BOSTON — This will be a first. Never before has a game in a once-abandoned 46-year-old arena seemed like a brand-new experience. And some of the Islanders players, like many of their fans, can assure you that there is nothing like a first game at Nassau Coliseum.
The team’s official return to its old home Saturday night will allow a lot of people to live it all over again. For Matt Martin, for instance, it will be another shot of the adrenaline that filled him on Feb. 9, 2010, when the Islanders hosted the Predators in Uniondale.
“It was my first NHL game, actually,” he said. “I got called up around at midseason. It was an amazing experience for me, I had a good game, a couple of assists. Frans Nielsen won it in a shootout.”
He had been at the Coliseum for workouts and rookie camp, but there was nothing like skating under those Stanley Cup banners in a game that counted. “That place,” said the left wing in his second stint with the team, “is awesome.”
No matter that the building has fewer seats, a new façade and a new title sponsor, NYCB Live. It still is the old barn. It offers a new outlook. Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets will be the first of 21 there this season, the first in a symbolic shift away from Barclays Center to the prospect of a future new home at Belmont Park. The homecoming is a shot in the arm for a team that entered Thursday’s road game against the Bruins on an up-and-down cycle.
No doubt many ticket-holders will recall the first time they walked into the rink on Hempstead Turnpike. Players will do the same.
Martin can reflect on assisting on two power-play goals (by Bruno Gervais and Mark Streit) in his debut.
Josh Bailey, who has played his entire career with the Islanders, first played an official game there on Nov. 11, 2008. “I think it was an afternoon game against Philly,” he said. “It was my first NHL game, so it was pretty special. I really love that building.
“Before I came to Long Island, I really didn’t have an understanding for the great history,” he said. “I was aware of the four Cups. But I got to know the fan base, what a great place to play that it is. That arena seemed to get a bad rap from people once in a while because it was a little older. But the atmosphere that goes in that rink, I think, is unmatched around the league.”
Anders Lee, now the captain, was just a kid on April 2, 2013, when he played in his first NHL game at the Coliseum. He scored on his first shot, surprising Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec from the left circle. “I think I surprised myself,” he said. “My parents were in the stands. Just a special, special moment. One where afterwards, you just pinch yourself . . . I had been in the system for a while so I understood a little bit. I knew the history of the Islanders. But until you play a game there and spend a lot of time there, you don’t really appreciate it.”
Although he is a veteran of 900 NHL games, Saturday truly will be a first for Valtteri Filppula. He never has played an official Coliseum game for the Islanders. “It wasn’t a place where you really wanted to play, which is good for the home team,” he said from his perspective as a visitor. “I don’t remember if I ever won a game there, maybe once in a shootout.”
His teams did win once in a shootout, once in overtime, but it was easy to mistake. Martin said he heard that opponents felt as if they were being dominated even though the score was 0-0 because the noise in the old barn was so intense.
“So we’re excited to get back there Saturday,” he said. “I imagine it’s going to be pretty unbelievable.”
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.