One Last Rodeo


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Up to this point in my writing career, never has an article been this emotional to me. I literally had to stop writing half a dozen times just to wipe tears out of my eyes. This piece has been hard to write but I wanted to share what the Islanders and Nassau Coliseum have meant to me. When the New York Islanders announced on October 24, 2012 that they were moving to Brooklyn I knew I would have to see one last game at Nassau Coliseum before it closed its doors for good to hockey. Both my parents were huge Islander fans after moving to Long Island in 1976. I came two years later in 1978 and two years after that the Islanders would embark on one of the greatest dominate runs in sports history. During that historic run the coliseum would be dubbed Fort Never Lose, as the New York Islanders players and fans would make it hell for opposing teams to win a game in their building. Now forward 13 years to the year 1993 when I officially became a fan of the New York Islanders.

Christmas of 1992 was a special year because it seemed like everyone got a pair of rollerblades. My two brothers Shaun and Ryan and I got a pair as well as many of our other friends around the neighborhood of Mastic, New York situated near the southern fork of Long Island. The next logical step was to get a couple of hockey sticks and a ball and shoot into a net. We set up shop in our friend Leo’s driveway and an entrepreneurial neighbor sold us some used goalie equipment for 20 dollars to make the experience better. Later we moved to the adjacent street as we did more damage than a hail storm on Leo’s parent’s garage door. We all started to watch hockey on television at friends’ houses who had cable, you know to get pointers on how to play better and emulate the players of the day. Something special started to happen to the New York Islanders late in the 1992-93 season.

The 1992-93 Islanders had the hard hitting Darius Kasparaitis who was Shaun’s favorite player. Pierre Turgeon had an incredible season notching 58 goals and 132 points. The team boasted 4 30-goal scorers, and was the least penalized team during the regular season. Still they just managed to squeak into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and not many experts gave them a chance against the Washington Capitals in the first round best of seven. “Chicken Parm” Ray Ferraro nicknamed Chicken Parm because that was what he ate before every hockey game became the hero in the series by scoring clutch goal after clutch goal. The Islanders would not be denied in overtime either taking all three games that went the extra distance. Everything was looking up for the Islanders until Dale Hunter crosschecked Turgeon from behind moments after Turgeon scored to put the game and the series out of reach for Washington. Hunter would receive a 21-game suspension for the hit.

Next up the Islanders would face the Two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. As game seven of this series approached the whole island was abuzz about the Islanders. I remember how excited my parents were and how we had to go to the local sports bar for dinner that night to be out with fellow fans and watch the game. Also at that same sports bar were Leo’s parents just a few table over from us. The night was a blur for me, just images after all these years. I can remember Rich Pilon of the Islanders hitting Kevin Stevens of the Penquins. Stevens got knocked out cold and hit the ice face first breaking most of his face, at least I thought so. We had to leave the bar after the third period was over because my Dad had to catch the Long Island Railroad to work that night. As we sat in the parking lot by the Mastic Train Station we heard over the car radio David Volek score to send the Islanders to the Eastern Conference Finals that year in 1993. The excitement in the car that night was amazing and one of the lasting final memories of my Dad as he died less than four months later that year.

Up to this point I had never been to an actual live professional hockey game. After my Dad died my Mom did her best to raise three rough and tumble boys. One of the special treats we got for being good was to go to an Islanders game at Nassau Coliseum. It was an almost 2 hour ride through rough traffic to get to the coliseum, and it wasn’t very special to look at from the outside. But once inside the magic happened. Mostly we sat in the top 300 level section. This section was unique because of the after-market luxury boxes added in. The bottoms of the luxury boxes hung so low you could pound on them, and pound on them we did after every Islanders goal. In fact years later I brought my wife to her first Islanders game. We sat in the top row with about five of my good friends. When the Islanders scored in that game, I believe we scared the life out of her.

My biggest Coliseum memories aren’t necessarily about any big Islander moments but more about the times I got to hang out with the closest of my friends and watch the greatest game unfold. I started to go to games religiously when the tickets became affordable and my friends and I got our drivers licenses. Unfortunately this was also around the dark time of the New York Islanders history. My friends and I would buy tickets for 10 dollars in the 300 section and by the end of the first period we were sitting near the glass. But what other hockey arena could we get away with this. We could hear the players yelling at each other. My friends and I had to endure those horrible fishsticks jerseys and the owner that wasn’t John Spano. If you don’t know who John Spano is just watch the documentary Big Shot on Netflix. It was horrible going to the lunchroom at school during the 90’s and hearing it from those awful Rangers fans especially after they won the cup in 1994. No more 1940 chants at the coliseum, bummer.

