Sunday, December 14, 2014

How to Go to an Islanders Game at the Nassau Coliseum -- One Last Time

Tomorrow night, the New Jersey Devils will make their last regular-season trip to the Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum to face the New York Islanders.

It is possible that these 2 teams could face each other in the Playoffs, but it doesn't look like it will happen -- for once (since 1993, anyway), because the Devils look like the ones who can't hold up their half of the bargain.

At any rate, they've only faced each other in the Playoffs once, in 1988, as the Devils were on their way up and the Islander dynasty was on its way down, and the Devils won.

Next season, 2015-16, the Islanders will move into the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, once again sharing an arena with the Nets, as they did the Coliseum from 1972 to 1977. The name "Islanders" is still appropriate, however: While most people mean Nassau and Suffolk Counties when they use the words "Long Island," geologically, the island includes the New York City Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

Indeed, the Barclays Center was built right across Atlantic Avenue from the the terminal of the Long Island Rail Road (as the new home of the Brooklyn Dodgers was supposed to be); Long Island University has its main campus a short walk away; and the Battle of Long Island, in the War of the American Revolution, was fought in what is now Brooklyn Heights. So the Islanders won't have to change either their name or their logo. (I hope they don't change their uniforms, especially back to those "Gorton's Fisherman" togs of the mid-1990s.)

Due to its suburban nature, and Brooklynites taking advantage of the G.I. Bill after World War II, "Lawn Giland" became Dodger territory, and, after they moved, Met territory. Long Islanders also stuck to the Jets, with their team offices and training camp, Weeb Ewbank Hall, being on the campus of Hofstra University, across from the Nassau Coliseum. And, of course, the Nets rose to success on Long Island, and the Islanders were subsequently established there.

Now, the Isles will be gone, leaving the new version of soccer's New York Cosmos, playing on the Hofstra campus, as, for the moment, the closest thing The Island will have to a major league team, while the "independent" minor-league Long Island Ducks play in Central Islip.

These days, however, in newspaper articles charting fandom by "Facebook Likes," the Yankees (by a 2-to-1 margin), Giants (slightly) and Knicks (by an insane margin over the Nets, which may change once they win something as "Brooklyn") dominate even The Island -- of the "New Breed" teams, only the Islanders still have a majority there. And even they sometimes get their arena "taken over" by opposing fans, especially the Rangers and Devils.

Before You Go. This "roadtrip" will be in the same metropolitan area, so the weather and the time zone will be the same. The weather is predicted to be dry and in the low 30s, so bring a winter jacket, but you almost certainly won't get rained or snowed on.

Tickets. You would think that, with this being the last season of Islander hockey at the Nassau Coliseum, and with the team playing better than it has in almost 20 years, tickets would be hard to come by. Nope: They're averaging just 14,024 fans per home game, about 86 percent of the hockey capacity of 16,234. You can probably show up at the Coliseum the night of the game and get just about any ticket you can afford.

In the lower level, in the 100 and 200 sections, seats are $151 between the goals and $89 behind them. In the upper level, in the 300 sections, they're $63 between the goals and $43 behind them. StubHub has seats in the upper level for under $20.

Getting There. The Nassau Coliseum is 23 miles from Times Square. The best way to get there is to drive. I'm not going to kid you about that: Getting there by public transportation is possible, but it's a pain in the ass -- especially for a night game, for reasons that I will explain after I list the driving directions.

From southern Queens or Brooklyn, take the Belt Parkway to the Southern State Parkway. Take Exit 19S for Peninsula Blvd. South. Take Peninsula Blvd. to Fulton Avenue, until it becomes the Hempstead Turnpike. The Coliseum will be on your left, between Earle Ovington Blvd. and James Doolittle Blvd.

From Staten Island or Central Jersey, get into Staten Island, and take the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn, and then follow the preceding directions.

