The Nassau Coliseum doors could be opening soon.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that sports arenas in the state could open with limited capacity beginning on Feb. 23. The new edict allows any arena or stadium with over 10,000 person capacity to reopen with 10 percent capacity being admitted.
Anybody attending will need to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event and social distancing and face coverings will be enforced inside the venue. The plan is a mirror of the one the state approved for the Buffalo Bills in December when they hosted two playoff games at Bills Stadium.
“The Buffalo Bills program was an unparalleled success,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in Albany. “The only stadium for football to open up with testing, believe it or not, was what we did here in New York. … This hits the balance of safe reopening.”
The reopening plan would mean that roughly 1,400 fans would be allowed into Nassau Coliseum for games once the New York State Department of Health approved the plan to open the venue safely. All approval for arena openings in the state will go through the department of health.
The Islanders are 11 games into the 2020-21 season and have played only three games at home this year. The Islanders will have 22 home games at the Nassau Coliseum after Feb. 23, which is the day Cuomo earmarked to reopen arenas and stadiums.
Season ticket holders will receive first priority when the Islanders do open up the Coliseum for games after the governor’s deadline.
“It’s exciting that Governor Cuomo has announced that New York State will allow a limited number of fans to attend games starting February 23rd,” The Islanders said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming the best fans in hockey back to the Coliseum as soon as possible and to UBS Arena at Belmont Park next season. … The health and safety of our fans and our staff remains our top priority.”
The 2020-21 season is the Islanders’ finale one at Nassau Coliseum before they move to UBS Arena in the fall. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran had championed the Islanders to return a year early to play a full season at the Coliseum last year.
Cuomo stepped in and persuaded NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to allow it, announcing the decision during a Feb. 29 press conference at the Coliseum ahead of the Islanders’ loss to the Boston Bruins.
“I’m thrilled that Islanders fans will be able to safely rock the Barn again,” Curran said in a statement to NYI Hockey Now. “Governor Cuomo reopening arenas is a big step towards New York’s safe return to normal, and the reopening of the Coliseum means so much for Nassau. We know virus risk is dramatically reduced with precautions in place and rules being followed. I’m confident that we’re ready to do this safely and smoothly.”
Earlier this month Curran had expressed hope that the Islanders would be able to get fans into the building. During an interview with NYI Hockey Now, she said that opening up the building to fans by the playoffs was “within the realm of possibility.”
The Islanders have played three games at the Nassau Coliseum so far and have two more later this week. They are also scheduled to play the Buffalo Sabres one day before arenas can reopen.
Nearly all NHL teams have been playing in front of empty areas to start the year.
“I will say this as a coach, and I can speak for the athletes, we would really enjoy the fans back,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “We miss that element in our game or in sport, or in life. … We love them. They’re a big part of what we do.”