Thousands of Islanders fans may come to NYCB Live's Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to see their team take the ice this season, but for some dedicated tailgaters, the experience starts hours before the puck drops. And with more games scheduled at the venue this year, fans say they are ready to return to the pregame atmosphere they've missed with the team's move to Brooklyn.
“This is a chance for us to bond,” says Michele Derosa, 50, contract analyst from Melville who was gearing up for the team's home opener with her 17-year-old daughter Isabella Nazzaro. “I started coming here with friends to tailgate in the '80s, and now I get to do it with my daughter.”
The pair arrived around 3 p.m. and strolled over to the more crowded area of the parking lot near the Long Island Marriott hotel, where fans tend to converge near a fan group known as the Blue and Orange Army.
A SPIRITED GROUP
The happy-rowdy energy is buzzing under a tent pitched near a party bus covered in Islanders logos. People of all ages are playing cornhole and eating with a backdrop of music and banter.
“I’ve been tailgating Islanders games since 1985…it’s like a family event,” says Alex Klein, 51, of Roslyn Heights, who owns the bus. “You get to know people that you might only see at games, and everyone has the common interest." He arrived around 11:30 a.m., and then started grilling hot dogs, burgers, steak, lobster tails, shrimp scampi and wings. “Between tickets, gas for the bus and food, I end up spending around $200 for a game," he says. "It’s totally worth it."
It's a scene that he says can't be replicated when the team plays at the Barclays Center, where the parking is scattered and there's no common space for fans to converge before games.
By 5 p.m., the Coliseum's parking lot is a sea of orange and blue jerseys with wafts of grill smoke blowing through. Game time may still be two hours away, but the fans talking hockey and celebrating their love for the only professional sports team associated with Long Island. Name-dropping ranges from (current star Mathew) Barzal to (Hall of Famer Mike) Bossy.
Fans Jason Byczek and Leigh Smith have been here almost 24 hours, having started their pregame tailgate a full night before the game. They're dressed head-to-toe in team colors, including coordinating orange and blue socks." Says Byczek, 27, of North Bellmore, who works in television production, "We got here last night around 8:30 p.m."
UPCOMING ISLANDERS HOME GAMES AT THE NASSAU COLISEUM
7 p.m. Oct. 24, Nov. 1 and Nov. 13