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'Vintage' Coliseum helps keep Mike Bossy's Islanders memories fresh

New York Islanders winger Mike Bossy cheers after

New York Islanders winger Mike Bossy cheers after his hat trick against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Jan. 13, 1981. With the goal, his 44th of the season, Bossy ties the NHL hat trick record of 7 in a season. Credit: AP

Mike Bossy still recalls every detail of his first visit to Nassau Coliseum, shortly after a news conference announcing his signing with the Islanders in the summer of 1977.

Of course, it helps that not much has changed since then.

"I remember distinctly walking out where the players walk out now on foot, and I do it many times with clients [as a member of the front office in sponsorship and fan development] and remark to them that I walked out here 37 years ago, and it's exactly the same. It hasn't changed at all.''

That's good for nostalgia but bad for business, a dual reality that Bossy -- like other former players and longtime fans -- will confront this season as he watches the final season at the Coliseum.

"Everyone else has changed and everything else has become state of the art, and unfortunately, this place is the same as when I walked out in 1977,'' he said recently after being named a studio analyst for MSG for the coming season. "There are subtle changes, but it's the same arena.''

Bossy joked that the polite way of describing the old place is "vintage.''

"I will make a great comparison: When the Yankees were playing in their dump and they were winning, no one was calling it a dump,'' he said. "They were calling it vintage. Unfortunately, we haven't been winning, so it makes the place look worse than it is. So we turn it into vintage.''

Don't get Bossy wrong. Much as he is a realist when it comes to the outdated state of the arena, he has the same warm spot for its history that Islanders fans do.

Asked to pick his favorite memories from his time in uniform at the old place, he named three: Winning the team's first Stanley Cup on May 24, 1980, scoring his 50th goal in the first 50 games on Jan. 24, 1981, and winning the Islanders' fourth consecutive Cup on May 17, 1983.

All of that was a long time ago, and a younger generation is only vaguely familiar with what Bossy, 57, did on the ice. But he said he is OK with that because nothing can erase what those old teams did in the then-young arena.

"Kids don't know who I am,'' he said, laughing. "Hockey is certainly not as popular as the other major sports are in New York, so I would say the Hall of Famers of the Islanders certainly don't have that continued recognition that Hall of Famers from baseball and football have.

"But I am one of those who say it is what it is. There's nothing I can do about it. I think as a group, we all know what we accomplished, certainly one of the three best teams in the history of the game, and when you can put yourself there, you don't need anything else.''

The memories are tied more to his teammates than to the building in which they played, but it was part of their story, too.

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