No matter the place or the name, whether it's NYCB Live, the Barn, Fort Never Lose, the Coli, Barclays Center, or soon-to-be Belmont, the Islanders family is one of a kind. For Michael Tracey, he's found solace even throughout the most trying of times when surrounded by a devoted sea of blue and orange cheering on his beloved Islanders. It's the exact reason why Tracey has created a platform to help other fans experience what it means to be part of the Islanders family.
Tracey has been an Islanders season ticket member since 2014, but rarely gets to go to games himself. While Tracey would love to attend every game, he makes the sacrifice to spend as much time as possible and care for his fiancé Sara Forte, who is bravely battling Lyme Disease.
Sure, Michael could have opted to purchase a more affordable and perhaps, more practical ticket package. But for this diehard fan, it's the very act of sharing and providing the means necessary for others to enjoy the Islanders family experience that makes it all worth it to him.
"You can come here and forget about what's going on at home," Michael said. "Whether it's illness, a job loss, a tough day, whatever it is. This takes you away from that because of the atmosphere and because of the people... When the place was packed, and the atmosphere was unreal that's what kept me going. That's what made me want to be a season ticket member when I got older. I wanted to provide that experience that I had that I was lucky enough to have, with people who love this team, but maybe can't afford it."
Michael, a native of Marine Park in Brooklyn, was immediately enamored by the Islanders upon introduction from his Isles faithful uncle, Robert, who has been a season-ticket holder since the 1979-80 season. (Robert's seats were formerly in section 107 prior to the Coliseum renovation, which is now section 110.) As a teen, Michael had no regrets passing up nights out in exchange for supporting his team whether in person, on television or through VHS recordings. The Islanders have become intertwined with his identity.
Joining the membership fold of the Islanders was always something he'd envisioned, and when the Isles made the move to Brooklyn, the proximity was an added convenience for the diehard to activate his status as a season ticket holder.
Upon purchasing tickets, Michael soon shared that passion as he reconnected with his now fiancé, Sara. The couple were best friends as freshmen in high school, but their paths parted after they both graduated, attended college and pursued careers. They reunited in 2012 over social media when Sara moved back to New York from Chicago. Watching Islanders games was a regular date for the couple.
They received the devastating news of Sara's Lyme disease diagnosis in December 2014, when he was inspired to utilize his season ticket status as a method to connect and further grow the Islanders community. It's only fitting that Michael then used his Twitter feed as the mode to share his tickets and his message with others.
"[Sara] came to games at first and then it just ended," Michael said. "After that, I knew I wouldn't be able to come as much, but I just couldn't stop the season tickets. I don't know why, but I just couldn't give up the season tickets. I didn't think I would be wasting money, I said that I would figure it out. I set a goal to try and make 10 or 15 games a year on the weekend. I would circle those games. Anything during the week, I was like, 'that's it. I'm just going to give them away for free.' I opened up a Twitter account and just started to give them away randomly. The support I've gotten since has been amazing."
On any given night, Michael fields at least 200 requests to attend an Islanders game. He used to let Sara handpick the winners, but with so many inquiries he's outsourced to automatic online generators to try and even the playing field. It's a time consuming and taxing process to record every Twitter handle he receives, notify the winner and coordinate the delivery of the tickets, but he does it all for Sara.
Sara's sense of normalcy was fractured as she's faced the debilitating struggles of Lyme disease that have taken her out of her job as a teacher, but throughout the hardships, her positive outlook has prevailed.
"Sara really inspired me, truly," Michael said. "Here she was, everything was taken away from her; her school, being a teacher, her position. Sometimes I would come home from work and I didn't know if she was going to be alive. There were times where I didn't know what I was walking into. Her strength and her fight; it's been eight years now and she's still fighting. She still hasn't returned to work. She has days that are harder than others, but she's always maintained that attitude that someone has it worse than us."
For Michael, being of a fan of the Islanders has always been about the community and sense of family. Whether it's outside at pre-game tailgates, in the stands during a Yes! Yes! Yes! chant, or the ease of striking up a conversation with another fan sporting the Isles crest, the Islanders family is like no other.
"I think out of all major sports, the Islanders have the closest to a family because of the fan base," he said. "It's the only sports team that isn't in a major city. It's the only suburban team. When you go online on Twitter you seriously come across people you know. That's how tight knit the community is. That's why everyone is such a loyal fan. We all know each other, we all grew up together, we all have that shared bond over the Islanders."
Much like the team's current 'we before me' mentality, employed by GM Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz, Michael has never been one to commit his loyalty to a single player. At 32 years old, his devotion and passion are committed to the entirety of the franchise and its legacy.
"I'm such a diehard Islander fan, but I've never had a favorite player," Michael explained. "This jersey has no name on the back. I'm all about what's on the front. Don't get me wrong, I love certain players maybe more than others for certain reasons, but I love the team. I care about what's on the front. I care about this [the crest]. I don't care about the name on the back. I care about the team. It's the Islanders. I don't want to represent a certain player. I want to represent the organization who has helped me through the hard times and given me so much."
Michael and Sara haven't had an easy road, but the support they've felt from the Isles community has been a constant as they continue their journey together. Sara is continuing to receive treatment and courageously fight. The couple will be wed next September and continue to look forward to sharing their story and helping to make an impact within the Islanders community.
"The Islanders are my family," Michael said. "When we were going through hard times, there were times when I would come home and things were rough, but I had the Islanders. I always had the Islanders to look forward to. That's what got me through those hard times. I can't put a price on what this organization has done for my well-being."