It’s time to say “goodbye” to Nassau
Coliseum. From afar, it might be difficult to feel anything for a rickety old
stadium that was no longer fit for purpose in the National Hockey League.
However, it’s worth remembering the history, tradition and loss of one of the
league’s truly unique rinks.
While the movement of the New York
Islanders from Long Island to Brooklyn is not being highlighted or discussed as
a major movement of a franchise, for the residents and hockey fans living in
Nassau County and Long Island, it is a big deal.
There’s nothing quite like attending a hockey
game. It is more enclosed than football or baseball and has a higher intensity
level than basketball. The cool crispness of the ice and the sharp scraping of
skate on ice is contrasted with the heated intensity of the game action and the
deepness of the crashing physicality.
Since 1972, fans have streamed into the
Nassau Coliseum and they have seen some wonderful teams and some wonderful
games. In 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983 the Stanley Cup came to Long Island. That
Islanders team to this day is one of the NHL’s least heralded dynasties – a
dominance where you win four consecutive championships in any major sport is
virtually unheard of. Perhaps it’s because they were followed by the Wayne
Gretzky led Edmonton Oilers who won five Stanley Cups in seven seasons.
Al Arbour’s team had one of the finest lines
in NHL history with Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies, not to
mention Bob Nystrom, Billy Smith and Denis Potvin. The Islanders had a deep,
complete and simply unbeatable hockey team for four seasons.
Maybe moving to the better facilities of
the Barclays Center is for the best for this franchise in the long-term, but
the memories of those Stanley Cup runs will remain in Nassau. The 1980 team was
also the very first NHL team to win a Stanley Cup with European players on
their roster with Stefan Persson and Anders Kallur in the line-up of that team.
Considering how much the league has changed over the last few decades, it’s
hard to imagine a league where European players didn’t play a significant role.
It was fitting that after a period of
mediocrity, the New York Islanders produced one of their finest seasons to
date. They were a genuine contender in the Eastern conference. They dominated
the Washington Capitals in what would be the final NHL playoff game at the
Coliseum winning the game 3-1. Though they eventually fell in a tight Game 7,
there’s a feeling that this franchise, led by one of the game’s elite players
in John Tavares, is headed firmly in the right direction.
In many ways, Jack Capuano has coached this
team to play the “Islanders way” over the last few seasons. They skate well,
score goals and play with an edge and a little bit of nastiness.
It hasn’t all been rosy for this franchise.
In fact, many of the final days of Nassau Coliseum have
been a struggle with owner Charles Wang battling to keep the team where it was
and speculation over its future.
The Islanders will proudly march into their
relatively new and sparkling arena next September, but they were dragged there
after commissioner Gary Bettman seemingly finally put his foot down and
demanded something better than Nassau.
Neither should it be forgotten that Nassau
Coliseum, for all its charm and for all the history that exists there, is a
relic. Famously poorly maintained, leaking from the ceiling and in danger of
falling down altogether. It is no longer fit to hold 15,000 screaming hockey
fans two or three times per week. It was arguably becoming increasingly unsafe.
Wang’s attempts to develop the area around
Nassau and to make the hockey arena the hub of a thriving district ultimately
never came to fruition. Instead, the arena is one of the most difficult to get
to in terms of transportation and feels “out of the way”. That won’t be a
problem for the Islanders new home, which is located in downtown Brooklyn.
Still, hockey will not be the same in the
Barclays Center. The arena is less intimate and the giant electronic scoreboard
will reportedly make hockey viewing less than ideal. It wasn’t designed for
Times will change and little lasts forever.
The history made at Nassau Coliseum will be taken with the Islanders to
Brooklyn, and new history will be made. The franchise’s time playing on Long
Island and at the quirky arena has shaped its identity, and that will never
Nassau Coliseum will be missed. It’s easy
to understand why there is so much rejoicing and celebrating that the franchise
will be moving to a new home, and importantly for the fan base now has a secure
future in New York. However, one of the NHL’s most characterful and special
arenas in its long history.
Labels: Written by Sebastian Egerton-Read - @Seb_Read