Your parents are supposed to shield you from pain. Teach you between right and wrong. Understanding these two main rules, I always wonder why my parents let me grow up to be a New York Islanders fan. The seasons of heartache and abuse that I endured, well, still endure, I wonder why I am putting my son through the same pain?
The main culprit for this annual abuse is my father, Vince, a retired Nassau County police officer who was there during the Islanders dynasty years. Vince was a season ticket holder since the inception of the Islanders into the league in 1972. Before the Islanders came to the NHL, he was a New York Rangers fan. I asked him why he would change teams:
I was raised on Long Island and felt more of an allegiance to a Long Island team. It was fun, as well as frustrating at times, to watch a team develop. I remember when it was a big deal to just score a goal no less win a game. It was also more convenient to get to the Coliseum rather than travel to the Garden. Plus most of the Ranger fans were crude and out of line when it came to rooting for another team. They felt like there was no other team on earth. My reply usually was….if there were no other teams to compete against than I guess you are the best at playing with yourselves.
When it comes to frustrations, Islander fans know them well. It is tough enough to be a new franchise in an already established league, but to come in as the “little brother” of one of the original six teams, and in one of the toughest states to play professional sports, New York, the Isles and their fans faced a lot of adversity:
I like hockey and this was the first time I felt like a team was a part of me or vice-versa. As most Isles fans would probably say….their pains were our pains. We struggled and grew with them. They were the Isles and so were we. There was a connection. We weren’t given anything special and had little respect as a team or as fans. Both had to earn everything. If your parent’s were Ranger fans, then you probably were too. But you didn’t start at the beginning. You had an established identity and a good team. That’s easy. We had nothing but newness. That’s part of being an original Isles fan. As Caesar would say….we came, we saw, and we finally conquered.
I am not lucky enough to have seen a championship by my Islanders (I was born in 1986, so I missed the boat on that one. Maybe it’s my fault…) My dad was able to see all four and experience something that I hope, one day to actually see. Being a season ticket holder, it was even more of an amazing experience being there:
I can’t talk about the Nystrom goal without talking about how we got there ( I say we because even though I never put on skates the feeling with Isles fans was when they scored, we scored….when they dumped a guy on a good check it was us making that check, and when they failed so did we…that was the feeling we had…a little hard to explain but it was like we were on the ice and a part of it ..like family). The Islanders had been building a super team…by about 1976-77 we knew something special was happening. EVERY Isles-Ranger game was special. Even in the early years…. but when the Isles had finally established themselves as a competitive team, fan emotion was ratcheted up a few more levels.. I remember every time I arrived for an Isles-Ranger game, it was special..when you passed through the doors there was electricity in the air. When you got to your seat the chants were already going even before warm-ups..but things had changed during the late 70’s…there were actually more Isles fans in the building than Ranger fans!!! Then the rangers took the ice for warm-ups and the boo’s outdid the cheers and vice-versa when the isles came out. We still had about a half hour before the game was to start and I was already hoarse from booing and cheering.
The game itself was fantastic..that whole season was fantastic..there were mostly ups and not too many downs the whole year. The Flyers were almost hated as much as the Rangers. We all felt that we had to win that night or we would lose a 7th game in Philly. We were not totally confident…not afraid, but nervous….talk about NERVOUS…..when the flyers came back and tied the game forcing overtime we all had our doubts..that was the longest intermission I ever remember..we just wanted to WIN…but nothing is a given..as you know…one mistake in OT and it could be your last. Whenever the Flyers came down ice and got across the blue line we shuddered and when the puck went back out of the zone we exhaled. I remember looking around at the fans in my section this one time when the Flyers were coming up ice..some fans actually had their eyes closed or turned their backs not wanting to see anything bad happening. Whatever superstition you had that night you used both offensively and defensively..I didn’t have any one thing and I didn’t want to fake anything to jinx the Isles…I can’t tell you how much adrenaline I used that night but it was torture every time they entered our zone and relief and high hope whenever the Isles entered their zone and took a shot. We all felt that this had to end…we couldn’t take much more. And then it FINALLY HAPPENED!!!
When Nystrom scored, the Coliseum erupted. It was the loudest I ever heard anything to this day. We were no longer second class citizens in the hockey world!! Not one Islander fan wanted to leave the Coliseum.. now that I think of it…i’m surprised that the building didn’t actually collapse. Every Islander fan had hit the lottery that night!! We could now say to all those nasty Ranger fans….STICK IT!!!
I cannot imagine the feeling it has to be to win a cup let alone be there. My dad tried to explain exactly what it felt like:
Two things entered my mind that night…jubilation and relief……but it took a few days for me to realize that the Isles had actually won the cup..all those years (not really many but it seemed like it) of frustration came out with that one goal. When Nystrom scored I jumped up and yelled so hard that I hurt myself. I had to relax for a minute and then started going crazy again. It was a constant cheer. Fans were cheering, crying, high fiving etc. I wanted them to play some more just to cheer them. The feeling was that WE had won the cup. That was our reward. No more “where is Long Island?”….or “you have a hockey team that’s worth a damn?” or… “you’re lucky the NHL lets you play in the league” ….I think I am very fortunate to have been able to see my team win a Stanley Cup at HOME.
So now fast forward to 2017. It’s one thing to play general manager when your furthest memory was the pain it felt when Pierre Turgeon was cheap shotted to the ground by Dale Hunter, but it’s another thing to have an opinion when you actually saw what makes a dynasty. So what do the Islanders need to do to get back to that dynasty era atmosphere?
I think that they would have to return to the Coliseum..they should never have left but it was not their fault. The dumb politicians, as usual, screwed things up. Brooklyn is not the island (only geographically). I don’t think they’ll get back to the Coliseum. I wish they would. Belmont would be better than Brooklyn. But if you ever want to get that family feeling again they would have to come back to the Coliseum.
It’s tough to be a fan of any team, but when you you witnessed something like the Islanders 4 Cups in a row, it’s tough to top that. No matter what the Islanders do (and they have done a lot of stupid things… I’m looking at you Milbury), I will take the pain of being an Isles fan… worse comes to worse I can always just blame my dad!
Michelle Passi is the owner and administrator of Blue Line Banter. Follow her on Twitter @Buttercluck15