From anywhere else, get to the Long Island Expressway, and take Exit 38 for the Northern State Parkway. Take Exit 31A for the Meadowbrook State Parkway South. Take Exit M4 for Charles Lindbergh Blvd. Take a left on Ovington Blvd., and the Coliseum will be on your left.

Now, here's the troublesome directions by public transportation. It's one of the quirks of Long Island that it is dominated by the Long Island Rail Road, but that the LIRR doesn't go to many of the most prominent points on The Island: The Coliseum, Roosevelt Field, Jones Beach, Fire Island, Theodore Roosevelt's place in Oyster Bay.

So you get to Penn Station, and buy a round-trip ticket for Hempstead. That will cost $22. When you arrive at the Hempstead Terminal, walk across the street to the Hempstead Transit Center, and take the N72 bus to the Hempstead Turnpike and Ovington. It should take about 15 minutes. As on the New York Subway and buses, a single ride is $2.50, and you can use your MetroCard.

Getting back will be harder. Make sure you walk across the parking lot toward the southeast corner, to the bus shelter on the Turnpike at Glenn Curtiss Blvd. At 9:45 PM, the N72 bus should arrive, and it should take about 10 minutes. But if it takes longer, you might be sort of screwed: The next train from Hempstead leaves at 9:56. The next one leaves at 11:09, and you'll be about as happy to stick around downtown Hempstead for over an hour as you would be to stand on line for the Coliseum bathrooms for that length of time (which could happen).

So, yeah, despite the proximity to Midtown Manhattan (about 25 miles), the public transportation situation stinks, and you're going to prefer driving.

Once In the "City." Long Island is home to about 2.8 million people, about half of that in each County. The Town of Hempstead has about 760,000, while the "hamlet" of Uniondale, the "census-designated place" within Hempstead that includes the Coliseum, has about 25,000 permanent residents.

ZIP Codes in Nassau County begin with the digits 115 for the West, including for the Coliseum, 11553; and 118 for the East. For Suffolk County, they begin with 117 and 119. The Area Code for Nassau is 516, with 631 split off for Suffolk in 1999.

Aside from the Coliseum and the Hofstra campus, there isn't much in Uniondale. Essentially, you'll want to get from home to the Coliseum, see a game, and get out.

Going In. The official address of the Nassau Coliseum is 1255 Hempstead Turnpike, Hempstead, NY 11553. There are entrances on the north, east and west sides, but not the south -- which, of course, is the side you'll be facing if you came in by train and bus (and maybe even by car). This arena, built in 1972, wasn't the most convenient of sports venues then, and is even less so now. At least parking is cheap: $8.00. The ticket office, and thus the main entrance, is on the east side.

The rink is laid out north-to-south. The Islanders attack twice toward the north end.

A plan is in place to redevelop the Coliseum, to downsize its seating area, and make it home for a new minor-league hockey team, while the Nets and Islanders would return to play preseason games.

Food. Those of you who've been with the Devils since the Meadowlands days, you know that one level of concourse for two levels of seats simply doesn't work. Unfortunately, the Coliseum appears to be the arena on which the Meadowlands was based, so those of you who've been trying to put those cramped quarters out of your minds may have flashbacks.

The north side of the arena has 2 "Brew Houses," 2 Carvel ice cream stands, The Savor Market (which includes pizza), Greek Isles (pitas, gyros, stuff like that), Lettuce Serve You (salad stand), and a stand serving French Dip sandwiches.

The east side has Doolin's Pub, a Sabrett hot dog stand, Knuckleheads East, The Works, another Brew House, the Bavarian Hut (the Bavaria region of southern Germany is known for old castles, not huts like the South Pacific, but it has sausages and beer), pretzels and a Beers of the World stand.

The south side has a place named Goalie (I don't remember it being there on my last visit, so I don't know what's sold there), a Pig N Pickle stand, a Subway, 2 more Brew Houses, a Glass Kosher stand, another Savor Market and another Carvel.

The west side has another The Works and a place named simply The Grill -- a lot of the west side is taken up by the team store.

