When Mikey Ryan attended his first Islanders-Hurricanes game in Raleigh, North Carolina, during the 2015-16 season, something immediately caught his eye: The number of Isles fans in the building.
“You just saw so much blue and orange spread out,” said Ryan, 32, a Deer Park native who has lived in Charlotte since 2015. “That’s when it opened my eyes that there are a ton of Islanders fans in the Carolinas."
When the Islanders made the playoffs that season, Ryan organized a meetup by creating a Twitter account in hopes of connecting with other fans. For Game 1 of the first-round series against the Florida Panthers, Ryan said he had no idea if anyone was going to show up. By the time the puck dropped, he was joined by five other Isles fans. “We call ourselves the Original Six,” he said.
Social media is changing the way fans experience sports, especially for those who don’t live in the cities where their teams play. The ability to connect with fans who follow the same team has led to gatherings like Ryan’s “Original Six.” And Islanders fans have been at the forefront of the “meetup” movement. Ryan’s group in Charlotte has grown steadily since that first encounter, and the team’s success this season has spurred a rapid growth in what has become known as "the Isles Meetup.” Ryan said he had over 50 fans gather at The Upper Deck bar in Charlotte for Game 2 of the Isles-Penguins playoff series on April 12.
“It’s really taken off this year,” said Ryan, whose group met once a month at The Upper Deck during the regular season.
Before this season, Isles fans had three meetup groups on Twitter – Charlotte, Long Island and Washington, D.C. Now there are close to 20 different groups stretching from Los Angeles all the way to Sweden and Ontario.
Twitter is the main social media platform being used to connect the Isles’ fan base, with each respective city organizer having the words “Isles” and “Meetup” in their handles. The Charlotte Twitter page (@islesmeetup_clt), run by Ryan, has over 1,500 followers. Groups also promote via Facebook and Instagram. There's also a meetup group in Raleigh (@Islesmeetup_RDU).
When the Isles opened the 2018-19 regular season in Carolina, Ryan said he got about 140 tickets for the group. He said there have been times when the group has secured 200 tickets, all in one section. What do Hurricanes fans think about seeing all that blue and orange? “They were very welcoming at first but not anymore,” Ryan said. “Our group keeps getting bigger and Canes’ fans’ patience is getting smaller.”
While it’s standard for a team’s fan base to buy tickets when they’re in town, the Carolina group of Isles fans have taken it to a new level. “They are by far the largest that comes out to ‘Canes games,” said Paul Friedlander, who has been a group events and suite account executive for the Hurricanes the last three seasons. “They’ve gotten bigger every time.”
Ryan, whose wife Caitlin attends 90 percent of the meetups with him, said there will be one in Charlotte for every Islanders playoff game. When Josh Bailey scored the winning goal in overtime of Game 1, Ryan’s group did their best to rival the electric crowd at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. “I would say it’s the second-best experience you can have after the Coliseum,” Ryan said. “People were jumping on tables, screaming at the top of their lungs, doing the YES! YES! YES! chant. It was rocking.”
Ryan added: “We try to bring the Coliseum experience. This is a little taste of New York down here.”
ISLES ARE KINGS IN L.A., TOO
There was a small group of Islanders fans in Los Angeles that got together for games four seasons ago, but after the organizer moved, the group disbanded. With Islanders meetups popping up around the country this season, Jon Jacobs decided it was time to get back into the game. “I saw all of these Isles meetups and I said, ‘We gotta get this going again.’ ”
So Jacobs, 37, who was born in Woodbury and has lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, organized a meetup (@islesmeetupSCal) for Feb. 28, John Tavares’ first game back on Long Island. About 10 people showed up to Goal Sports Cafe in L.A., including super Isles fan Kevin Connolly, the Patchogue native who starred in HBO’s “Entourage.” Connolly also directed the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary “Big Shot” on the Islanders in 2013.
Jacobs was the first to arrive at the bar that night, where he saw Connolly, who he just assumed was there to watch the game. As Jacobs looked around the bar, he noticed a lot of Isles memorabilia. He turned to Connolly and said, “The owner must be an Islanders fan.” To which Connolly, Jacobs said, looked back at him and said, “You’re looking at him!”
