More than 9,000 fans came out to Nassau Coliseum Friday night, braving tornado warnings and hail storms to celebrate the hope of next year’s NHL season on Long Island. The doors opened at 5:30 p.m. and fans had two hours before the big draft announcement to enjoy the many attractions located where the ice normally lay, including a Ferris wheel, Ice Tour inflatables, video game tournaments and street hockey exhibitions. The energy in the building was palpable.
“It’s almost like the atmosphere of a game,” said longtime fan Martin Bush. “Everyone’s walking around excited awaiting the draft and enjoying all that there is to do.”
One of the biggest crowd pleasers were the tours given inside the Islanders locker room. Thousands of fans walked the very halls that the players make their way through on game days before stepping onto the ice.
“I thought it was really cool to see where they get ready and prepared for games and where they go when they get hurt,” 13-year-old Domenic Rizzotti said. “Also seeing all the plaques honoring past players and the jerseys of current players was really an experience.”
Many fans also stopped by the American Red Cross blood drive which started at noon and lasted eight full hours, through the majority of the Draft Party. Over 275 pints of blood were collected, shattering the team’s previous record.
“I’m a new season ticket holder and I came to the draft looking forward to seeing what the Islanders are doing this year and looking forward to meeting some players,” Ron Mattili said.
Players were available to take pictures and sign autographs with fans at various locations throughout the arena. The list of targets included Islanders stars and top prospects Matt Moulson, Matt Martin, Ryan Strome, Nino Niederreiter, Casey Cizikas and Calvin de Haan, among others.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” 12-year-old Jared Levin said as he was itching to hear who would be the Islanders pick. “The rides are cool. I went on the slide and met a majority of the players here.”
As it got closer to the Islanders first-round pick, fans turned their attention to the scoreboard, lowered down to eye level to watch as Islanders General Manager Garth Snow announced that Griffin Reinhart would be the newest member of Long Island’s team.
Fans were thrilled with the addition of the solid defenseman from Western Canada who is sure to make an impact sooner than later.
“I think Reinhart was a great selection,” Bruce Zirpoli, a fan not much older than Reinhart, said. “You can never go wrong with a strong defensive player.”
Also thought to be a smart move by fans, the Islanders traded their 2013 second-round pick for veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky from the Anaheim Ducks.
Between the Islanders top draft pick, their shrewd trade decision and numerous attractions around Nassau Coliseum, fans considered the Draft Party to be a huge success.
“It was an unbelievable night, there was so much energy,” said Jonathan Bush. “Everyone had a great time and I had an absolute blast.”