The New York Islanders are excited about returning to Nassau Coliseum - renamed NYCB LIVE - on Saturday night, their first regular-season game on Hempstead Turnpike since April 11, 2015. The players have their own memories of the building, but so do generations of Islanders fans, who submitted their first and favorite memories from Islanders games at the Coliseum.
Seeing some great responses from the fans made me think about my own memories and experiences at the Coliseum in the years I've spent as a fan, intern and employee of the team.
Growing up in Burnaby, BC, it took me a little while to get to my first game at Nassau Coliseum.
The date was March 18, 2008 and I was 17 years old, out on Long Island to visit my Grandma in Floral Park. Despite growing up 3,000 miles and one country away, I'd always had a soft spot for the Isles, as my family on Long Island had always pushed me in their direction. When I was 11, a family friend gave me a Chris Osgood jersey for Christmas. That same family friend took my Dad and I to a job site, which turned out to be Pat LaFontaine's house. Rick DiPietro's brown goalie pads are some of my favorite of all time.
Fast forward to March 18, 2008. My Mom, a pair of family friends and I drove out to the Coliseum to watch the Isles take on the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs wound up winning the game 3-1, but that one goal was one of the most memorable I've seen in person - and that's after attending approximately 400 Isles games in the 10 years since.
If you don't remember how the play went down, the Islanders were on a penalty kill and Rob Davison - who only played 19 games for the team - chopped the puck out of the zone from his own goal line.
The puck took a series of hops, bouncing down the ice at Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala. It looked harmless, with each bounce losing a little more momentum, but home ice advantage paid dividends for the Isles. With Toskala reaching down to scoop it up, the puck took a crazy hop off the ice, raising and changing direction on the Leafs goalie and crossed the line. Davison had scored - from 197 feet away.
It was still a great experience, but admittedly I didn't fall in love with the building until I started interning with the team in 2011-12. I loved navigating the bowels of the arena, sidestepping crowded hallways by going underneath the bleachers. I loved hearing how loud the building could get for big games, back-and-forth chanting for Ranger games, or pretty much every game during the 2014-15 season. And of course there are sight lines because we all know there's not a bad view in the house. My seat up in the press box is one of the best in the league and I was - and am - lucky to have it.
As for my favorite memories, there are three that really stand out. The buzz in the building before Game 3 vs Pittsburgh in 2013 was incredible, with tailgating and getting rowdy long before the afternoon puck drop. I flew down from Toronto to intern for the weekend just to be a part of the action and you could feel the press box vibrate before the teams took the ice. I'll never forget the roar for Nikolay Kulemin's game winner in Game 6 vs Washington in 2015, or how the crowd was up in arms right before because of a questionable hit.
Last, but certainly not least, I think back to getting a chance to play at the Coliseum during Islander staff games. On occasion, the coaches, trainers and hockey ops would get together for a mid-day skate at the Coliseum and one day they needed an extra goalie, so that's how an intern wound up playing shinny with the likes of Doug Weight, Miro Satan and whomever else was around. Between getting lit up by former NHLers, I had the chance to look around and soak it all in. We all know the view of the ice is one of the best in the NHL, but the view from the ice ain't too bad either.
So go out and enjoy the game Saturday and for the rest of the games the Islanders play there. Second chances like this don't come around too often, so make the most of it and make some more memories in the Coliseum.