Goal Sports Cafe is Connolly’s sports bar. “He’s super into it,” Jacobs said of Connolly, adding that Islanders games are always on there and they take priority over other sporting events. “He’s just one of the guys. Just another Islanders fan.”
Connolly, 45, is enjoying the Islanders' playoff run. "I've always had dreams of making it an official Islander bar," Connolly said in an email. "The overall hockey base in L.A. has grown in recent years because of the great run the L.A. Kings have had, but I've always had a sense there was an Islander fan base out in L.A. because people ask me about them all the time."
Connolly said the bar had "probably 40-50 deep" for the Game 4 clincher over the Penguins. "We're expecting the group to get even bigger in the second round," he said, adding that "the staff at Goal Sports Cafe that previously didn't know much about hockey ask me every day . . . 'Hey, Kev, when's the next Islander game?' They're great for business!!!! Any chance they win the Cup?'"
Jacobs attended Game 1 of Isles-Penguins at the Coliseum, but said his group still had a meetup back on the West Coast.
“Being in L.A., I was normally watching games alone,” Jacobs said. “Now I have a community to share one of my great passions with, watching Islanders games.”
THREE GROUPS IN FLORIDA
One of Ryan’s “Original Six” members is Kevin Carney, who now lives in Tampa and runs the meetup group there.
“When he got relocated to Tampa [in July of 2018],” Ryan said, “I said, ‘Hey, Kevin, you know what you’re doing, right? And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
Carney, 50, who grew up in Islip and left Long Island in 1992, said he was a bit reluctant at first. “It’s a lot of work,” he said. But after he was in Tampa for a couple weeks, he said, “You know what? He’s right. I got to do this. I know there’s Isles fans in Tampa.”
Carney, an Isles season-ticket holder in the late 1980s, attended the Islanders-Lightning game on Nov. 8 with about 25 other Isles fans. He said a handful of fans showed up to his first meetup at North 30th Sports Pub in Tampa. Now, the group (@islesmeetup_TPA) averages 10-12 fans per meetup and Carney expects that number to grow.
“They’ve embraced us,” Carney said of the bar. “It’s kind of tough because there’s already an NHL team and bars try to cater to the locals.”
Organizing Isles meetups runs in the Carney family. Kevin's son, Brendan, is in charge of the New Jersey group (@nj_islesmeetup). The 24-year-old said there were about 20 Isles fans who watched the Game 4 clincher at Miller's Ale House in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Brendan said he "was a little disappointed with my previous turnouts, so to see the turnout at Miller's had me fired up. Great group of guys that are the epitome of Islanders fans: Rowdy and loyal."
Eric Bordin, a 42-year-old West Palm Beach resident who was born in Old Bethpage, hosted his first Isles meetup with the help of his brother, Jared, 39. They started the South Florida Meetup (@Islesmeetup_SFL) and Eric said there were about 15 fans who showed up at Duffy’s in Boca Raton for Game 2 of the Isles-Pens series on April 12. For the Game 4 clincher four nights later, Eric said about 25 fans were in attendance at Miller’s Ale House in Boynton Beach.
“I’m thrilled,” said Eric, who said there are always “tons of Isles fans at Panthers games.”
“I didn’t realize Islanders fans traveled so well,” he said.
A third meetup group just formed this week in Jacksonville (@IslesMeetup_JAX).
POPULAR ON LONG ISLAND, TOO
Bryan Larson, 30, of Levittown, runs the Long Island meetup group. He started posting locations on Twitter at the beginning of the 2015 season of where Islanders fans were gathering. Ryan saw it, and it was part of what led him to starting a meetup group, the first of its kind. “He took the meetups to a whole new level,” Larson said of Ryan, “and after seeing what he was able to do over the past few years, I was inspired to start hosting meetup events myself here on Long Island.”
Larson said the group (@IslesMeetups) watches games at Boss Crokers in Wantagh. There were three meetups this season. Many of the members were at the Coliseum for Game 1 of the playoffs, but Larson said they had over 50 people show up at the bar for the regular-season finale. “We had so many Islanders fans turn up at our last event that they turned every TV to the Islanders game, even turning off March Madness,” Larson said. “The same thing happened a few months ago during the NFL playoffs. They actually turned off the playoffs to put on our regular-season hockey game.”
