It's Not Just A Goodbye To Nassau Coliseum

Moving isn’t easy. There are a lot of things that need to be packed away when transitioning from one home to another. There are many, many things actually, especially if it’s a home that you spent several years in.

You have your clothing, furniture, pictures and little personal belongings, but there are several memories that cannot be packed away into a box and reopened somewhere new. You may have a few pictures of these memories, and although pictures can help ease the bittersweet hardship of leaving a place you called home, you are still leaving a part of you behind.

I can’t say that I’ve called Nassau Coliseum my home for 43 years. As a 27-year old blogger, I can only say that I truly appreciated that building for 13 years.

Hockey had always seemed “cool” to me, but it wasn’t something that I really paid attention to as an early teenager. If I ever had anything to say about the sport, it was only because I played street hockey with my friends here and there while growing up. But it was just something to do, not something I loved.

I had been to only a handful of hockey games, whether they were at MSG or the Coliseum (I lived in Brooklyn until I was eight years old), but being that I didn’t grow up in your traditional hockey home of parents and siblings that had been playing the sport for years, I never really appreciated the game. 

It wasn’t until the 2002 season that this all changed for me. A friend of mine who was a die-hard Islanders fan asked if I wanted to go with him to a game at the Coliseum. The Isles were playing the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. I figured it would be fun since I hadn’t been to a professional sports game in years.

We were sitting just a few rows away from the glass in section 106. During the pregame warm-ups I noticed a few players I recognized from my hockey card collection I had back in Elementary school. Garth Snow, Chris Osgood, Michael Peca…I soon realized that this team was actually pretty good, according to my limited hockey knowledge at the time, of course.

The Isles won the game 5-3, but that wasn’t why it was special for me. It was stick night, so I had a brand new (albeit cheap and plastic) stick for the first time in years. Mark Parrish scored a hat trick, and I got to witness the majority of over 16,000 fans toss their caps onto the ice. And to add to it all, the Coliseum crowd did the wave for the first time in over 20 years. It was the most fun I had in a long time.

The very next day I was in my driveway shooting a whiffle ball into an empty paint bucket with that stick I got at the game. I had an old, cheap pair of roller skates in my basement that only fit if I removed the stockings. I took them out and wore these ugly wool socks instead so I could play. I looked ridiculous, and my feet could never feel more uncomfortable, but I didn’t care. I had instantly fallen in love with the game of hockey.

But with love comes pain, and I can say that I have endured plenty. Since that night, I’ve broken many bones, including my collar bone, which was one of the most painful injuries I’ve ever had. I’ve had four concussions and taken many sticks to the face – one that most notably caused a bump the size of a golf ball on my forehead and left a nice scar just under my hairline. I’ve taken pucks to the mouth, blocked shots without wearing equipment, and gotten into plenty of fights where bloody noses and bruises would become battle wounds and personal trophies.

However, pain would be replaced with pride, being that the culture of hockey isn’t about the injuries you receive, but how you’ve earned them. Sacrifice and dedication to the sport is what makes this game better than any other, and that was something I learned over the years while playing.

I didn’t have the traditional “born and bred” hockey story, but the sport would consume my life after that Ducks game. I would play with my friends literally every day after school until I graduated high school. Being that I went to Nassau Community College for my first two years, I would still find time to play on the weekends with my friends who were home.

In that short amount of time, I went from a pair of ugly Toys "R" Us roller skates to being named captain of my JV roller hockey team, the second leading scorer on my Varsity team, playing house league at Newbridge Ice Rink, and playing men’s league to this day. I also coached and officiated games for a handful of years as well.

I was fortunate enough, for even just a brief amount of time, to feel what it’s like to have friends and family watching you do something you love, cheering you on and supporting you each time you stepped out onto the ice. To this day, I still fondly look back and retell stories with my friends, who were teammates at the time, about how we succeeded, failed or were tossed out of games side by side for sticking up for one another.

As you can see, my playing history isn’t the most exciting story to tell.  I didn’t win an all-state championship or travel from state-to-state to compete. I can’t even say I played college level hockey.

Instead, my love for the game and playing experiences created much more for me. I’ve made so many friends over the years and have maintained these relationships with hockey as the consistent common denominator. Some of these friends I would go as far as saying are family.

I would put together a “Home from School” team called the Danglers each summer to allow us to get together and play in a fun, competitive league while everyone was home during our college years. This eventually led to my friend organizing the “Dangler’s Winter Classic,” our own outdoor game that we play each year between Christmas and New Year’s.

That game has become one of, if not my favorite time of the year. Not only do we get to play outdoors at night during the middle of winter, but I am surrounded by all of my favorite people and their families. Parents, siblings, and friends, regardless of whether or not they play or even really like hockey come out to watch us play. But they all watch not just because they want to see a game.

