Following the 2004-05 Lockout, Eastern Conference divisions met only two Western Conference divisions each season––one at home and one on the road.
There were complaints from fans in both conferences that it would be three years before a team in the West would see the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, while the same could be said for Jarome Iginla and Roberto Luongo among East fans.
With the revised schedule formatting in the NHL this season, the Islanders will face off against Western Conference teams more often than they did the past three seasons. Each Eastern Conference team will face Western Conference 18 times, compared to 10 the previous three years.
The Islanders hosted the Western Conference Vancouver Canucks on Monday at the Nassau Coliseum. Anyone in attendance most likely would not have noticed a difference between the Canucks' style of play and their Eastern Conference counterparts. However, even as recent as 10 years ago, there was a noticeable difference between Eastern and Western teams.
Some of the different styles were based on the older arenas of the Eastern teams. Boston Garden––built in 1928––and Memorial Auditorium––built in 1940––in Buffalo were examples of rinks that had smaller dimensions than the standard 200 ft. x 85 ft. Both had their final NHL seasons in 1994-95.
"You could completely tell that the Aud and Boston Garden were tiny little boxes," said Doug Weight, who began in NHL career in 1991. "At the Aud, the fans were right on top of you. It was a great place to watch a game."
The smaller rinks allowed for less room on the ice and tighter-checking styles of play. The Western teams, meanwhile, adopted more wide-open styles.
"The biggest difference between the Eastern and Western teams was the skating," said Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier. "Teams like the Kings, Oilers, Flames, North Stars, Canucks and Jets were good skating teams. Meanwhile, the teams in the East developed more physical styles of play, which were conducive to the smaller rinks. In turn, teams drafted certain styles of players."
The Philadelphia Flyers were a good example of the more physical style. Known as the "Broad Street Bullies," players like Dave "Tiger" Williams terrorized the league for years. Even in the 1990s, the Flyers continued that style with their "Legion of Doom" line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Michael Renberg. Across the continent, the Edmonton Oilers won their Stanley Cups in the 1980s and early 1990s with speed.
"Edmonton had success with speed," said Weight. "When we would play them, they always loved to exchange chances and would send in a two-man forecheck. And they continued to draft fast players even after their Cups."
Some argue there is a distinct advantage playing in the East––due to travel. Last season, the Islanders only played a handful of games outside of their time zone. Many of their games, including those against the Rangers, New Jersey and Philadelphia are only a bus ride away. However, teams like Detroit and Vancouver constantly take a long plane rides to get to their games often more than a time zone away.
"When I was in Edmonton and Anaheim each away game was much longer," said Weight. "When you get older and have a family, it's a great advantage to be back in your bed by 12 or 12:30.”
The NHL––for the most part has all but out ironed the differences between the two conferences. Rinks are now required to be the same size and more games are being played between the Eastern and Western Conference teams.
"I sort of miss the subtleties of the different arenas," said Weight. "It was great playing in those old barns." Firefighter Appreciation Night Benefits Stephen Siller Foundation
For the third-straight year, the Islanders are proud to support the Stephen Siller Foundation during their "Hockey With a Heart" campaign. The goal of the Foundation is to honor the legacy and love given by Stephen Siller, who ran through the Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The annual Tunnel to Towers Run pays tribute to Siller's heroic life and death, along with his 342 FDNY brothers, and all those lost on 9/11.
Jon Sim presented Stephen Siller's brother Russ with a check for $16,000 prior to the drop of the puck Monday night’s Firefighter Appreciation Night.
"It's unbelievable that my brother ran through the tunnel,” said Russ Siller, who founded the Stephen Siller Foundation. "It's unbelievable that we started a foundation that has a run with 20,000 runners and what is also unbelievable is our association with the Islanders. It's incredible that through us we've been able to give money to the burn centers and to our own foundation. The firefighters have become our family. It's quite an honor to have a night dedicated just to them."
Another key part of Firefighter Appreciation Night was Bob Beckwith, who stood side-by-side with President George W. Bush at the site of the World Trade Center just days after the attacks on 9/11. The image of Beckwith with the President has become iconic.
Danny Rodriguez, who sang the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 attacks––sang his stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on Monday night. Plus, members of the FDNY hockey team were Monday’s flag bearers and the Brentwood Fire Department Wanderers Band performed during the intermissions.