By Seth Noboa
By the fall of 2021, the New York Islanders should be set to call UBS Arena in Elmont their new home. And Islanders fans say construction of the arena, next to the Belmont Park racetrack, represents a feeling of relief following the previous decade of speculation over the team’s future.
“It brings a lot of peace of mind. For many years, a lot of being an Islanders fan was a lot of back and forth,” said David Celentano, of East Meadow.
Speaking of the team’s temporary moves to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, he said, “Your home is in Brooklyn, but you don’t know that. Our home is in the Coliseum, but that’s not a permanent thing. It’s not the same. But UBS is going to be an Islander arena — built for the Islanders, built for the fans.”
The 29-year-old has been an Islanders fan since he was a child, as well as a member of the Blue and Orange Army since 2016. The BOA has been active since 2009 as the Islanders supporter group, with the top rows of Section 329 in the original Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum having served as its original home. And for Celetano, his introduction into the BOA was a family affair.
“My cousin is one of the original members of the Blue and Orange Army back in the early days of 2009, 2010, when the group first started, just hanging out together,” Celentano said. “Then, as they became more official, he went to more games. And then I ended up just meeting up with him at games here and there, sitting with the guys, meeting everybody, and that’s how I got introduced into more of a role with them.”
Before the Blue and Orange Army, Celetano was introduced to Islander fandom by people in his childhood neighborhood in Uniondale, just down the road from Nassau Coliseum.
“All of my friends that I grew up with, and my parents, we grew up down the block from the Coliseum. So, it was an easy time to go and be an Islander fan, and it kind of worked its way as part of life,” Celentano said. “Now, as a member of the Blue and Orange Army, I go to almost every game. I’ve been to plenty of away games, and some of my best friends are a part of the Islander community, a part of the Blue and Orange Army.”
For 72-year-old Jeffrey Marshall, of Bayside, his introduction into Islanders fandom came in 1973, a year after the team’s inception, through a chance encounter.
“It was the summer,” Marshall said. “I was in the McDonalds that’s on Old Country Road, where Merrick Road comes in, which is very close to where the Coliseum is. I was in line behind a bunch of high school or college kids, and they were obviously breaking the chops of the customer who was in line in front of them at the register. I couldn’t really see what was going on. I was more listening than anything else. And then I realized that the guy had an Islander jacket on, and that meant that he was a team player.”
“Turns out, it was Garry Howatt, №8,” he said. “And they were breaking his chops about how bad the Islanders were. I think they won maybe 10 or 12 games their first season. And he turned around and said, ‘Listen, we might have stunk last year. We’re a new team. But you watch us this year. We’ve got the coach, and we’ve got some players. You just watch us.’ And that really struck me. That’s how I felt that it was more than just cheering for laundry.”
From there, Marshall became a diehard fan, whose biggest moment is a pretty straightforward answer: four straight Stanley Cup victories, from 1980 to ’83. “How could it be anything else?” he said.
As the years went on, Marshall drifted away from the team. Family, however, brought him back.
“Guys were getting older, and the quality of the replacements weren’t there, so the team kind of sunk into a little bit of a malaise,” Marshall said. “At that point, I had other things that were more concerning to me than watching a mediocre team play. But when the early ’90s rolled around, I had some kids, and this was an interest that I wanted them to build on. And as young boys, they got into it, and I followed the Islanders pretty religiously from that point on — ’93, ’94, ’95, to this day.”
As the years went on, Marshall’s younger son, Ethan, who now makes his home in Glen Cove, would forge his own path as a second-generation Islanders fan. And Ethan’s fandom would teach him some life lessons.
The team “taught me that you could lose something very valuable, and just as quickly show improvement,” Ethan, 25, said. “At the time, they lost their best player, and they’ve been a significantly better team ever since. And there was a lot of stress around the time of whether he would stay or he would go, and a lot of disappointment once he did go. But I wouldn’t change anything about it, because now they have a lot of great players, great coaching staff, great [general manager], great ownership. And to sacrifice a star player for that, I would say it’s worth it.”
Islanders’ fans patience was tested in 2014–15 when the team moved to Brooklyn.
“I was disappointed, and nervous …” Ethan said. “It was a pain trying to get to and from to the stadium, whether by driving or by train. You’re forcing a lot of long-time fans to struggle just getting there, and that’s not something that you want to do.”
“We’re lucky that they didn’t move the team to Kansas City,” Jeffrey said. “But putting it in the Brooklyn venue was just a stop-gap last-minute measure that was horrible in several ways,” Jeffrey said. “It wasn’t a hockey stadium, it was a basketball stadium, which necessitated a good segment of the stadium being not seated because of the dimensions of the rink, versus the size of a basketball court, which is what the stadium was designed for.”
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in February last year that the team would return to Long Island a year ahead of schedule, it seemed like the penultimate stop to the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I know that the Blue and Orange Army is going to have a special spot in the arena. We’re going to be able to do the same things that we do now, and even more,” Celentano said. “But on a personal level, UBS brings a lot of peace of mind to just myself, because you know that the Islanders are going to be here. They’re not going anywhere.”
“Knowing that they’ll have a home for years to come is very secure,” Ethan Marshall said. “It’s a great thing to look forward to. Naturally, I’ll miss the Coliseum, but this isn’t that far away. It’s easy to get there, and unlike the Barclays Center, this place will be built for hockey.”