song, for the Islanders

The Islanders and their fans have a second chance to say goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum.

They thought they’d said goodbye in 2015, but after playing Brooklyn full-time and then part-time, the team returned to their Long Island roots after an arena renovation, culminating in this year’s playoffs. .

Before moving next season to a new arena in Belmont Park, the Islanders are hoping for one final playoff run in their home arena, which was home to four back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning teams from 1980 to 1983.

The Colosseum has been devoid of fans for nearly two months during this condensed season before a small percentage of worshipers could attend.

But with relaxed protocols and increasing vaccination rates against Covid-19, 6,800 fans – just under 50 percent of the 13,917 arena’s capacity for hockey – were hosted in Games 3 and 4 of the Islanders’ NHL first round playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Back-to-back wins, including a double-overtime victory over a Josh Bailey goal on Monday in Pittsburgh, saw the Islanders win a playoff series at the Nassau Coliseum for the first time since 1993. They lead the first round. Wednesday’s 3-2 Series and Game 6 will take place in front of even more fans, as the allowable capacity was extended to around 9,000 on Tuesday, with more seat sales to vaccinated spectators.

“It will be stronger,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday. “It will be a great atmosphere. “

The roar of the crowd was worth it for the fans who saw their team advance to the conference final last year for the first time since 1993, but who had waited over a year to see the team. in person.

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“Coli is my favorite place in the world for a reason. It’s hard to explain to non-island fans how amazing it is to be part of this crowd, ”said Sydney Bunshaft, 25, who watched Game 3, a Penguins victory, with her father, Al , from behind the Islanders bench. . “It gave me chills to hear it so loudly again.”

Fans were seated in vaccinated and unvaccinated sections of the arena, creating an unusual sensory sensation to hear the uneven reaction of the crowd on either side of the building.

Bailey, the team’s longest-serving player, was rocked by fans with his own song and broke a scoreless tie in Game 4, the 125th playoff game at the Coliseum, which opened in 1972 .

The frenzied scene was heightened by a group of Jets players, including rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and members of his offensive line, who wore blue Islanders jerseys and urged the home team.

“It was like a packed house because we were so used to playing without a fan,” Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said on Sunday. “The noise was just crazy.”

Most fans said they were excited to finally get together in person for games after months of pandemic-related restrictions. There was also gratitude that the path to UBS Arena, slated to open in the fall, felt very different from the sadness that enveloped the fan base before the team left for Brooklyn. .

After winning Game 6 of a 2015 first-round series against the Capitals – who were then coached by Trotz – the Islanders lost Game 7 in Washington, and a silent Coliseum was left behind.

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Brooklyn didn’t quite work out, although the team did win a playoff series there in 2016. The players and their families continued to live on Long Island, close to where the team continued to live. train in East Meadow, NY Attendance declined at the Barclays Center, a non-hockey building, and fans began to demand a return to Nassau County.

“We were in the first last home game of the regular season in 2015, and we thought it was saying goodbye,” said Ashleigh Campbell, 36, who attended Saturday’s game with her husband, Keith, and his sons, Charlie, 5, and Matthew. , 21 months. “Then Brooklyn was a mess; it was not sustainable. Now we can all rejoice in Belmont. The Islanders get a facility they deserve, but it’s always sad to say goodbye.

For Patrick Dowd, 60, widely known to Islanders fans because of the hand-crafted signs he has displayed in games for decades, the team’s next stop is acceptable as they will stay on Long Island.

“I agree because I know there is a good future,” said Dowd, who held a sign that read “Close the barn with the 5th cut,” in all capital letters stenciled on one side. “I love this building and its history. I arrived here in 1972 with my father when I was 12 years old. This building means so much to everyone.

After splitting their time between Brooklyn and Long Island for two seasons, the Islanders returned for this shortened 56-game campaign with every home game at their home base. They reached the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Division, thanks in part to their 21-4-3 record at home.

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Fans are hoping the series against Pittsburgh is just the beginning.

“I’m delighted that the building has a chance to come out with a bang,” said superfan Tom LoFaso. “I just hope it goes on longer than last time.”

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