Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Everyone has known for 2 1/2 years that this spring would be a source of nostalgia and bittersweet emotions for Islanders fans.

That includes Eric Hornick, who has worked as a statistician for the team's telecasts since Jan. 21, 1982 -- when he was two days past his 18th birthday and halfway through his senior year at Half Hollow Hills East High.

The fact that the Islanders began a 15-game winning streak that day hinted at the start of a long kinship. But few anticipated things would get this complicated as the Islanders approached the finish line of their time at Nassau Coliseum.

Like many fans, Hornick laments the team's imminent departure -- "It should never have happened," he said -- while simultaneously celebrating the fact that it has been going out with a bang on the ice.

"It's been strange, to be honest with you," he said. "With the team playing so well, it really didn't start to hit me because the games have been so exciting and you're kind of looking to the next game. It really hit me when the Rangers came in for the final time [March 10]."

Unlike most fans, Hornick was in position to draw something positive out of the situation beyond wins and losses, and he has done so, in a big and most unexpected way.

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It began late last year, when Joe Buono of IslesBlog approached Hornick seeking permission to commission a T-shirt inspired by his NYISkinny blog. It features a daily post called "It Happened at the Coliseum" in which he recalls a memorable event at the arena on that date.

Hornick agreed, provided the Isles did too and that proceeds would go to a charity. Hornick chose Make-A-Wish Metro New York, which is based in Lake Success and covers the five boroughs and Nassau County.

Buono hired a designer to incorporate highlights of the Isles' history at the Coliseum, from "Tonelli to Nystrom" to "Bossy 50 in 50" to the current team's rallying cry of "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

"I had told Eric we'd sell around 300 or so and hope to raise a couple of thousand dollars," Buono said.

Not quite right. As of Monday, 791 units had been sold on teespring.com/IslesBlogIHATC and $10,804.77 had been raised for Make-A-Wish, representing all proceeds beyond the site's item cost. "Amazing," said Kathie Lombardi, manager of national and community alliances for Make-A-Wish Metro New York.

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Not bad for a product available only online that has no promotional budget, just word of mouth and social media. A highlight: a widely distributed image of former Isles announcer Jiggs McDonald wearing the shirt. Hoodies are $35, adult shirts $24 and children's shirts $20.

Lombardi said the donations would not necessarily be directed toward a child with a hockey -- or sport -- related wish. Children are accommodated as quickly as possible.

But she said the initiative is another way to let the community -- in this case hockey fans -- know what the organization does. "It's pretty awesome," she said of the T-shirt sale.

Hornick's goal is $16,170 -- matching the Coliseum's seating capacity -- by the end of the regular season April 11. That is about double Make-A-Wish's estimate of the cost to make a wish come true for a child with a life-threatening illness.

"It makes me feel good inside that something positive came out of them leaving," Buono said. "I didn't expect it to go this far."