Change is inevitable from season to season in modern pro sports. This is not news.
The fact 16 Islanders played for all four Stanley Cup winners in the early 1980s is so unfathomable by 21st century standards it might as well be a tale from the early 1880s, when Andy Greene was a young player.
But for the 2021 Islanders, who gathered one last time on Sunday, there was added poignancy in flipping their psychological calendars to a new season and the inevitability of parting ways with old friends.
They were bidding farewell to an aging teammate who can’t even skate.
The good news is the Islanders have a sleek, expensive new free agent due to arrive this autumn: UBS Arena at Belmont Park. The emotionally complicated part is leaving Nassau Coliseum behind.
Sure, many of the same fans who helped make the Islanders’ latest run even more memorable than last year’s still will be in the stands. But no one is yet certain whether the vibe will move west with them.
By now, it would be natural for players to be tired of questions about the final playoff run at the Coliseum; they have faced them almost daily for many weeks.
That was what made Sunday so remarkable.
The Islanders made 21 players and coach Barry Trotz available to reporters, and the way they collectively waxed poetic about the grand finale at the Coliseum – especially Games 4 and 6 against the Lightning – was no act.
Perhaps the purest response of all came from rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who signed with the Islanders less than a year ago and has worked hard to communicate in English.
He began his NHL career playing in an empty arena, then played most of the first round against the Penguins, when capacity was growing but still limited.
"But next round with Boston, I’m not playing," Sorokin said, "but I sit on bench and when fans start singing, ‘Hey, ho, Josh Bailey,’ it was amazing. It was really, really, really cool."
There you have it, folks: A newcomer to America wowed as much as anything else by the Josh Bailey song.
I could write more words here and provide perfunctory transition sentences, but what’s the point? Rather, here is a sampling from Sunday of the many heartfelt odes to those final, crazy nights at the Coli:
Ryan Pulock, whose last-second save of a shot by Tampa’s Ryan McDonagh clinched Game 4:
"It kind of gives you chills, actually, when you ask that question. Those are some memories that I think we’ll all remember probably for the rest of our lives . . . I think the fans will, too. Obviously, they’re the reason that it was so special."
Josh Bailey, of Josh Bailey song fame:
"It was a good run. It’s a special building. For our fans, for this organization, it’s meant so much to us playing there and in that atmosphere."
Semyon Varlamov, who was serenaded with multiple "Var-ly, Var-ly" chants:
"It was unbelievable. Hands down, we have the best fans in this league, especially in the playoffs . . . Our fans, they bring so much excitement during the games, it’s unbelievable. It’s so much fun to play.
"It’s a little bit stressful before games, because they can be very loud. But it’s just an amazing and unbelievable atmosphere. We all as a team are going to miss that, for sure."
Casey Cizikas, a fan favorite who is an unrestricted free agent:
"I think Game 6 [against Tampa] is going to stand out for me. That was incredible . . . They kept getting bigger and bigger and louder and louder and we fed off that and then ‘Beau’ ending it, that’s going to be the game that sticks with me for a long time."
Captain Anders Lee, who was injured on March 11, the first night fans returned to the arena:
"I’m glad the Coli was able to be closed down in that manner, because it deserved that and our fans deserved that. I think us as players deserved that as well.
"It feels right in some ways. It feels wrong in other ways, too. We know how close we are. It’s a little bittersweet in that regard. But to have our fans back was incredible."
Anthony Beauvillier, whose overtime goal in Game 6 closed the arena for playoff business:
"Scoring a goal in the NHL is probably one of the best feelings in the world, and when you get a chance to play the hero and put your team on top it’s always a great feeling, especially in the semifinals of the Stanley Cup."
"I think there’s a genuine feeling of just, honesty, in the building. I think it reflects the fan base and the population really well, and as a player, you can feel it. There are a lot of buildings in the league that are loud, but this one just has a different sort of tone to it, and we really love it.
"We’re really looking forward to that sound being transported a couple of miles down the road next year."
"Game 6, it doesn’t get better than that. I talked to my sister, who was consoling me yesterday and seeing how I was feeling. She says, ‘I’m watching Game 6 and our fan base is singing the national anthem.’ She’s Canadian! She said, ‘I had tears in my eyes because it was phenomenal.’
"Those are experiences that you live. That’s what I’m saying when I say, ‘Live in the moment.’ We were living in the moment. There were some good moments, and that should get you excited about the future and the moments that you can create moving forward."
The next two words out of Trotz’s mouth were these: "New arena." It will have a lot to live up to.