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BACK AT THE BARN: What It Was Like Being at an Empty Nassau Coliseum for a Game

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The New York Islanders home rink of Nassau Coliseum

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Prior to this week, the last time the New York Islanders had stepped foot on Nassau Coliseum ice was March 7, 2020. While it was only 10 months ago, in retrospect it seems like a lifetime ago.

COVID-19 had only just started to creep into the sports universe. What would transpire a week later wasn’t even imaginable at the time. So there was a sense of familiarity and brief normalcy when I walked into the Coliseum on Monday afternoon for the Islanders home opener against the Boston Bruins.

under normal circumstances, in January I am usually fully engulfed in the Islanders season. Weekends are planned around game and practice coverage, or that odd trip on the road with the Islanders. Instead, the first few months of the traditional hockey season were spent wondering if there would even be hockey games to cover at all.

To say I was looking forward to being at Monday’s game would be an understatement.

Nassau Coliseum exterior Walking into the Nassau Coliseum you were quickly reminded of the current state of the world. Signs about the need to wear a mask at all times inside the building were everywhere, as were Purell hand sanitizing stations. Security checked our temperature at the door and media members and staff entering had to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire.

It’s a similar procedure for those of us that attend Islanders practices in person, so it had become a sort of second nature.

What was the most jarring thing on Monday was the quiet of the arena. Those of us covering games aren’t allowed into the Coliseum until an hour before game time, which would mean during normal times that the concourse would be bustling with fans and vendors selling overpriced beer and pretzels.

You would move at a snail’s pace trying to walk from the media gate to the press box elevators. Instead, it was a brisk walk onto the concourse and into the inner bowl where they have us set up to watch the games from. If there is any silver lining, then it’s the fact that we’re down a bit lower than where the Coliseum press box is, but I still enjoy watching from above to see how plays develop and get a different angle on the game.

The Islanders tried to keep the game presentation the same as they would if the building had been packed with fans. They blasted the music during warmups and during a stoppage of play — albeit at noticeably lower decibel than previously — pump-up videos were on the video board and goals and penalties were announced by the public address announcer.

Cardboard fans

And they pumped in crowd noise, which wasn’t all that bad and helped keep some figment of a normal game experience. When the Islanders faced the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the volume of the crowd noise did not go over so well, but Monday on Long Island, it was done just right.

In fact, on Thursday during the Islanders 4-1 win over New Jersey, the fake crowd noise was almost nonexistent.

To that end, what was the oddest part of the whole experience so far was the emptiness of the Nassau Coliseum. Sure, people have their jokes about how empty the building has been in years past when the team wasn’t doing well, but at its best, the Coliseum is one of the toughest places to play in the NHL

In large part due to the fans that inhabit it. Adjusting to the calm and quiet, except for the music and fake noise, was something that took time.

Through all of the oddities, it was good to be back in an NHL rink.

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