By Jordan Stoopler
That the 2019–20 New York Islanders season began at the Nassau Coliseum Friday night was the way it had to be, said Brandon Gimpelman of North Bellmore. After four years of opening nights at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Gimpleman, while attending the Islanders rally Thursday outside the Nassau County legislature in Mineola, summed up local fans’ feelings that “it’s great to be back at the Coliseum given the history and everything else. It is the Old Barn and we will be very happy to be there.”
The plan begun last December, to split the team’s home schedule between the two venues, was to continue this year until NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced recently that seven additional games would be moved from Brooklyn to Long Island, bringing the split to 28–13 in favor of the Coliseum.
“We know what the Coliseum is all about,” said Butch Goring, who played on the Islanders’ four Stanley Cup winners in the 1980s. “We know the way the Islanders [fans] can fire up the team. You’re not always going on all cylinders as a player so, every once in a while, you need a spark and the fans can provide that. The Coliseum is a very unique building, an old-time building. The acoustics in it are sensational.”
For the 2021–22 season, the Islanders will have a new home at the Belmont Park Arena, where construction has just begun. That ensures that Islanders hockey will remain on Long Island permanently.
“I’m really excited that there will be more games at the Coliseum,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who has lobbied for that reality and pushed hard to have last season’s playoff first round at the Nassau arena. (The Islanders swept Pittsburgh in that series before the second round was moved to Brooklyn and a losing sweep against Carolina.) “The fans love when they play here,” Curran said. “They play well. You can feel that barn rocking. There’s nothing like that energy.”
Goring, now a color commentator on Islander broadcasts, certainly understands that, dismissing the bad rap some outsiders give the Island.
“Once you play here and you get out on the Island and you start living in places like Muttontown and Dix Hills, it’s just a beautiful place,” said Goring. “When you combine it with the way the fans treat the players, it’s little wonder players want to stay.”
He said the only thing that keeps some former teammates from living on the Island is the expense. “It’s not because they don’t want to stay, they tried to,” said Goring. “Players in the 70s and 80s didn’t make enough money to survive here.”
Goring is thankful that owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky have arranged annual reunion of Islanders players for the past three years and expects over 100 alumni to attend this year’s gathering, set for next weekend. Players will be introduced during the team’s Coliseum game with the Florida Panthers on October 12th.
“Once you’re an Islander, whether you played one game or a thousand games, you’re an Islander,” said Goring. “That’s the message that the Islanders organization is trying to give to the players. You’re not just a piece of meat. They’ve gone out of their way to make each and every player that has ever been here feel like they are part of the family.”
As for Islander fan Brandon Gimpelman, “Once we get to Belmont, it will be permanently better,” he said. “Definitely very excited for what’s to come.”