Bobby Nystrom and Clark Gillies walked the halls with friendly ghosts on Wednesday afternoon.
Strolling through the renovated halls of NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum — refitted with modifications in preparation for the Islanders’ homecoming on Saturday — they saw clearly all the remnants of the franchise’s past. That’s Section 119, Nystrom said, where Father Dan — a local priest — would high-five players when they exited the tunnel. “He married a bunch of the guys,” the Islanders legend said.
The hallways are all the same, Gillies said: “You don’t need a road map to find your way around.”
“And in that corner,” Nystrom said, pointing to the bench, “I’m looking across at John Tonelli and his sticks flying and his gloves are flying and everyone is jumping off the bench.”
It’s still so much the same, they agreed — and very, very different. The Islanders on Saturday will play Columbus in the first of 21 games this season at the Coliseum, and the first of at least 60 in the next three years before their new arena at Belmont Park is ready. New York State contributed $6 million to make sure the Coliseum arena fits NHL specifications, while the Islanders chipped in $4 million.
Additions include new locker rooms, and investments in dehumidification and ice plant redundancy — the NHL requires teams to have both the ability to maintain the ice, and a backup in case the primary ice plant goes down. There are also updates to the arena’s broadcast capabilities, with two new cameras pointed at center ice.
“I’ve never seen the old place look so good,” Gillies said as workers painted the Islanders’ logo at center ice. “I think the fans are going to be the big winners here . . . I think everybody is going to be very, very thrilled when they look at these sight lines. It’s going to be a whole different experience for the fans back here at the Coliseum than it is at the Barclays Center. I’m thrilled.”
The new-look Coliseum has maintained the old sight lines, and the scoreboard over center ice. Perhaps most importantly, it’s still an intimate building — one that will allow for maximum noise when fans make their first pilgrimage on Saturday.
“It’s going to be rocking,” Ny strom said. “I almost got tears in my eyes when we came back from Philadelphia and played that sixth game [in the 1980 Stanley Cup Final]. The fans were as loud as I’ve ever heard them — in warmup! It just continued throughout the whole game and I expect it to be the exact same thing when the team comes back here on Saturday.”
Fans are encouraged to start arriving early, with a pregame party kicking off in the plaza at 4:30 p.m., when Nystrom and Gillies will be on hand to sign autographs. Doors will open at 5:30.
Nystrom said he loves the new locker rooms — “my gosh, you could fit two of our locker rooms in that locker room” — and chided people not to walk on the logo. (“It’s a jinx”)
“I think the fact that the structure itself was kept, at least similar, because you want to have that noise factor because when you’re playing out in the ice, you hear everything,” he said. “The fact that they left it the way that it was, I think that’s the most important thing.”