For the first time in three years, the New York Islanders are playing regular season NHL games at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, their home for 43 years before their departure for the Barclays Center in 2015. Their matchup came against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 1, which ended with a 3-2 victory for the home team, and was the first of 21 games that the Islanders are scheduled to play at the stadium this season.
“It’s absolutely fantastic to be back,” said legendary right winger Bobby Nystrom. “I mean, we have so many memories here. Not just on the ice, but with the fans too and they are going to be absolutely thrilled to be back here.”
The coliseum went under significant renovations while the Islanders were away. The size of the stadium was reduced to only 13,000 seats. The concrete exterior was completely revamped in addition to changes to the arena’s interior. However, in the opinion of former Islanders left-winger Clark Gillies, the vast changes didn’t hurt the feeling of being back home.
“Never seen the old place look so good,” said Gillies. “The fans are the big winners here. This place is gorgeous. They’ve done a lot of great work on it and I think everyone is going to be thrilled. It’s a whole different experience here for the fans than it is at the Barclays Center. All the similarities of yesteryear are still here, but everything is brand new. It’s still the coliseum and it is a great place to watch a hockey game.”
In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press conference at the coliseum to announce the team’s return to the historic venue for a total of 60 games through the 2020-21 season as the Islanders wait for their Belmont venue to be built. New York State committed $6 million in enhancements to have the new-look stadium meet NHL requirements, specifically investing in ice plant redundancy and dehumidification, and media and broadcast cabling infrastructure. The renovations were completed prior to the team’s first game back.
“For the fans, the seats are a big part of it,” said Nystrom. “And for the players, the locker rooms, I mean you could fit two of our locker rooms from back then into these today. I think the fact that the structure itself is similar is great. You want to have that noise factor. When you are out there playing on the ice, you hear everything. And the fact that they left it the way it was, I think that is the most important thing.”
The most important part about getting the team back on the island is to reel fans back in that haven’t been pleased about their presence in Brooklyn. The hope is that the excitement of playing at the coliseum will make the transition to Belmont easier.
“To be honest, I think there may have been a little separation between the fans and the team over the last few years, but playing back at the coliseum for 20 or so games a year is going to bring the two closer together,” said Gillies. “And it will be a great building block before the team moves into the new building.”
“The fact of the matter is, we have the greatest fans, the loudest fans, and you just can’t beat the atmosphere at the coliseum when things are going well,” said Nystrom.