I sit in Northwell Health Ice Center on a chilly Halloween evening, around 7:00 pm. There are two youth hockey teams practicing on the two ice rinks in the facility. One girl, the other boys. The pro shop is to my left, with those extraordinarily priced Adidas jerseys that I know I’ll buy anyway. Up the stairs is the “Islanders Wall of Fame,” commemorating “Larger than Life Players” such as Dennis Potvin, Bobby Nystrom, and Billy Smith. Players that played, and retired before I was born, yet I somehow feel a connection to.
Why am I here? I don’t know. Boredom? Procrastination? I want to kill time before Game Six of the World Series begins? All are possibilities. I went for a drive, and somehow ended up here. Upon further thought, one larger reason comes to mind. The same reason why I feel a connection to players long before my time, and why I’ll inevitably purchase my annual Islanders jersey. I’m a fan.
Again, why? A coworker who is into sports about as much as I’m into Halloween (i.e. not at all) posed this question to me a week ago. Why do people become fans? After all, it is just a game. I thought long and hard about my response. No fan’s story is quite the same, but in my mind, it boils down to one word: Investment. The broadest definition of a fan is someone who has an emotional investment in a team’s success.
Some were born into their fandom, and are so exposed to their family’s fanaticism for a sports team that they become emotionally invested as well. These children go to games or watch at home with parents and create positive memories, especially associated with winning. Others may have no one in their family who enjoys sports, but become fans through friends, or through individual curiosity. This usually occurs when a certain team is playing exceptionally well, or is on a playoff run. Yes, yes, the infamous “bandwagon fan”. Many “bandwagoners” will inevitably lose interest as the team declines, but a few find that they enjoy the sport, whatever it may be, and continue to follow the team. Are the Chicago Blackhawks as good as they were when they won 3 championships in 6 years? No. Are there still fans cheering for them who became fans during those cup years? Absolutely. The investment stays with them, as they continue to be fans.
It is from this emotional investment that all other aspects of being a fan come from. We buy clothing with team logos on it, and jerseys with our favorite players names. We buy tickets to see our favorite teams play live, and often go through unfavorable conditions to do so. No, sit down Islanders fans. I’m not referencing the train ride to Barclays. We’ve got it pretty good. Try crossing the entire state of Wisconsin, just to sit in Lambeau Field to watch the Green Bay Packers play on a below zero-degree night in January. What’s more? Packers fans love it. It’s the time of their lives. That may be an extreme example, but it shows what the emotional stock people put into sports teams can make them do.
Now, back to focus. What does this have to do with the Islanders? Not much, over the past two decades. That is, until Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin became the organization’s majority owners. Ledecky, the obvious face of the ownership duo, talked lots about being there for the fans, and when asked what the teams goals were, he responded with a blunt, “Fifth Ring.” This is typical talk for new ownership, and was met with a resounding “Yeah right,” from the more jaded Islanders fans, myself included. Then, slowly, I understood what he meant.
Ledecky and Malkin pressed the LIRR to provide special trains to service Islanders games, eventually getting trains straight to Atlantic Terminal on the weekends, and trains for all major lines waiting for fans after each game. They pressed even harder during the 2016 playoffs, getting more trains straight to Brooklyn. Without it, your lives as Islanders fans would be so much harder.
The new ownership has also been extremely visible since taking over. Ledecky, who we’ve already established is the face of the pair, is at most, if not all major team events, from open practices to fundraisers. He regularly approaches fans, seeking their thoughts and opinions, and even did so “undercover” during the last season at Nassau Coliseum. Not once did he mention that he would be one of the new majority owners. One of my favorite stories is quite recent. Ledecky rode the train to the October 21 matchup against the San Jose Sharks with fans, and met an old woman who had been at Nassau when the Islanders won their first Stanley Cup. He insisted she attend the game, free of charge, and gave her rink side seats for the decisive 5-3 Isles victory.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention the beautiful renovations the pair have commisioned to Northwell Health Ice Center, previously known as “Twin Rinks”. I obviously can’t go check out the full facility, but from the video tours given to the press, what we’ve seen from Islanders social media accounts, and of course, what I can see with my own eyes, its state of the art. The main hall is clean (I can see my reflection when I look at the floor), the dim lighting calls attention to the warmly lit trophy cases on either side of the hallway to the locker rooms, and it even smells nice in here. My imagination runs wild at the thought of what a new arena at Belmont Park will look like with Ledecky and Malkin at the helm.
If you take anything away from my ramblings this evening, let it be this. Fandom is a wonderful and perplexing thing that causes people to act in wonderful, perplexing ways, but Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin seem to get it. I’ve been impressed with them so far, and hope they keep it up. Naturally, there’s one question everyone is asking. Will it be enough to keep John Tavares? Only time will tell.
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