Reading about the possible closing of NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum revived so many great memories of watching professional hockey on Long Island. Like magic, after only a 25- to 30-minute drive, you were at the game. In the ’60s, the Long Island Arena in Commack housed the only professional hockey team on Long Island — the Long Island Ducks.
My friends, Kevin, Earl, Everett, Mike and Murph, and I, could always find parents to drop us off at the arena. It had a suburban, neighborhood feel despite being freezing cold and having a leaky roof. It was like being dropped off at the movies. We’d get there early and talk to the players like my favorites, John Brophy and Butch Morris. All this and the game for $2.50. So what if the American flag on the wall could always use a cleaning.
Unusual memories? The Zamboni was unreliable, and its driver once got into a fight after the Ducks brawled with the New Haven Blades. Fans littered the ice, and after Henry James, the Zamboni driver, had just finished emptying the last piece of trash, a full tub of popcorn was tossed at a player. That’s all James had to see, and into the stands he went.
While the Eastern League’s Ducks skated there from 1959 to 1973, I got to play on the same ice with my West Babylon High School hockey team twice a week. That was a thrill!
It was more than just hockey. In the late ’60s, the Nets, then of the American Basketball Association, played in the roughly 4,000-seat arena. It was situated on the south side of Veterans Memorial Highway, just west of Sunken Meadow State Parkway. It became a flea market in the ’80s until 1996, and later turned into a shopping center.
Exciting boxing matches and entertaining wrestling were a regular occurrence. I saw Tony Danza box there before he became a TV star on ABC’s “Taxi.” Never mind behemoths like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danza was one guy you wouldn’t want to mess with.
Even rock and roll legends had their day. Part of Peter Frampton’s megahit album “Frampton Comes Alive!” was recorded at the arena. It felt like a happening place, home to the Suffolk County Fair and annual visits from the circus. Even John F. Kennedy stopped there in 1960, two days before he was elected president.
How I miss that Long Island Arena.
When the Islanders debuted in Nassau Coliseum in 1972-73, it was the end of the Ducks. The Coliseum also had that suburban feel but not the charm of Long Island Arena. With the Coliseum doors possibly closing soon, I’ll also carry its memories. I played a high school hockey game there, too. It’s where I took my daughter, Grace, to see basketball games, wrestling matches and some terrific kids’ shows, but hockey games are still our favorite. We always had to get there early for warmups so she could get her spot behind the glass near the Islanders’ bench to see her favorite player, Matt Martin.
I never bought into the Brooklyn move, and I’m not thrilled about the new Belmont Arena. I'm sure it'll have great food courts, which I can hardly afford. I just get this feeling that Belmont Arena won’t have that same suburban, neighborhood feel. It sure won’t be a half-hour drive to the edge of Queens.
Reader Joseph Rossi, a retired schoolteacher, lives in West Babylon.