Great Ol' Barns
by Bloomberg 1130's Chris King
With so much being written and said about all the great new buildings in the National Hockey League, isn't it ironic that the Islanders will play 12 of their final 14 games in the three oldest buildings in the NHL - Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (8), Mellon Arena ("The Igloo") in Pittsburgh (2), and Madison Square Garden in New York City (2). When you talk to players and coaches who love the tradition of the older venues, they never refer to them as "buildings." It's almost always "barns", as in "great ol' barns." Although I love visiting all the new buildings around the league, give me a great ol' barn any day of the week when it comes to real hockey atmosphere and intensity.
We are all thrilled that Charles Wang's Lighthouse Project was selected as the winning proposal for redeveloping the Nassau County hub area. It will bring many glorious new buildings to the surrounding area, while refurbishing the existing Coliseum into a sparkling new facility. This is the best of both worlds for Islander fans, who get to enjoy all the new amenities nearby without having to play in a new building that would have had none of the incredible memories created during 33 years of New York Islanders hockey at Nassau Coliseum. The Isles will still be skating under the same banners for Stanley Cups, division and conference championships, and retired numbers for Hall of Fame players, coaches and general managers. All it takes is one incredible night like March 4, 2006 - when the Islanders honored the 1980 championship team -- to remind everyone of how good the past really was and how promising the present and the future can be. The ol' barn rocked to its very foundation during both the pre-game ceremony and the rousing victory over the Flyers that followed. For my money, it is still the loudest building - new or old - in the entire league.
There is still something very unique about playing a hockey game in a place affectionately known as "The Igloo." Its large, domed shaped roof gives it the look of a much larger football or baseball stadium. The Penguins are still trying to reach a deal to build a new arena, and could wind up elsewhere if that doesn't occur. Two of the greatest moments in New York Islanders history happened in The Igloo, and I think of both every time I enter the arena. I can still see captain Ed Westfall's goal in Game 7 of the 1975 playoff series against the Pens that gave the Islanders a 1-0 win, and allowed them to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs as the only teams to rally from 0-3 down to win a best-of-seven series. Fast forward to 1993's memorable playoff Game 7, and it's Ray Ferraro to David Volek in overtime to eliminate the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. If the Isles final two regular season games here in Pittsburgh become the last games they play under the dome, the memories of their incredible first and last best-of-seven series wins will last a lifetime.
And how can Islander fans ever forget the round building known as Madison Square Garden? The Islanders officially arrived with an overtime victory at MSG that eliminated the Blueshirts and put Long Island on the map. J.P. Parise's goal 11 seconds into OT in the deciding game of the Isles first-ever playoff series in 1975 stunned the hockey world and sent the Isles to Pittsburgh. On their way to winning Stanley Cups in 1981, 1982 and 1983, the Islanders faced the Rangers in each post-season, and clinched all three series victories with wins on Garden ice. There have also been so many memorable regular season games between the two teams, it seems almost fitting that the final match-up this season April 11th at MSG will be the 200th time these great rivals have faced off against each other.
So cherish the final dozen games of 2005-06 that the Isles will play in some of the legendary ol' barns of the NHL. Someday soon, they will all be replaced by new or refurbished arenas. But the memories of classic Islander wins at the Coliseum, the Igloo and the Garden can never be replaced. They will stay with us forever.