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Brooklyn gets the team, but LIers retain the memories

An Islanders fan holds a sign during warm

An Islanders fan holds a sign during warm ups before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 11, 2013. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Paul Bereswill

We still have no zoo nor a big-league museum. We don't have metropolitan theater. We don't have a Main Street to link Hewlett Bay Harbor to Huntington Harbor or Elmont to Speonk. We don't have a Canyon of Heroes where we can joyously throw confetti in celebration on our conquering heroes in ticker-tape parades.

We don't have much need for ticker tape; the Islanders are bound for Brooklyn. They haven't given us reason to celebrate for some time, anyhow.

And who of us will miss them?

Surely a handful of fans who took pride in their supremacy will miss them, but they have been a diminishing number. We have some nice memories of the excitement in winning something called the Stanley Cup four times in a row. That was nice. Remember?

We have nearly 3 million residents within range of something called Nassau Coliseum -- more than Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. We travel west to the city to see "The Lion King'' or the collected works of Picasso; we return east to mow the lawn or go to sleep. Gertrude Stein might have said of our place, "There is no there there.''

Our skyline is topped by the Health Sciences Center, soaring to 360 feet at Stony Brook University; that's new since the Islanders won their last trophy. We still have among the highest taxes in the nation -- and growing.

"Long Island developed when everybody wanted to get away from the city,'' said Stuart Osnow, political consultant at Prime New York. "Now people want things brought to them, not go to them.''

Some of us remember being at a place called Dr. Generosity when Bobby Nystrom walked in wearing an Islanders T-shirt at 2 a.m. after his overtime goal in Game 6 gave us our first Stanley Cup in 1980. Joy flowed like wine.

Nassau County Executive Francis Purcell said it was the biggest thing to happen to Long Island since Lindbergh flew to Paris. The Islanders, Purcell said, "give us an identity we've been striving for for a long time. People won't say, 'Where's Long Island?' ''

"The Islanders made people feel good about themselves; that increased property values. That was good,'' said Jim Nagourney, then the Islanders executive whose main job was producing more seats and who negotiated the long-term contract that held the team here until now.

After the Islanders lost Game 5 in Philadelphia that year, Ted Theodoreopolis went to Republic Airport in the middle of the night to cheer the Islanders' return. He said he shook hands with each of them except cranky Bill Smith. Bill Smith never shook hands. "We're not New Yorkers, we're Long Islanders,'' proclaimed Theodoreopolis.

Barbara Stabiner, the Seer of Seaford, rushed dinner to sit in Section 226 as she had since 1972 and foresaw the Islanders winning. "They lost that energy,'' she laments now.

In the best of times, they were Long Islanders. Nystrom married a Long Island girl, still lives here. Clark Gillies, from Moose Jaw, stayed. Mike Bossy, then the highest-paid player in the league, wouldn't drive his Mercedes in the rain or park it in public, so he sold it and bought a Pontiac. Butch Goring was traded here and deliberately got himself lost so he could learn his way around. The newlywed wife of Czech David Volek saw the supermarket display of citrus and fled, thinking she must need a permit.

There were the others. A woman friend of mine heard the playoff excitement and asked me to buy tickets for her. I did and she exclaimed: "Do they have to be on a Saturday?''

During the great reign, Bill Torrey, the astute general manager who made Al Arbour coach and patiently built champions from the expansion void, mused that when the winning inevitably ended, "Will they still come?''

The rivalry with the Rangers was delicious -- country pups beating and taunting the city dogs with singsong "nine-teen-forty,'' their last championship until they won another in 1994. When Madison Avenue promoted the Rangers in Sasson jeans and the Islanders eliminated them in an early round, Islanders fans chanted, "Oo la la, so soon . . . ''

Joe Brand was and is a Rangers fan. His mother, father and grandmother owned Islanders season tickets. He would go to Nassau Coliseum when he could get their tickets. He admired the Islanders' artistry, never said a bad word about Potvin. He opened a deli in Long Beach and named it Zamboni's. He has moved up the street to Brand's Delicatessen and recently was appalled at the Coliseum: "We'd look around and see twice as many empty seats as occupied. Holy moley!''

When ownership changed and Torrey was pushed out, he built the Florida Panthers into a power. The Islanders floundered and flopped. Three members of their various ownership groups were indicted and convicted. Innovative marketing was rejected recalls Pat Calabria, then a vice president of the Islanders and now a vice president at Farmingdale State. The Islanders and the Coliseum were judged too expensive for the community. In the era when more seats were in demand, the Islanders built and paid for a dozen suites. "The building was run not by arena people but by politicians,'' Torrey said. "There's not a building in the National Hockey League that survives by revenue from the teams. Special events do that. The Garden got the big ones.''

The Coliseum was built hurriedly and thriftily, with little access to public transportation -- unlike Madison Square Garden and the new Barclays Center. Joe Brand can put his kids on the LIRR to either arena and never worry about them going outside. With ridiculous hockey management and public money tight, the Coliseum faded and became threadbare and unappealing. "There's a difference,'' Torrey said, "between losing and not giving hope.''

Nassau County offered no hope either. "They were shortsighted and missed the opportunity to rebuild the Coliseum,'' political consultant Osnow said, "and they will never get it back.''

And will we miss the Islanders?

If we cared enough, they wouldn't be leaving.

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