The New York Islanders opened the 2017-18 preseason with a 3-2 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday afternoon at the renovated Nassau Coliseum. While winning the game was nice, the supercharged atmosphere provided by the fans happy to see their team back in their traditional home was the real story.
The players admitted they felt the difference immediately when arriving at the parking lot this morning.
“This was the best [preseason game] we’ve ever been a part of,” forward Josh Bailey said. “You could feel it from the moment I drove into the rink. You could see people out tailgating.”
The sellout crowd started gathering in the parking lot by 9:00 AM while the first “Let’s Go Islanders” chant inside the Coliseum started more than 30 minutes before the opening faceoff. The typical preseason opener is a lackluster affair with mostly empty buildings and unfamiliar player names. Today, the way the atmosphere at the “Old Barn” felt, it seemed like Game 2 of this series should be scheduled for Tuesday night at the Coliseum.
“The emotion our fans brought was a lot of fun to be a part of. It was pretty close to what we had in the playoffs.” Isles’ captain John Tavares added. “With the low ceiling and the seats just kind of on top of you and how the sound just echoes off the walls, it just kind of gives you a jolt through your body and makes your hairs kind of stand up on end.”
Meanwhile, the fans who gathered were eager to see their team back at the place they called home from 1972-2015.
“We were all excited to get here,” said Steve from Massapequa. “We bought them as soon as the tickets came out. We’ve been tailgating since 9:30 this morning. This is a great atmosphere here. I feel that Brooklyn was a mistake and you took the team away from where their real fan base is.”
“It’s one day,” added Pete from Deer Park who was wearing a tee shirt to commemorate the team’s lone appearance at the Nassau Coliseum this season. “We want them here all the time.”
While the prospect of the team returning to Uniondale full time remains unlikely, the fans were thrilled to enjoy the return of their team for one Sunday in September.
“I expect a playoff atmosphere for a preseason game which is unheard of,” added Filippe from Huntington who wore an original Fish Sticks jersey from the mid-90s. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”
The players also appreciated the return to their former stomping grounds. “There are a lot of great memories here,” Bailey said after the game. “This is where it all started for me personally so it was great to relive those moments and feel the energy of the crowd.”
The Islanders managed a 3-2 victory in the game. John Tavares scored twice including the game-winner in overtime while Mathew Barzal scored once and played a strong game for the Isles.
Head coach Doug Weight was pleased with his team’s performance and the atmosphere the game provided. “It was pretty loud from the beginning. There was a great atmosphere and it was fun to win. It was high energy hockey, it was exciting and we saw a lot of good things from a lot of good players.”
“We know what this place means to everybody who has been involved with the Islanders so it was a lot of fun and there was a lot of emotion out there,” Tavares said.
The Isles were pleased to earn the win and get the preseason started on a positive note. But for many of the fans in attendance, this game meant a lot more than any typical September contest could.
Isles greats Bob Nystrom, Clark Gillies and Billy Smith dropped the ceremonial first puck.