Hockey in September to all hockey fans is just an exhibition game. Not many people show up, the game doesn’t count, and the best players don’t even play sometimes. But last Sunday’s preseason opener at Nassau Coliseum was more than just a preseason game; it was a homecoming.
Seeing an Islanders game in the Coliseum was something I never thought would happen again after I left the building for the last time during the 2015 playoffs, but I was able to experience a game on Coliseum ice once again. The feeling was the same as it was before walking through the parking lot. Fans set up in big groups, having the Coliseum’s traditional parking lot tailgate. Once inside, I set myself up on the Islanders side for warm ups. Right before the team came out for warm ups, the “Let’s Go Islanders” chants began. Fans slamming on the glass, and signs that read “welcome home” and “lock the doors” were displayed by fans on the glass.
It was when the Islanders took the ice to begin the first period when the Coliseum erupted. The lineups were announced and the “Let’s Go Islanders” chants were ringing through the Coliseum, just like the old days. It was as loud, if not louder than any game I had ever been to at the old barn. The atmosphere inside was great throughout the whole game. They brought the organ back, the sign guy was there (who I was actually sitting next to), and so were Islanders legends.
It took a little while for the Islanders to get going. But in the second period, the Islanders struck when John Tavares backhanded a shot into the back of the net. Then, it was the rookie Matthew Barzal, who scored an impressive goal at 7:11 of the third period to tie the game at two. From there, every fan was on the edge of their seat. Towards the end of the third period, Islanders forward Josh Bailey spun around a Flyers defenseman, and backhanded a shot that deflected off of the goaltender’s elbow. It was the loudest groan I had ever heard.
After a nail biting third period, a “bring them back” chant started and was caught on by the 13,917 fans at the game. John Tavares intercepted a pass along the boards, made a move to the middle, and scored the overtime winner, 34 seconds in. Ironically enough, the last game I went to at the Coliseum was an overtime winner by the captain. The building was a frenzy. The “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chants rung through the building as the team saluted the fans. Anders Lee and Thomas Hickey pumped up the crowd after the game as another “bring them back” chant began. The chants continued into the parking well, as well as the traditional car horn salutes. This was more than just a preseason game to the fans and I. For the first time in two years, everything felt normal going to the game on Sunday.
Soon, The Long Island Nets will begin their first season at the Coliseum. There will be no ice, no boards, and no hockey. But for the 13,917 that were at Sunday’s game, there will be another Coliseum memory that will last forever.