In the late 1980s, Hofstra lacrosse player Jon Cooper would make the walk along Hempstead Turnpike to get his hockey fix, enjoying every bit of an arena he called "rocking."
In the mid-'90s, former Islanders coach Rick Bowness also would marvel at the sound of the place -- at how loud it would get at Nassau Coliseum when the Rangers came to play the Islanders.
Both Cooper, now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Bowness, his associate coach, paid their respects Saturday to an arena that Cooper said is "a dying breed" in the NHL. Barring a playoff matchup, this will be their last visit to the Coliseum.
"It's very nostalgic, to be honest," said Cooper, who estimated that he went to about 20 games a year before graduating from Hofstra in 1989. "I was in here mid-'80s, and it was right after their Stanley Cup run, but this place was rocking . . . If you're talking about an old-school, rock-'em, sock-'em, the-roof-comes-off-when-the-place-is-going-nuts [type of arena], this is the last of a dying breed."
Bowness was the associate coach under Mike Milbury during the 1996-97 season before taking over his job midway through the season. He remained as head coach for the better portion of a difficult '97-98 campaign before being replaced by Milbury. He said that every time he comes back to the Coliseum, he looks up at the rafters and savors the history of the franchise.
"I look up at . . . and all those big names and great players," Bowness said. "This is such a fantastic franchise for our league. They've had great teams, obviously, and great atmosphere. I remember the first time being behind the bench for the Islanders-Rangers game and going, 'Wow, this is a special place, this is a special rivalry,' and all kinds of good memories come back here."
Above all, Bowness said, he loved the electricity that would sizzle throughout the Coliseum during big games. Though neither of his teams ever came within shooting distance of the playoffs, he mostly got to experience that when the Rangers came to town.
Going "from one game to that game, it's like, wow, what an incredible difference," he said. "The players felt it. It was a very special feeling."
But even so, Bowness seemed ready to let go. "Everything changes," he said. "You adapt or die . . . Hopefully, it's for the better and it helps the franchise. You always hate to see the old rinks go, I can tell you that."
Cooper seemed to hold on a little tighter. "People can say what they want about all the brand-new arenas that are popping up, and yes, they're beautiful and fan-friendly, there's no question," he said. But "it's sad to see it go."