Saying Goodbye To Nassau Coliseum

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 hockey viewing.
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 change.

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.

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