It’s Christmas in January for Islanders fans who have clamored for a return of their favorite team to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Granted that it will only be a partial — 12 game — plan for 2018-19 but, according to the details laid out Monday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, there will be at least 48 preseason and regular season games there in the following two seasons.
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The governor, who as a young man watched the Islanders at “The Old Barn,” made the announcement at the recently re-designed Coliseum that will hold 13,900 for National Hockey League games.
It has been made clear that the rink off Hempstead Turnpike will only be a stopgap home for the team co-owned by Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin until the proposed state of the art arena opens in Belmont.
If current plans jell, the Belmont sports palace could be ready by 2021. A beaming Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky accompanied the governor at the press gathering.
“Long Island’s Islanders; that’s who they are and that’s where they belong and that’s where they’ll be,” Cuomo emphasized.
“The Islanders coming back to the Island is like the cherry on the cake because the Island is coming back.”
“Islanders fans owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Cuomo,” added Ledecky.
Sports business author and commentator Evan Weiner told The Maven that Cuomo — “a big project guy” — was the facilitator-coordinator who enabled several groups to eventually unite behind the Brooklyn-Nassau-Belmont blueprint.
“Cuomo delivered,” said Weiner who writes a daily column called The Politics of Sports Business. “What this does now is bring the Islanders franchise closer to home as well as the players — who all live on the Island — closer to home.”
For a time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman opposed having the Islanders play home games in Uniondale. But upon further review, he sought ownership input and, once he got that from Malkin and Ledecky, eventually softened his stance.
Along with other league officials, Bettman toured the Coliseum earlier this month to determine what necessary improvements had to be added in order to meet big-league standards.
Following up on that, Bettman indicated at an All-Star press conference in Tampa Bay on Saturday which areas had to be improved at the revitalized Coliseum.
“There are a variety of things that have to be upgraded,” Bettman insisted, “whether it’s the locker rooms and training facilities and the like. We’re in touch with the Islanders on these matters.
“The thing is that the Coliseum has been given a nice refresher in terms of the way it looks, but it’s still the Nassau Coliseum.”
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly pointed out that the league has a Planning Environment Sub-Committee which met in Tampa Bay. Dan Craig, who oversees ice-making, was one of the officials who participated.
“They briefed our group on some of the things that need to be done,” said Daly. “Not major fixes but, to the Commissioner’s point, it’s not a long-term facility.”
Specific areas that will require improvement include closed luxury boxes, converting the dressing rooms into proper NHL dimensions and — no less important — wiring for telecasting home games as well as for the visitors.
Certainly, even a dozen games at the Coliseum would be a travel boon to players such as John Tavares and Josh Bailey, both of whom played in the All-Star Game. Like their teammates, the Captain and his wingman live close to The Old Barn.
In addition, the club’s ultra-modern practice facility is just a slapshot away from the old rink which Captain Tavares enthusiastically has referred to as “a special place.”
Writing for Newsday, Mark Herrmann in Tampa Bay, asked ex-Isles coach Peter Laviolette — now running the Predators bench — what he best remembered about The Old Barn.
“It was physical,” said Laviolette, “and there was so much emotion and so much energy there.”
The Maven’s memories are no less emotional. Along with Spencer Ross, I worked the first telecast from the Coliseum in March 1975 prior to the Islanders historic playoff victories over the Rangers and the Penguins.
Under the SportsChannel banner, I was there for all four Stanley Cups starting in 1980. I still get goose pimples thinking about Game 4 against Edmonton in 1983, culminating with Denis Potvin lifting the club’s fourth Cup.
Nostalgia aside, there’s still work to be done both physically and legally before the Islanders can call The Barn their home again.
Modernizing the ice plant and improving luxury suites are on the agenda, not to mention the club finalizing a deal Tuesday so that the Isles can opt out from their 25-year Barclays Center Arena deal that began in 2015.
Nevertheless, all signs indicate that the move from Brooklyn to Belmont — with a stopover in Uniondale — has the green light to make it all happen.
“The Islanders are on track to build their new home,” Bettman concluded, “and that’s one of many highlights of the season to date.”
The results of my random poll of Islanders fans ranged from approval of switching some games to Uniondale all the way up to ecstasy, especially for those living in Suffolk and Nassau counties.
Typical was the response from North Hills resident Jake April who currently attends Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut.
“I was so excited when I heard about it,” said April who hosts a weekly sports radio talk show at college. “As a former Coliseum season ticket-holder, I can’t wait to hear and feel its special atmosphere again.”
Andrew Taub of Freeport, another season-ticket-holder at the old Coliseum and now Barclays admitted that there were some travel “discrepancies” going to the games in Brooklyn.
“This is a dream come true for the Long Island fan base,” Taub enthused. “The Islanders will have attendance like they never had before.”
Joseph Lore of Bethpage agreed. “The Coliseum may have been an ‘Old Barn’ to outsiders but to me it was ours and we loved it.and embraced the place.”
Finally, there was Islanders fan Jared Fleming of Massapequa Park summing up today’s developments, “Coming back to our Long Island roots will be the perfect bridge to Belmont!”
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