A new group in Queens (@islesmeetup_QSN) debuted for the series-clinching win against the Penguins. About 30 people cheered on the Islanders at Katch Astoria.
Brett Kahn was Ryan’s childhood best friend growing up in Deer Park. He’s also the son of Rich Kahn, an Islanders public address announcer from 1982-95.
“He had been trying to convince me to do one in Philly,” Kahn said of Ryan. “Then I went down to Charlotte last season. It was just so infectious. So I said, ‘Let’s give this a shot.’ ”
Kahn organized a meetup (@islesmeetup_PHL) for this season’s opener and said about 15-20 people showed up. The 32-year-old, who has lived in Philadelphia since he was 9, said there are 15 solid regulars in the group and at least one new person has showed up at every meetup since it started. There's a second group in Pittsburgh (islesmeetup_PIT).
For Game 1 of Isles-Penguins, Kahn said there were about 12 people and the Field House bar in Philadelphia was pretty empty. “They gave us the biggest screen in the place,” he said.
Kahn said of the nationwide support for the blue and orange: “It’s such a passionate, dedicated loyal fan base. It shows how many displaced New Yorkers are everywhere. This makes sure Isles fans are together no matter where they are.”
CONNECTICUT TO WISCONSIN
As the Islanders kept winning and winning during their surprise playoff run this season, Dave May of Connecticut started to notice all the different “Isles Meetups” handles on Twitter. May emailed Ryan in January and within a couple of weeks, he was hosting his first meetup (@islesmeetupConn). Then, another regular season game, with 13 new people showing up. There were about 10 people for the first two games of the playoffs.
May, like the other organizers, isn’t surprised there are so many passionate Islanders fans across the country. “You’d be hard-pressed to find another fan base that matches the passion and intensity of Isles fans,” said May, a Greenlawn native.
May’s most memorable meetup was the first one he organized. He had a nice turnout, and then, out of nowhere, five more Islanders fans showed up. “It’s a funny story,” May said.
In walked Frank Tickle, his wife, Rosalie, his daughter Kristina, his sister Petrina and his 83-year-old mother Susan. Tickle, 53, a Bay Shore native, moved to Charlotte 12 years ago. Along with his wife and daughter, he’s been attending Ryan’s meetups from close to the beginning. The family happened to be in Connecticut for a family wedding on Saturday, Feb. 16.
“I wonder if the new Connecticut meetup is doing anything,” Frank said, and then found out the bar was only a 12-minute ride from their hotel. So, after his niece’s wedding ended at around 6:30 p.m., they “changed into Isles gear.” Frank put an Isles’ hat on his Mom and they showed up about five minutes into the Isles’ 5-2 win over Edmonton. A meetup veteran, Frank brought a little of the Charlotte vibe to Connecticut, bringing the YES! YES! YES! Chant. “Dave really appreciated it,” he said. “He was a super good guy.”
Speaking about their experience with the Charlotte meetups, Rosalie, 53, said, “It felt like home.”
She grew up in Shirley. “Really connecting with people who sound the same as you, feel the same as you,” she said. “It’s really cool.”
Kristina, 21, is as into it as her parents. “Orange and blue is in her blood,” her dad said.
It’s obvious Islanders fans have a special bond. Just ask Jeff Clutterbuck (no relation to Cal). “When you find other Isles fans, it’s just so exciting,” said the 33-year-old who runs the Wisconsin Meetup. “People understand what the franchise has been through.”
Clutterbuck hosted his first meetup (@islesmeetup_MW) for the March 30 game against Buffalo, a 5-1 Isles win. There were just three people, but the group had double that for Game 3 of Isles-Pens.
With his last name, Clutterbuck knows it’s impossible for people not to ask if he’s related to the Islanders winger. “The day he got traded to the Islanders was one of the best days ever,” Jeff said.
In 2015, he attended an Isles game at the Coliseum and when he checked into the nearby hotel, a worker asked him if he was related to Cal. “Second cousin, whatever,” he joked.
They’re not family, but the organizers of the Isles meetups across the country sure feel like one. There’s a group chat between each meetup’s leader, and everyone said Ryan has been a big help as they ventured out on their own.
“Everyone supports each other,” Jacobs of Los Angeles said. “It’s a positive community.”
One that keeps growing with every Islanders win.