We're All Islanders: Reasons For Voting Yes

I originally lived in Brooklyn, NY, which for those of you outside of New York is not very far from New York City, Madison Square Garden and the New York Rangers. I lived in Brooklyn as a kid for most of the 90's but couldn't tell you a damn thing about hockey. My closest friend and his father were die hard Rangers fans so every now and then I used to see a game on TV, especially when they were in the playoffs. But still, I couldn't say I knew much. Only when I went to my friends house would I pick up a plastic stick and fool around with a ball in his driveway, but other than that, the game of hockey was a complete unknown.

Zdeno Chara and Richard Park (slidingsideways/Flickr)I moved to Long Island with my family in 1996. The area that we were moving from had progressively gotten worse with adolescent crime. Now I was surrounded by hockey. My classmates were always sporting jerseys and jackets from various NHL teams, but most notably the Islanders and Rangers. I was taken to an Islanders game once or twice. I remember seeing Eric Lindros, then a flyer, injure his leg against the Isles at the Coliseum or seeing the St. Louis Blues come in and rip the Islanders penalty kill apart. My friend pointed out to me that the 6'9 monster that walked out of the runway was the tallest man in the sport. That was Zdeno Chara, before we traded him for...ah forget it.

But even then, hockey meant nothing to me besides a day out of the house.

It wasn't until February of 2002 when the same friend mentioned above took me to another Islanders game. Michael Peca, Alexei Yashin and Chris Osgood were the headlining players for this team and Mark Parrish scored a hat trick on stick night to defeat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 5-3. The place was sold out and hats flew from all over, including from my friend since we were sitting sixth row to the side of one of the Islanders nets. The passion of the fans, the excitement of the game; I had never seen anything like it and I was finally old enough to appreciate it.

I was hooked. I immediately found an old pair of roller skates the next day and was shooting a wiffle ball into an empty bucket in the street down the block. Local kids in the neighborhood eventually would join me, and before I knew it I was playing roller hockey every day after school for the next four years. After some camps and many years of street hockey, I moved onto ice hockey and played roller hockey for my high school, captaining my JV team and as an Assistant for the Varsity one year later. The rinks that we played at on the Island featured Islanders logo sponsorshops everywhere, showing their community support for playing hockey. Once I graduated I started to coach the same team I had once played for; a team of guys that I still call my closest friends to this day. Without that team, I wouldn't have the friends I have now. The majority of us still see each other all the time. We go on vacations together and make time to get together on the weekends, even though most of us now work full time and are finishing up school.

I continue to play to this day and have the scars to prove it, including a collar bone that was once broken three ways. My brother, who doesn't play anymore but still loves the Islanders and the game, had a scar on his chin from when he got a nice gash from taking a stick to the face playing in the street. When we went to the ER, we had to wait for an oral surgeon since his tooth was chipped. We both were more concerned that we were missing Game 5 of the playoff series between the Leafs and Isles. The surgeon arrived and saw my brother in his Isles jersey and told us they were losing 2-1. I immediately turned on the radio once we left the hospital and got in the car to hear them announce Shawn Bates as the first star of the game with his penalty shot game winning goal and realized that we probably just missed the most exciting game that we could ever have seen. However, seeing Eric Cairns pummel Shane Corson at center ice from the sixth row just a few nights later would quickly make up for it.

(YouTube video courtesy of user jsr1034)

Hearing the crowd cheer when the ref points to center ice and then explode when Bates ripped the puck over CuJo's shoulder still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

The Nassau Coliseum has also been home to many dates for me. My ex was a huge Islanders fan and was basically what prompted the first conversation between us which led to plenty of watched games together at home or at the Coliseum. After we split, I once took another girl to the Coliseum and caught a puck for the first time, which I gave to her. She was a Rangers fan, so needless to say things never worked out.

I've seen many concerts with many friends there as well. The first time I ever set foot in that building after moving to Long Island was when I won a drawing contest in a local Long Island newspaper and received free tickets to see the Harlem Globe Trotters. But nothing beats, as I've mentioned before, when I saw Metallica headline my home town arena for the first time in over 20 years.

My friends that I used to play street hockey with now play on a Men's League team with me that I started a few years ago called "The Danglers." Every summer we get together and play, regardless if some of them go away to Ivy League schools or play Division hockey. We do it for fun and can say that we've played against former Islander, Benoit Hogue. His team crushed us, but I did deke past Hogue at the blue line and had to tell him that it was the defining moment of my Men's League career after the game.

Garth Snow (Bondra_Fan/Flickr)My love for hockey transpires into everything I do which eventually led to me blogging on My Hockeybuzz threads at Hockeybuzz.com. B.D. Gallof, who was the Islanders writer at the time, helped me get started so I could make my way into the NYI Blog Box the following year. After spending some time writing for The Hockey News, I made my way into the Blog Box and have met some of the best people I know who share the same love for the game that I do. After years and years of being a fan, I could say that I was talking to the players that I watched every night after every game that I attended; I was setting foot in their locker room; I was getting greeted by players like Travis Hamonic, who I've been in touch with since his last season in Junior; I was getting bumped into by Garth Snow or having a laugh with Doug Weight. Heck, I can even say that I've gone to the bathroom standing next to Islanders legend and current color commentator, Butch Goring.

These are just highlights of the main points of why I will be voting yes on Monday, August 1st. You can look at the different views, the numbers and all the politics from both sides. To me it doesn't matter. This is not just about keeping the New York Islanders on Long Island. This is not just about creating thousands of jobs and boosting the local economy. This is not just about keeping the only premier venue that the Island has in Nassau County to host shows and other countless events.

If I hadn't been taken to the Coliseum to see Mark Parrish score that hat trick, my life could have been completely different. Just last night a close friend of mine (also from that same roller hockey team) and I were talking about how that if it weren't for the Islanders, we would not have been standing together drinking a beer. I wouldn't have the memories, the good friends and close ties with everyone I have in this community, and I know I am not alone. This team, that building has played a role in everyone's life out here. It's just that everyone's story might be a little different.

A victory on Monday may not be the end of the road, but it would be the first real successful step of pushing the ball forward. If this vote fails, if the Islanders are forced to move in a few years, I would feel like that I have lost the one thing that is responsible for every good thing that has happened to me out here.

I still want to see a championship on Long Island. I want to live here whenever I start my own family down the road and I want my kids to have similar stories play out for them as it did for me. For those of you reading, thinking of your stories, I'm sure you do too.

I urge all of you that can to vote yes on August 1st. There is still plenty more to look forward too.


UPDATED 6:07 PM 8/2/2011

As you all know by now, the referrendum has failed close to a 60-40 percentage. This has been a dark day for Islanders fans as now the future of the Islanders, the Coliseum and quality standard of living go into question until a decision is made on the future of this team. Do not expect Wang to have much more patience - many feel this was his last  effort.

I apologize for not writing more, as other demands are on me this week that will keep me from blogging until the weekend. More to come as the dust settles and more hopefully unravels.

-Rob McGowan

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