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New York Islanders

The Islanders belong on Long Island

The feelings of these sights and sounds cannot be replicated.

No, the Coliseum never was the nicest venue. No, it wasn’t in the most desirable locale. No, it wasn’t always packed the way most want to remember it.

But it uniquely belonged to one of the fiercest fan bases in sports, a small contingent of people who either lived with arguably the best team in the history of hockey at the start of the 1980s or grew up just in its wake. And then came all the down times, of which there were some of the lowest lows any franchise has seen. (Only once has a team been bought by an actual conman.)

And so the joy was infectious from those Islanders fans who packed the (still uneven) parking lots on Saturday afternoon — if not earlier — preparing for what became a raucous 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets in the first of 21 home games the Isles will play at the Coliseum this season.

The fans filled the air with the smell of grills and the soundtrack of that familiar car-horn refrain — beep, beep, beep-beep-beep — followed by the coinciding chant, “Let’s Go Islanders!”

“I woke up this morning and my heart was racing,” said Brian Weigand, 34, a lifelong fan from Nassau County who was in the lot with his buddies by 2 p.m. “My daughter was crying this morning, and I wrapped her in a Trottier jersey. She quieted down.”

His friend, Derek, woke up early Saturday morning after a nightmare that he had missed the game. His wife balked. The third friend, Joe, grew up on Long Island, but has since moved to Pennsylvania. He drove up Saturday morning, leaving his pregnant wife and two kids at home.

“She still doesn’t get it,” Joe said. “I can’t explain to her how important this is to me.”

Inside Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders returned to Long Island.
Nassau ColiseumPaul J. Bereswill

But the others in the lot? There didn’t need to be any explanation. They all understood the significance of this moment. They screamed bloody murder when the team took the ice for warmups, and then even sang in full throat during the national anthem.

Matt Martin, in the starting lineup for career game No. 584, said on his first shift he “felt like a 20-year-old playing in his first game. You would run through a wall for those people.”

The supposed $170 million renovation this place went through did not change it’s character — or much else, besides some faux-wood paneling and some dark paint. The corridors were just as cramped as ever, and the lines for the bathrooms just as long. The same problems that led to the Islanders leaving were hardly fixed. But the sight lines remained terrific, with seats on top of the ice that allowed the fans’ voices to not just be heard, but felt.

Stories were told about the most recent game in the venue — April 25, 2015, a 3-1 win in Game 6 of the first-round playoff series against the Capitals. Current Islanders coach Barry Trotz was behind the visitors bench for that one. Trotz remembered getting “showered with beer” from fans during that series, but he also remembered how much they affected the games. Just like they affected this one.

“Play with that atmosphere all year, that’s at least a dozen points,” Trotz said, with sounds of fans still chanting outside a makeshift press room.

It was necessary for the Islanders had to leave the Coliseum when they did, but the move to Brooklyn has proved to be a horribly failed experiment. Yet the new stewards of the franchise, owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, have put the team back on the right track. They are anticipating being able to move into their new arena at Belmont Park for the 2021-22 season, and that will be quite a bit different than squatting at Barclays.

But nothing will be like the Coliseum, a unique place in sports and one that uniquely belongs to the Islanders fans again — at least for a little while. Understandably, they couldn’t be happier.

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