There were no fans at Nassau Coliseum for the Islanders’ game against the Bruins on Thursday night and that will still be the case for the subsequent six home contests.
But just knowing fans will be back in mid-March, even at a limited capacity, was a boost to the Islanders.
"There’s something about the human spirit, the human emotion that you can’t replicate," coach Barry Trotz said before Thursday’s game. "It’s pure joy, it’s pure anger. It’s pure everything. It’s fellowship. It’s the event. It’s the buzz. There’s nothing that can replicate that."
New York state indoor sports venues with a capacity of at least 10,000 can now host fans at 10% of capacity. For the Coliseum, that will be slightly under 1,400 fans once the doors do open.
"It’s exciting," Brock Nelson said. "I think everybody’s happy it’s trending toward that. You’d like to have full buildings. But we’ll take what we’ll get. The first time they’ll get in, I think there will be some more energy in the building from the fans, from the front-line workers and, then, from the team. So, it’s exciting that we finally have a date we can circle for that."
March 18 against the Flyers is the date circled for season-ticket subscribers to be back at the Coliseum and season-ticket holders will have priority for purchasing tickets.
But the Islanders will first host 1,000 Northwell Health front-line workers on March 11 against the Devils in appreciation of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That will be particularly special for Trotz.
"It means a lot," Trotz said. "I’m very conscious of it for my own, personal reasons. My immune system. My family, my friends. Everybody’s selfish in some part because it’s ‘How do things affect me?’ It’s been tough on the athletes. But our sacrifice compared to the front-line workers is minimal. Those guys are rock stars, the men and women on the front line. The sacrifices they’ve made, I can’t imagine.
"Their commitment to save lives, to protect people. The hours. Putting themselves in harm’s way to keep other people safe. It will be fantastic to see them in the arena. If it would be allowed, I’d give everyone a hug."
Not including March 11, there will be 14 regular-season games with fans permitted.
The Islanders are playing this final season at the Coliseum before moving into the under-construction UBS Arena at Belmont Park, which is targeted to open in November.
And, of course, the Islanders are hoping to play some final playoff games at the Coliseum, as well.
The players had discussed how disappointing it was not having fans at the Coliseum for The Barn’s last go-round.
"A few of us have talked about that," Nelson said. "This year, with the way the world has shaped out, the last season in the Coliseum is tough. It’s better to get some at some point than to not have any. It’s kind of bittersweet leaving the Coliseum but then getting a new rink. We’re hoping we can get as many fans as we can back in there."
When the Coliseum does open to limited number of fans, all fans will be required to wear an approved face covering and provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours before the event, even if that person has been vaccinated.
Ticket prices will start at $35.
"I think it’s just going to be great," Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. "Sometimes you need the energy that comes with the fans. I think it’s just exciting that we see some light at the end of the tunnel."
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