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Cherished Islanders celebrate their history in Coliseum event

Former Islanders captain Ed Westfall performs the ceremonial

Former Islanders captain Ed Westfall performs the ceremonial puck drop with with New York Islanders center John Tavares and Buffalo Sabres right wing Brian Gionta before an NHL hockey game at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, April 4, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There is more to Islanders history than the events of 1980 through 1983, as unforgettable as they were. For instance, there is the fact that Pierre Turgeon still has to stop himself from wondering what might have happened had he not been brutally hit by Dale Hunter in the 1993 playoffs.

There also is the echo of an unexpected playoff run in 1975, which ranks right up there for Ed Westfall with the Stanley Cups he won in Boston. For Westfall, the first captain, the legacy goes all the way back to the first season, when players dressed at Nassau Coliseum and then took a bus to practice every day in Kings Park.

"Islanders history" also is synonymous with Shawn Bates, whose penalty-shot goal during Game 4 of the 2002 playoff series was arguably the loudest moment ever at the Coliseum.

"You know what? I didn't really hear it," Bates said yesterday. "There was so much going through my head, I really didn't get to sit down and listen to it, to be honest."

Forty-three years of history on Hempstead Turnpike have left historical artifacts, such as Steve Webb's Islanders fisherman jersey. "It was my first jersey in the NHL. I loved it," he said. "I still remember that chant, the last game that year when they knew they were getting rid of the fishermen jerseys. It was 'No More Fish Sticks!' It was very loud, and vivid in my memory."

Here's to the current Islanders management for summoning all of the memories, vivid and subtle, in their Decades Night event Saturday night. It is easy to think only of the Stanley Cup years as the extent of Islanders tradition, but that would be like saying a family's legacy is only weddings and graduations. There is much more to it, and, to their credit, the Islanders opened the full family album.

Westfall was back to represent the 1970s, along with Garry Howatt. Butch Goring, Ken Morrow and Bob Nystrom stood for the 1980s. Turgeon and Webb were here from the 1990s, Bates and Eric Cairns from the 2000s.

All of them were introduced Saturday night and came onto the ice in front of the current Islanders in the next-to-last regular-season game at the place all of them have called home.

They all heard big ovations, and the longtime Islanders jingle played by organist Paul Cartier. Westfall, who dropped the ceremonial first puck, thought all the way back to the beginning and the original owner. "Roy Boe had the vision to say that an NHL team could play here,'' the original captain said. "He spent the money to come into the Rangers' territory and build a hockey team, get the fans excited. Everybody who loves the Island, they owe Roy Boe for his vision."

Turgeon reflected on 1993, when the Islanders beat the Capitals and the defending champion Penguins before losing to the Canadiens in the semifinals. Who knows how far they could have gone had Hunter not creamed Turgeon after he scored a goal at the end of the first series?

"I only had half a shoulder," Turgeon said Saturday during a visit from his home in Denver. He agreed that a person could wonder if the Islanders might have had a shot to win it all that year. But he prefers better thoughts to bitter ones.

"Having a team that wasn't supposed to go that far and achieve what we did, it was pretty amazing," he said. "We didn't win the Stanley Cup, but I've got to say this team was the best team I played for."

It was great to see him in the No. 77 jersey again. It was fun to hear stories about Al Arbour's sarcasm, about Cairns' work as an enforcer, about Webb's first Coliseum practice, wearing borrowed gear.

Sure, the alumni are all sad to see the Islanders leave -- Westfall expressed his dream that the team can come back someday because the fans deserve it -- but they all know that you roll with the good and bad. That's hockey.

"So let's celebrate the traditions and everything good that happened in this building," Morrow said, "and let's carry it over to Brooklyn."

There will be plenty to carry.

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