No, it’s much, much more than that.

Over the years I’ve dated girls who shared the same love for the game and have spent many nights watching with them at the Coliseum. My girlfriend from years ago was interning for Game Ops, and she would normally be working the 50-50 raffle just outside of my blog box table in section 209.

I even caught a puck with another girl a few years later on our first date. Since I was trying to be a gentleman, I let her keep the puck. She’s a Rangers fan, so things didn’t work out for obvious reasons. We’ve become great friends since, but maybe I should try to steal that puck back one of these days.

With writing being one of my greatest passions, I decided to apply my skills to the NYI Blog Box when it was in its second year of existence. I was gratefully accepted and have been covering the team I love ever since. I have spoken with so many players, but even to this day, still get that kid-like emotion when I get to talk to a player face-to-face. It’s been an experience that I will never forget, and one that has made my life as an Islanders fan even better than I could have ever expected.

It’s memories like having a laugh with Doug Weight in the Islanders hallway; Travis Hamonic personally getting up to shake my hand since he and I have been talking since his WHL days; Andy Sutton throwing his jersey over my head by accident instead of the hamper basket (and slapping me on my chest with an apology and smile that almost sent me into a locker stall); seeing P.A. Parenteau, Michael Grabner or Ryan Strome retweet an interview you wrote about them that I will fondly remember forever.

It’s being able to suit up in my referee gear for a men’s league game at Nassau Coliseum after I sat in the blog box in section 209 before they moved us up to the press-box. I never had the opportunity to skate on Nassau Coliseum ice before, and it saddens me knowing that I will likely never have another chance to do it again.

I moved to Brooklyn this past November. Depending on how you look at it, you can say I moved to Brooklyn a year too soon. Despite what you may think, it’s not because the Isles will be 25 minutes away from me next season. But as a result, I haven’t been able to get to the Coliseum to cover as many games this year as I would have liked.

I have tickets to the last regular season home game, so I made sure that I could get to the Coliseum this past Saturday for one more night in the press-box, for one last chat with Hamonic and John Tavares.

For one last chance to hear myself interview a player on the radio during the post-game show that is being listened to by thousands of hockey fans; realizing that’s me, a school teacher residing in Brooklyn, working in Manhattan, but still calling Long Island my home and getting the chance to continue applying my passion of writing to something I love.

These are just a few of the memories I will never take for granted.

My time as a credentialed blogger has allowed me to get to know that building inside and out, from the organ player who sits to the right of me in the press-box just behind the Re-Max blimp, to the narrow hallways outside of the locker rooms where the zambonis sit in between periods.

It’s witnessing things like Butch Goring enjoying some extra whipped cream on his strawberry shortcake after the second intermission, feeling honored having C.J. Papa of FiOS 1 ntroduce himself to me because he recognized my name on my credentials, or catching a nod from legends like Mike Bossy in the hallway of the luxury suites upstairs.

But in the end, I don’t know if any of these memories can actually compare to the camaraderie felt within that Madhouse off the Meadowbrook.

As a fan, I’ve experienced plenty of tough times over the past 13 years – more tough than good, to be honest. But that’s what has made this season so rewarding, so meaningful. Most of these players have been waiting for a year like this just as long as I have been covering the team, and that desire to win one last time has been pulsating throughout 16,000+ fans all season long.

These are all moments that I do not have packed away in a box to look at from time to time. These are memories that I get to relive every time I set foot in that building; that building that has been falling apart for decades but standing strong in my mind for the past 13 years.

Nassau Coliseum has become my second home.

Admittedly, I am ecstatic in knowing that the Islanders are one point away from clinching a playoff berth, and that all things considered, this team should hopefully provide one last strong playoff run in Nassau County.

But as all hockey fans know, the playoffs are a season of length that is completely undetermined. A point will come where there is no tomorrow, and a win or lose situation could be do or die for a run at the Cup, but also another game played on Long Island.

Although they have not yet clinched, hockey should be played on Nassau Coliseum ice after April 11th, and I will do everything in my power to get there at least one more time.

But as of now, my last game on Long Island is April 11th, and saying those words bring about so much emotion that it is truly difficult to put them down on paper.

The politicians who “tried” to salvage this building will never quite understand how it feels. They can toss away new building designs and projects, provide their referendums and say we “tried” at the end of the day and go to sleep with a clean conscious, not realizing how much they have stolen from so many people.

Without that building, my second home, I would not have had all of these experiences, memories, beneficial hardships and the closest of friends.

Any fan will find it easy to understand that it’s hard to say goodbye to your favorite team moving away. But I am not saying goodbye to my team. I am not saying goodbye to a game.

I am saying goodbye to a building that is responsible for some of the greatest memories of my life.

But I guess above all else, I am also saying thank you.

-Rob McGowan

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