Islanders Lead a Return to Normal in New York Sports
Nine months ago, when the Islanders reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs conference final for the first time in nearly 30 years, the Nassau Coliseum was dark, empty and silent.
The Islanders were playing at the Tampa Bay Lightning, but games took place in a sequestered bubble in Edmonton, Alta., Where spectators were banned due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But on Thursday, things were largely back to normal at the arena where the Islanders have played the vast majority of their home games since their inception in 1972. Nearly 13,000 boisterous fans, many decked out in blue jerseys and orange of their favorite players, packed shoulder to shoulder in an old concrete barn to welcome their team back to an NHL conference final – the first time in 28 years that Islanders fans have been able to witness this in person.
“It really feels like everything is back as it should be,” George Pignataro, a retired bank executive from neighboring Massapequa, said ahead of Game 3, again against the Lightning, in Uniondale, the new epicenter of the sport’s lively comeback. in the greater New York City area, after months of closures due to the pandemic.
Tampa Bay won 2-1 and won two games with an advantage in the Stanley Cup semi-final series. Game 4 is on Saturday in what could be the Islanders’ final home game at the Coliseum. The defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay is 6-1 on the road in the playoffs and showed courage against a busy reception.
“It was the will that got us through this,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We’ll need to start over if we’re going to come here in Game 4 and do the same. “
For Pignataro and his wife Barbara, season ticket holders for 42 years, as well as for many passionate island fans, the game and the series represent a double awakening. After months of isolation and lockdown, life is starting to return to normal in the New York City area, and sports teams have joined in welcoming thousands of fans.
The Yankees and Mets played in front of growing crowds, with over 16,000 at Citi Field Thursday and over 19,000 at Yankee Stadium for a game against the Red Sox earlier this month.
At the Barclays Center, the Islanders’ brief home on a poorly designed foray into Brooklyn from 2015, the Nets faced the Milwaukee Bucks in a critical game five of their NBA playoff series in front of 16,000 exuberant fans.
But the Nets are a relatively new phenomenon in Brooklyn (they moved there from New Jersey in 2012), and their roots haven’t deepened into the fabric of the community as firmly as the Islanders on Long Island in nearly half a half. -century.
Even with 3,000 more fans at the Barclays Center than at the Coliseum, it would be hard to imagine them making more noise than Island fans hoping to relive the old glory under the four championship banners that hang from a ceiling. down which intensifies the uproar below.
Since the fans returned to New York-area stadiums, nothing has quite matched the intensity of what is happening at Uniondale.
“Islanders fans are a different breed,” said Billy Jaffe, NHL network analyst covering the series. Jaffe was also an Islanders broadcaster for five years ten years ago. “It’s just a unique and intense fan base, and they’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Similar to the Pignataros, Jaffe was referring to the duality of this expectation. Immediately, it was to return to the building to shout, chant, sing and bang on the glass together.
In a broader sense, it’s about the re-emergence of top-level hockey amid signs that it is enduring under Lou Lamoriello, the president and CEO, and Barry Trotz, the head coach, all of whom have two won the Stanley Cup elsewhere.
Jaffe said the Islanders are one of the most respected teams in the NHL, and now that they’re back to Long Island for good – they are expected to open their new arena in Elmont in the fall – the link between the team and Long Island fans have been renewed.
“I feel like the Islanders fans have ownership of their team again,” said Jaffe. “It seems they feel like they’re allowed to be re-invested.”
As in the previous playoff series against the Boston Bruins, unmasked fans sang the national anthem so loud and fair that singer-designate Nicole Raviv graciously put her microphone away and allowed the audience – after months of quiet loneliness – to thunder over, not that anyone could have heard, anyway.
“It’s just as intense and noisy as a big Premier League football game,” said Bruce Clouston, a 28-year-old Australian business insurance executive from Northumberland, UK. He moved to Brooklyn three years ago and has become an Islanders Fan. He went to two regular season games after the team opened the arena to fans on a limited basis on March 18.
The numbers are almost at full capacity, minus about 900 empty seats near the benches and where the teams enter the ice. Thursday’s crowd included talk show host Jimmy Fallon, actor Ralph Macchio and a host of Jets football players, who joined in the festivities.
It was also Clouston’s sixth playoff game this year. When the Isles scored in the previous round, he hugged the unmasked strangers sitting next to him. (A handful of ushers carried signs politely asking fans to wear masks, but hardly anyone did.)
On Thursday, getting off the suburban train from Brooklyn, Clouston accepted the conduct of a fan he had just met.
“This would never have happened a few months ago,” he said.
For most of Game 3, Clouston and his fan friends roared for their team. But in the last minute, as the Islanders skated backwards while struggling to settle into the offensive zone, a number of fans complained and booed the perceived lack of urgency.
The Islanders have awakened the passion of their fans, and everything that goes with it.
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