In 1998 my family and I moved off of Long Island and I eventually settled into Buffalo. My first hockey game in Buffalo I was impressed with the outside and lobby area of then Marine Midland Arena. It had all the bells and whistles but once you got inside the arena I felt swallowed up. The place was cavernous and the cheers just seemed to get lost in the rafters. The Sabres were very good when I first moved to Buffalo, eventually reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 before losing to the Dallas Stars, but the arena was nowhere near as loud or as fun as Nassau Coliseum.

Living in Buffalo and starting my own family, gave me very little time to visit the Coliseum I once called home at least 2-3 times a month during the regular season. I got down to see a game every couple of years but when the last season was announced I knew I had to go one last time. I originally planned for an early season game against Pittsburgh but just decided to look at ticket prices for the last game in early October. Good tickets were around 100-150 each at the time. I wanted my whole family to be a part of this experience. Never again will a hockey building sound this loud and this crazy. I got seven tickets in section 119 about five rows up in the corner of the building where the Islanders players exit and enter the ice. My brother Shaun and his son Aiden came with my Mom. My wife Lauri and my two kids Ethan and Quinn came with me. We got a room at the Marriott across the street.

At 2pm gameday we arrived and quickly unpacked and started to go around the parking lot to look at all the tailgating that had been taking place since as early as 8am. All of us stopped to take pictures outside of the coliseum. We talked with some fans about the team and the upcoming playoffs. Had to visit the team store for some Islanders swag. Ate lunch at Champions inside the Marriott where Lets Go Islanders chants broke out about every five minutes. At 5:30pm they let us into the bottom part of the coliseum and my brother and I had a beer at Doolins Pub. We opted for the Barn Rocker, the official beer of the Islanders this last season from Oyster Bay Brewing Company. At 6pm they let us upstairs. Our kids got handpicked to be on the high five line when the New York Islanders players came out of their locker room. I was super jealous. Finally at 6:45pm the pregame ceremonies began.

Outside coli

It started with bagpipers that were part of the original Islanders Stanley Cup parade. Then a video tribute to the years at the coliseum. It was very hard to hold back tears as I remembered all the good times I had in this building as a kid. Finally the main attraction started. The Lets Go Islanders chants were deafening. The chants from the 329 section were loud. Fans had all types of Islanders clothes and jerseys throughout the ages. I had a 90 year old man in front of me who lost his voice, and a 10 year old kid behind me who was trying to take in all in. Our section was fun and I like to think I was the ringleader in the high fives after the Islanders scored. Sadly though the Islanders blew 3-1 and 4-3 leads and eventually lost in a shootout to the Columbus Bluejackets. I was so looking forward to the victory lap around the coliseum that is customary during playoffs wins but would probably have been ok for the last regular season game at the coliseum. My family and I sat stunned after the game as the Islanders lost home ice advantage in their series against the Washington Capitals. After the shock of what just took place evaporated, we stood up looked into the rafters on last time at all those glorious banners. As I reached the final step on the staircase upon exiting the playing area, I turned one last time waved and said goodbye old friend.

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These fans were in the opposite corner from where my family sat

The walk back to our hotel that night was a somber one. It felt like someone had died, and I guess in part something had died, hockey in Nassau County. The Islanders will be moving to Brooklyn in one of those state of the art arenas, where the noise isn’t generated by the fans but pumped in. As the last old barn of hockey closes its doors soon, so does the door close on the intimidating nature of hockey buildings. I wish my Islanders the best in Brooklyn and I will try to catch a game in the coming years there but I will always hold dear the memories that were built at that old barn on Hempstead Turnpike. We left the Marriott at 8am the next morning. In the parking lot we ran into Scott Hartnell of Columbus and I just shook my head and he of course just smiled. The family loaded up in the minivan and as we were leaving the parking lot I had to hit my horn five quick times to Lets Go Islanders one last time.

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– Damian Mikrut

Follow me on Twitter: @nyislanders19