It's not often, maybe three or four times a year, that Claude Lapointe gets back to Long Island. But when he does, he is flooded with memories. And most of those memories involve a building, Nassau Coliseum, and a team, the Islanders.
Those two entities, once synonymous with each other, will diverge when the Islanders move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn this fall.
Like many other former Islanders, Lapointe is sad to see the old barn go. The 46-year-old Quebec native was signed by the Islanders in August 1996 and played parts of seven seasons with the team, scoring 76 goals and assisting on 95.
"My first game with the Islanders was the most memorable one," Lapointe said before competing in the Frank Catalanotto Foundation vs. Boomer and Carton All-Stars Celebrity Softball Game at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip Sunday morning. "When you move to your new team, the first day you get there and the first game you play, you always remember. Overall, I have nothing bad to say. I had a great [seven] years here on Long Island and I feel sad that they have to move to Brooklyn."
When Lapointe arrived on Long Island before the 1996-97 season, the team was struggling. In his first season, the Islanders won only 29 games and earned 70 points. The next season, they won only 30 games (71 points).
"When I came here, the team wasn't that good," Lapointe said. "We didn't make the playoffs. But when we did, that first game at the Coliseum was very special."
That season was 2001-02, when the Islanders won 42 games (96 points), finished second in the Atlantic Division and lost an epic seven-game series to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Islanders captain Michael Peca went down with a torn ACL in Game 5.
Lapointe said he still sometimes wonders what would have happened if Peca, who scored 25 goals that season, had stayed healthy.
"You speculate a lot when you look back five, 10 or 15 years later," he said. "It would have changed a lot of things."
Lapointe will never forget Shawn Bates' penalty shot in Game 4, an Islanders win that tied the series. "That was a key moment in my career," Lapointe said.
That game was the perfect example of the kind of intensity felt at the Coliseum during big moments.
"Every team has their own electricity in the building," Lapointe said. "At the Coliseum, it was special. There was a few games where I felt the intensity of the atmosphere. It was totally different than anywhere else. I only have great memories."
Lapointe now lives in Montreal and will catch an occasional Islanders game on TV. Although he doesn't "follow them daily,'' he said he's impressed with the job that former teammate and current Islanders general manager Garth Snow has done.
"They're looking good," Lapointe said. "Hopefully, they'll go far in the playoffs next year."
Even if those playoff games will be played in Brooklyn.