Forty-one nights a season, Long Island comes out to Nassau Coliseum to scream, shout and cheer on the Islanders. Fans take the parkways and expressways from all over the Island to pack the stands at the old barn.
On Monday morning, the Islanders had a chance to explore the community that so staunchly supports them, holding an outdoor practice at Grant Park in Hewlett. The ice held up well in the 30-degree temperatures, allowing the players and coaches to practice just as they would at the Coliseum.
On a cool, clear morning, the sun and glare off the ice presented the day’s only challenge, but players countered with eyeblack and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov relied on Russian ingenuity, donning sunglasses underneath his goalie mask.
“It was fun,” Nabokov said. “The only thing was the sun was so bright that the glare was huge, so that's why I needed [the sunglasses]. It was fun and a nice change of atmosphere. Anytime we can support the county, we love to do that. And for us it’s a nice change of scenery from Syosset and the Coliseum.”
Monday’s outdoor practice wasn’t the first this season for the Islanders, who’d laced their skates outside in January at Yankee Stadium, but it was the first on Long Island. As grand as the spectacle was in the Bronx, the chance to support the community in which they live and work had an impact on the players.
“It's important to get out in the community,” Travis Hamonic said. “As an organization I think we do a great job of that and I think quite honestly we all enjoy it. It's part of our responsibility as athletes and it's something we enjoy doing. Whenever we can try to promote the game of hockey on Long Island it's an important thing.”
The practice kicked off two days of youth hockey clinics hosted by Islanders coaches on the outdoor ice. Nassau County native and CNBC contributor Joe Terranova said that this kind of community engagement goes a long way to strengthening the fan base, as well as raising the profile of the rink.
“I’m incredibly confident about working with Nassau County to restore the vibrancy of this facility,” Terranova said. “Ultimately, to me, it is the premier outdoor facility on Long Island. I can’t thank the Islanders enough for coming down here today. Hopefully it’s the beginning of something where the guys will come down and enjoy the facility.”
Several Islanders were already acquainted with the ice; both Head Coach Jack Capuano and Nabokov frequent the rink with their sons. Most players didn’t know about Grant Park before today, but Hamonic said it was one of the best outdoor rinks he’s played on – and the first that was fully equipped with glass.
“It’s definitely a full rink and a neat experience,” Hamonic said. “Hopefully people start coming and kids enjoy it. This is hockey at its purest form. Most memories we have of hockey go back to playing outdoors and just going out there and enjoying the game with no pressure. That's when you can have the most fun.”