The Islanders play their first preseason game at the Barclays Center on Monday. Unfortunately, I cannot move with them to Brooklyn.
For the past two seasons, I was a game night volunteer, greeting fans at Nassau Coliseum.
"Hey it's the program guy!" they would say as I stood by the front doors with my official orange T-shirt and "GAME OPS" badge. I handed out game-day programs or giveaways, and helped fans find seats and concessions.More ExpresswayReader essaysReader essaysGet published in NewsdayCartoonDavies' latest cartoon: NYC's Trump wall
I got to know regulars by name, and they recognized me. By the end of last season, I knew nearly every season ticket holders and how many programs they needed.
Growing up as a fan, this work was a dream come true. I'd arrive at the arena two hours early and run into Islanders co-owner Charles Wang and some players. I'd see center Casey Cizikas running laps around the concourse. I'd say hello to Islanders broadcasters Howie Rose, Butch Goring and Jiggs McDonald.
I was shocked at how many people didn't want a free program. As a college student, I would take a free anything.
Once programs were distributed, volunteers were given tickets that had gone unsold. They could be anywhere in the arena. When paying, I would buy cheap seats or sit with the Blue and Orange Army, but as a volunteer, I was able to sit behind the glass, with players' families or in a $200 seat that I could never afford.
People would see my official ID and ask whether I had the authority to get them thrown out. I told them, "No, but I have friends who could."
On cold nights, I stuffed two programs into one so I could finish faster and get into the warm arena. At one game against Montreal, the doors to gate 16 were open and falling snow was blowing into the building. A Montreal fan came in drunk, gave me a bear hug, took a mop from a custodian and started mopping the floors.
In every program was a foldout poster of an Islanders player. I saw two girls every few games who would ask whether the poster was of Matt Martin or Anders Lee. I replied that when those players appeared on posters, I would save programs for them.
The best days were giveaway days. I realized how many friends you have when you are giving away free hats. A group of cheerleaders came with their high school and were so excited to get hats from me -- and I was just as excited to give hats to them.
One young boy got so excited seeing a John Tavares trading card he started screaming. He couldn't wait to show his dad.
One night we were set to give out Axe deodorant after the game. The game went into overtime and several rounds of a shootout, and I stood by the doors holding a giant container filled with deodorant. In their hope of closing the building quickly to go home, supervisors told us to give people more than one. I filled a boy's back pack with Axe, and when a women told me she had two teenage sons, I filled her purse with Axe.
I wasn't around for the 1980s Stanley Cup dynasty. Most of my memories include the Islanders being in last place in the 2000s. As a volunteer in the last two years, I got to attend more than 60 games, more than I ever thought I would.
After the season ended in April, I visited the Coliseum a few more times to walk around and say goodbye. Goodbye to being 5 years old at my first game, being 18 when I finally caught a shirt during the T-shirt toss, and being 19 when I experienced playoff hockey.
Now the team is moving on -- a few new players, a new black Brooklyn jersey and a new arena. I'll miss their days at the Coliseum.
Reader Lathan J. Lev lives in East Meadow.