The Islanders and their fans weren’t the only ones excited to be back at Nassau Coliseum for a regular-season game.
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella and forward Brandon Dubinsky were longtime participants in the New York rivalry during their time with the Rangers and were pleased to be back in the building for Saturday night’s game against the Islanders.
“I was with the Rangers for five or six years, and the things that were going on in the stands, it was better than the game sometimes,” said Tortorella, the Rangers’ coach from 2009-13. “When other teams come in here, they don’t experience that. That game, no matter the building, Madison Square Garden or here, they were a blast to play in. That’s when hockey was hockey.
“There’s passionate fans here,” Tortorella added. “I’m really thrilled that we’re getting the opportunity to play the first one back in this building.”
Dubinsky recalled playing his first NHL game at the Coliseum, a 2-1 Rangers win on March 8, 2007. In that game, the Islanders’ Chris Simon received a 25-game suspension for swinging his hockey stick like a baseball bat at Ryan Hollweg’s throat in retaliation for Hollweg’s check from behind that gave him a concussion.
Dubinsky also was with the Blue Jackets on April 11, 2015, for the last regular-season game at the Coliseum — now known as NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum — before Saturday night. The Islanders lost a 5-4 shootout and lost home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs before dropping a seven-game series to Barry Trotz’s Capitals. Dubinsky lost six of his bottom teeth in that game after taking teammate Jack Johnson’s stick to his mouth.
“Most of the memories are Rangers-Islanders,” Dubinsky said. “You could just feel the mayhem in the stands and it carried over to the ice. I had a lot of fun nights here.
“There are good hockey fans here on Long Island and I’m sure most are happy that it’s back here and not in Brooklyn,” Dubinsky added. “I’m assuming they’re going to start drawing better and having more energy. This gives them an opportunity to be closer and show support and not sit in a train or a car for a couple of hours, which really isn’t worth it.”
Dubinsky’s affinity for the Coliseum is such that the renovations to the building — for instance, the former visitor’s dressing room now is where the Islanders’ old room was — have made it feel like a new arena to him.
“It’s funny because everybody likes new [stuff],” Dubinsky said. “I enjoyed playing in the old Coliseum, the way it was. It looks like a brand-new rink. It feels like a foreign place. It won’t feel like the old Coliseum when we’re playing.”