UNIONDALE, N.Y. — There is nothing more quintessential Long Island than the sound of car horns blaring “Let’s Go Islanders” along Hempstead Turnpike as they pull into the Nassau Coliseum on a big game night. And on Thursday night that was the scene that played out outside the Coliseum ahead of Game 3 between the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.
It was the closest to normalcy that’s been felt in the area in over a year as 12,000 fans packed the Coliseum, the most the building has seen since prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Inside the crowd roared as the Islanders took the ice for warmups and then later reemerged for the start of the game.
The road outside Nassau Coliseum half an hour before a playoff game. Sweet, blissful, rage-induced honking normalcy. pic.twitter.com/AEiR7BdXxa
— Jerry Beach (@JerryBeach73) June 3, 2021
After the national anthem, there was so much noise from the crowd that the NBC broadcast camera was visibly shaking.
Hours before that the parking lot outside the heralded Coliseum was already filling up with fans tailgating. For lifelong Islanders fan Annemarie Briskie, being back outside with her fellow fans and getting ready to go into a full Coliseum was something she thought she might not have gotten to do one final time.
“Really I want to cry I’m so happy,” Briskie told NYI Hockey Now. “It’s just exhilarating after the year we’ve been through. After this whole pandemic, just to have this back again that we didn’t think we’d have back again I’m beyond words. This is very special and the Coliseum is very special.”
If anyone had forgotten what a “special” place the Coliseum has been for the Islanders, Thursday was just the latest reminder. The building came alive with 6,800 fans for the first two home games for New York in the First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins
— Christian Arnold (@C_Arnold01) June 3, 2021
When capacity increased for Game 6, the 9,000 fans inside made the building sound as if it had been full.
“This is a throwback building. People are right on top of you,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said prior to Game 3 on Thursday. “They feel like they’re all closer. They’re all sitting on your bench basically and the new buildings have a vastness to it that doesn’t quite feel the same, but have a really good atmosphere, like the TD Garden in Boston. It’s a really good atmosphere. They feel like they’re on top of you but not on top of you like on your bench like our building can have that effect.”
Trotz added: “That’s the great thing about our building is that there aren’t too many buildings like that anymore.”
Soon the Nassau Coliseum will be added to that list after the Islanders move to UBS Arena in the fall. The new state-of-the-art arena is scheduled to open in November, which could very well mean the Islanders need to play a few more dates at 1255 Hempstead Turnpike.
However, it doesn’t take away from the significance of Thursday night.
“This is what the Long Island community deserves and has been needing for the last year and a half. The Islanders fanbase is a family and this is coming home for everyone,” said Sarah Holzberg, a fan and former team employee.
That was a sentiment echoed by Andy Hicks, who emigrated to the United States in 2009 and found himself trying to adjust to a new country. Hicks was originally from England and was missing the connection that he had with soccer.
He quickly filled the void with a new passion: the Islanders.
“This is a second home. It’s an incredible place,” Hicks said. “The feeling that you get here just from the ushers who get to know your name if you’re a season ticket holder. From getting to know people in the parking lot, which is where I am right now. It is a true family and I don’t feel that any fanbase can relate truly to that.
“That’s what makes the arena special and it’s what makes the Islanders special.”
Gunna need a bigger camera tomorrow https://t.co/feOd1FrnOV
— x-YesMenOutfitters (@YesMenOutfitter) June 4, 2021
Similar to why the Islanders’ “identity line” has captured such a special place in the hearts of the fans, the Coliseum shares that same appreciation. For many Long Islanders, it was the site of their first concert, sporting event, or memory from their childhood.
While the Nassau Coliseum underwent a facelift after the team first left in 2015, the bones of the building remained the same.
“It’s just the nostalgia factor. It’s kind of a period of time,” said Devin Robinson, who was tailgating on Thursday and runs the Islanders-themed apparel outlet Yes Men Outfitters. “You go there and it’s not flashy at all. A hockey community loves that. Nobody likes their team to be the fast, new, young team. You have a lot more pride when they’re the gritty, hard-hitting team. I think the team matches the face of the building. And the building is gritty, no-frills, make your own fun. DIY, tailgating. It’s just different. It’s a society, unlike any other hockey fanbase.”