Islanders fans enjoy rare playoff game at Nassau Coliseum
As 14-year-old Jack Allen made his way Sunday across the parking lot at Nassau Coliseum toward his first playoff experience, he turned to his father, David, and noted the difference from previous visits in recent years.
"We used to get tickets for $2, the lot would be empty, and you just hoped that they'd score a goal," Allen said of the forlorn seasons when the regular-season games were the only games. "Once in a while, DiPietro would play."
Former goalie Rick DiPietro was not at the Coliseum Sunday afternoon, but 16,170 others were there to celebrate the first home playoff game for the Islanders in six years. The party was tinged not only by the Game 3 overtime loss to the Penguins but by the reality that there won't be many more like it.
The Islanders are moving to Brooklyn in 2015 -- perhaps even sooner if they can wiggle out of their lease -- and the building that is transformed from decrepit to deafening whenever that Stanley Cup playoffs logo is painted on the ice soon will be as much a part of the team's past as the banners that hang from its rafters.
"He'll be able to tell his kids he was at the Coliseum for a playoff game," David Allen, a veteran of too many playoff games to count, said of his son.
The Allens, from Plainview, weren't alone in the mix of nostalgia and excitement and the sense that they were witnessing an endangered species yesterday. Jim Giorgio stood in the Coliseum's cramped concourse and looked down at the orange-tiled floor with longing.
"In '75, we slept on this floor," he said, recalling waiting in line for playoff tickets with his father and it being so cold that the team allowed fans to come inside. "I'm glad the Coliseum is getting a last hurrah."
For some fans such as Giorgio -- who has been commuting to Islanders games from his home in Brooklyn for more than 40 years -- Sunday's game was played at the intersection of Memory Lane and Hempstead Turnpike. For others, it was a first-time experience for which they had been yearning.
"I've been a fan of the team forever," said playoff rookie Robert Barnes of Ronkonkoma. "Just watching all the videos on YouTube, the Shawn Bates goal [on a penalty shot in 2002] and listening to how loud the Coliseum can get, I want to hear it that loud today."
It was that loud when the Isles took a 2-0 lead in the first period and erased a two-goal deficit in the third. But even before it sounded loud, it looked loud. Nearly everyone in the building was wearing some kind of Islanders gear, some better than others.
"There are a lot of jerseys that don't fit people," Rick Marciano of Massapequa, also a first-time playoff attendee, said of a sign that fans had to dig far back in their closets to find old sweaters for the occasion.
Amid the fans on the concourse, a small table was draped in a black cloth offering fans a chance to win tickets to an Islanders-Devils preseason game in September, the first one ever at Barclays Center. Most fans whistled past the setup like a graveyard, but some stopped, curious about their team's new digs.
"The first thing I said to them [at the table] was that I'm really sad to be looking at you guys," said Susan Marino of Seaford, who was at the game with her son, James Loglisci. "This is how I became interested in hockey was the Islanders. It's a shame that it's not going to be as accessible."
Still, she entered the raffle. Brooklyn is just a train ride away.
That's the kind of day it was, one that highlighted the past, present and future for Islanders fans. Underneath Giorgio's Billy Smith jersey, he was wearing a T-shirt from a previous incarnation of Islanders excitement, circa 2002. It had the team's logo printed on it with the phrase: "We're back!"
Someday soon, the Islanders won't be. And neither will days like Sunday.