There was no freshly laid out ice, no glass high above the boards, no nets or netting, and nobody was on skates. There was no game being played, but on Friday night, the New York Islanders began their final season at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Instead, a rock-climbing wall, dunk tank, inflatable toys, and a Ferris wheel filled the space that the ice usually fills up. It was the Islanders annual draft party, and it was the beginning of the end at Nassau Coliseum.
After the upcoming 2014-15 NHL season, the Islanders will move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, ending their 43-year run in Uniondale. After a disappointing season last year, the Islanders will look to close out their building on a high note, by giving the fans one last playoff run in the old barn they’ve called home.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t (added pressure)” veteran forward Eric Boulton, 37, said. “Everyone loves the Coliseum. There might be a little more pressure in trying to bring the Stanley Cup here. It would be a good way to say goodbye.”
Boulton was joined by younger teammates Anders Lee, Ryan Strome, Calvin de Haan, and Matt Martin at the draft party. The players were busy with the fans all night. They answered questions, shook hands, took photos, and signed autographs for the more than 5,000 fans that came to the Coliseum for the annual event.
Even though the Islanders ranked 26 out of 30 NHL teams in attendance last season, the fan support was evident on Friday night. “The support is great. It makes me excited for the season. I wish we could start now,” Strome said. With just 37 NHL games played, all last season, Strome hasn’t seen many good days during his brief NHL stint.
Martin, 25, has played in 280 games, all for the Islanders, and was a key part of their playoff run two seasons ago. “I don’t know if there will ever be a building that’s as loud as this one,” Martin said about the Coliseum. However, in order for the Coliseum to be loud, it needs to be full, and Martin understands the fan’s point of view. “I don’t blame (the fans), I wouldn’t want to watch a losing team either,” he said. While Martin and the rest of his teammates are used to putting on a show on the ice, it was water that had Martin at the center of attention on this night.
As part of a fundraiser for the Islanders Children’s Foundation, fans had the opportunity to dunk Martin in the dunk tank. After winning the opportunity online, the winning fans got three tosses at a target about 10-15 feet away. Hit the target, and a visibly nervous Martin would plunge into the water below.
Many fans made the most of this opportunity, sending Martin into the water countless times. One of them was Peter Dunphy of Massapequa, who hit the target on his first attempt with his father watching, sending Martin into the water below. “It was nice to dunk a pro hockey player,” Dunphy, 12, said proudly.
On the wet end of things, Martin was happy to take the drop, but wanted revenge. “I thought it would be a little harder for people to hit it than it was,” he griped. “It was all fun, we raised some money for the children’s foundation. But I’d like to throw at the people who threw at me, that’s for sure,” he joked. While the atmosphere at the Coliseum was relaxed, the attitude around the rest of the Islanders isn’t.
In Philadelphia, general manager Garth Snow was busy at the draft. He used the fifth overall pick to select Michael Dal Colle, then traded two second round picks to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the twenty-eighth pick in the first round. Snow used the pick to select controversial winger Joshua Ho-Sang. Neither Dal Colle or Ho-Sang are expected to spend any time with the Isles this season, but their impact should be felt in the near future. For this year’s current team, it comes down to one thing.
“You want to go out with a bang, but at the same time you just have to go play hockey at the end of the day,” de Haan said.
The Islanders begin their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10 in Carolina, with their final home opener at the Coliseum taking place the next day, also against the Hurricanes.