With the New York Islanders shifting to Brooklyn and the much newer Barclays Center to start next season, this will be the final season at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for Long Island’s team. And while Barclays Center is the state-of-the-art facility the team has needed for years, the reality of leaving Nassau County has hit fans hard. But with Garth Snow’s promising offseason, the team’s best start to a season in seven years, and a little help from the fans themselves, the final season on the Island could be a special one for the New York Islanders.
While most home openers come with a larger crowd and a high level of optimism, it was clear even before the start, to both the fans and the players, that this year might be different.
“Coming in this morning I saw people at 9 AM,” noted Islanders captain John Tavares after the 4-3 win in front of a packed and loud Coliseum. “The passion and how much people care about their team and the Islanders is second to none. We just want to play hard and we want to get the results as badly as they do, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Tavares said that his team knew that the home crowd would be fired up for the final home opener. “I think we knew it’d be pretty electric, and it always is when it’s a full house. [Islander fans] are some of the most passionate fans in sports.”
And it’s not just the familiar faces that understand the power of a packed Nassau Coliseum. Goalie Chad Johnson is in his first year as an Islander, but even he can see just how much of a home ice advantage the Coliseum can be. “When you have them cheering for you, you realize how noisy it actually gets in there and how passionate the fans are with the chanting and the cheering. I don’t know any other rink that has atmosphere that you have here. It’s like a college atmosphere with the energy and the chanting, so it was fun to be a part of.
Johnson got the win Saturday night in his first regular season game with the team, and recognized the magnitude of the event. “It was pretty special, I feel honored to get the opening night home start…especially it being the last season at the Coliseum. It’s definitely a special moment for myself and to get the two points is always nice.”
And getting the two points is something that might happen at the Coliseum a lot more than it has in the past few seasons, something Tavares knows is a must for his team. “It’s a new year, we just want to have the right mindset.”
A few new players won’t hurt the cause either. Islanders GM Garth Snow made a big splash this summer, acquiring and then signing goalie Jaroslav Halak, bringing in high potential forwards such as Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin, and Cory Conacher, and just last week trading for Stanley Cup winning defensemen in Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. These additions, especially the Boychuk and Leddy trades, have had immediate impact.
“[Leddy] is a little quiet and Johnny’s a little more outgoing but they’re both great people and really fit in,” says Tavares. Boychuk’s presence has been especially felt through the first two games. “He plays a hard-nosed game and can shoot the puck and we’ll take those qualities any day of the week,” adds the captain.
Someone who has specifically benefitted from Boychuk’s shot is Brock Nelson, the 2nd-year forward. Nelson has been the beneficiary of a couple of redirection goals off of Boychuk’s hard slapshot on the powerplay. When asked about the Islander’s success on the man advantage so far this season (4 goals in two games), Nelson says the answer isn’t rocket science. “I don’t think there’s any secret out there. Johnny’s ripping pucks from the point and right now they’re bouncing in which is nice and fortunate at the same time”
With the offseason additions complementing an already solid young core, it could be a special season out on Long Island. For those that were there two years ago for the playoff series against Pittsburgh, like head coach Jack Capuano, they want more home games this season mirroring the ones they played against the Penguins. “Sitting in the office prior to [Saturday night’s] game it was just like the first game that we played with the Penguins,” Capuano remembers. “It was loud, the atmosphere was great.”
After winning both the season opener in Carolina and then the home opener against the Hurricanes Saturday night, the Islanders have started 2-0 for the first time since 2007. That start will only get them so far, and fans on Long Island will be itching for more. And for the first time in a long time, it seems there is a legitimate chance that they’ll get what they’ve been wishing for.
Except if that wish is for the Isles to stay at the Coliseum. Like it or not, the farewell tour has begun.