Nassau Coliseum was a time capsule Saturday afternoon.
Not only a time capsule in the sense that it hasn’t changed much since 1972, but also because nine former Islanders, spanning four decades of team history, were on hand to revive the past.
Ed Westfall and Garry Howatt represented the team’s origins and the 1970’s. Ken Morrow, Bobby Nystrom and Butch Goring represented the Islanders’ dynasty in the 1980’s. Pierre Turgeon and Steve Webb brought a 90’s flavor, while Eric Carins and Shawn Bates were ambassadors from the 2000’s at Islanders Decades Night.
“The memories come flooding in, especially when you walk into a building that hasn’t changed in 40 years,” Morrow said.
The group spent the morning with the team and media, the afternoon with the fans and the evening watching the new generation of Islanders in action.
Westfall, the Islanders’ first captain and elder statesman of the group, offered a unique perspective Saturday, praising Roy Boe, the man who brought the NHL to Long Island and John Pickett, the team’s owner through the dynasty years.
This team was the best team I played on, as far as a group. - Pierre Turgeon
“Everybody that loves the Islanders, and Long Island, they particularly owe Roy Boe for his vision,” Westfall said. “He spent the money to come into the Rangers territory, build a hockey team and get the fans excited.”
Westfall also scored the first goal in franchise history, one of many memories he shared – along with a few laughs – Saturday morning. He spoke about his commute to Superior Rink in Smithtown for team practices, recommending Jiggs McDonald as the Islanders’ play-by-play voice and a Long Island bartender who became so close to the team that he was permitted on chartered flights.
Nystrom, Morrow and Goring shared familiar dynasty memories. Nystrom deferred to Morrow’s empty-netter in game four of the 1983 Stanley Cup Final, Morrow spoke of his OT winner against the New York Rangers in 1984 and Goring channeled the time he “hung out” Ray Bourque for a goal.
“They are such fond memories,” Goring said. “No matter how you slice it all up, the Islanders are Nassau Coliseum. That’s what they are, that’s what always will be and always have been.”
Turgeon, the team’s last 50-goal scorer and 100-point player, spoke of his club’s 1993 playoff run, when the unassuming Islanders knocked off the Washington Capitals and reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Having a team that wasn’t supposed to go that far and achieve what we did was amazing,” Turgeon said. “This team was the best team I played on, as far as a group.”
Webb, who was known for his punishing physical play, recalled the 2002 Islanders-Maple Leafs playoff series as his fondest memory and compared that atmosphere to the Coliseum this season, calling Islanders fans passionate, loud and exciting.
“These guys have deserved it,” Webb said. “You can go back and reflect on it and you know the feelings that they are going through. It’s a very positive environment to be around when you get into a building like this.”
The memories come flooding in, especially when you walk into a building that hasn’t changed in 40 years. - Ken Morrow
Webb was the lone alumni on hand to wear the Islanders Fisherman jersey.
“I still have a fisherman jersey,” Webb said. “That was my first jersey in the NHL, so I loved it. But I still remember the chant when they wore it for the last game that year. ‘No more fishsticks’ was the chant that night and it was very loud and vivid.”
Whether it was the 1975 playoffs, the dynasty years, 1993 or 2002, all nine Islanders played in front of some raucous crowds at the Coliseum. Morrow, who is currently the Islanders’ Director of Pro Scouting, said the loudest he had ever heard the Coliseum wasn’t during the team’s four Stanley Cups in the 1980’s.
“I’ve never heard the building louder than when Shawn scored that penalty shot goal,” Morrow said, referencing Bates’ legendary game-winning goal in game four of the 2002 playoffs.
Bates was humbled by the compliment and called it one of the greatest moments in his hockey career.
While the former Islanders were on hand to relive their memories, their presence offered a chance for fans to do the same.
They all lamented the closing of the Coliseum, as this was their home at one point during their hockey careers. But while the home venue changes, the memories created here will be forever preserved.