Team History Displays. The Islanders have won 4 Stanley Cups in 42 years -- and, as they continue to remind us, they were won as 4 in a row, 1980 through 1983. In other words, they won as many Stanley Cups in 4 years as the Rangers have won in 88 years -- 1 more than the Devils have in 32 years.

Those 4 Stanley Cup banners are hung from the rafters in the northwest corner of the Coliseum, a reminder of the days when the building was nicknamed "Fort Neverlose." At the south end, the Isles hang banners for finishing 1st overall in the Prince of Wales Conference in 1978, 1979 and 1981 (before realignment meat that a "conference championship" meant the postseason, not the regular season); for winning the Wales Conference title in 1982, 1983 and 1984; and winning what was then known as the Lester Patrick Division in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1993. (That 1988 "division title" is for the regular season -- as I said, the Devils beat them in the Division Semifinals, before beating the Washington Capitals to become 1988 Patrick Division Playoff Champions, a banner that now hangs at the Prudential Center).

In the northeast corner, the Isles feature their retired number banners. All of them are from their Stanley Cup wins: 5, defenseman and Captain Denis Potvin (who, it should be pointed out, did not suck); 9, left wing Clark Gillies; 19, center Bryan Trottier; 22, right wing Mike Bossy; 23, right wing Bob Nystrom; and 31, goaltender Billy Smith. Gillies, Trottier and Bossy formed "the Trio Grande Line." Potvin, Trottier, Bossy and Smith were named to The Hockey News' 100 Greatest Players in 1998.

The Isles also honor coach Al Arbour and general manager Bill Torrey with banners. Torrey's banner has a bowtie, which he always wore, and the words "The Architect." Arbour, a good defenseman who usually wore Number 3 in his playing days, had been represented by a banner with the number 739 on it, for his coaching wins. In 2007, when it was noticed that he had coached 1,499 games in the NHL, coach Ted Nolan asked the Isles and the League to allow him to step aside for 1 game, so that Arbour could be a head man for a 1,500th time. It was set up, and the Isles won. A new banner went up with Arbour's name and the number 1500. It made him the oldest man to coach in the NHL, and only Scotty Bowman has coached, or won, more games.

All of these men, except Nystrom, scorer of the goal that clinched the 1st Cup in 1980, are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. So is Pat LaFontaine, whose number has not been retired, but he has been elected to the Islanders' Hall of Fame. So have Bob Bourne, Ken Morrow, Patrick Flatley and Kenny Jonsson. Unfortunately, the plaques for the Islanders' Hall of Fame are next to the team's locker room, and are not accessible to the general public. Hopefully, this will be rectified at the Barclays Center.

All of these honorees are still alive, although it has been reported that Arbour has begun to suffer from dementia -- not a great surprise considering his age (82) and the fact that he played hockey in an era before helmets.

The New York Nets played at the Coliseum from 1972 to 1977, 5 seasons, first in the American Basketball Association, where they won a Division Title in 1972 and the Championship in 1974 and 1976; then, in the last season, in the NBA, before moving to New Jersey. However, there is no official indication at the Coliseum that the Nets played there, let alone won anything there (and won it all before the Islanders earned so much as a single banner to raise). The Nets took their banners (titles, and eventually retired numbers) with them to Rutgers, then to the Meadowlands, then to the Prudential Center, and now to Brooklyn.

Elvis Presley sang at the Nassau Coliseum on June 22, 23, and 24, 1973, and on June 19, 1975. The 1st concert on his Fall 1977 tour was supposed to be there, but it was not to be. It's also hosted many other renowned concerts, including major ones by Long Island native Billy Joel and a recent 2-night show by Miley Cyrus' BANGERZ World Tour. (Perspective: The last time the Isles reached the NHL's last 4, Miley was 6 months old.) However, there's no official indication that any of this happened, either.

Stuff. Due to the cramped quarters, the Islanders don't have a very big team store -- indeed, it's a wonder that they have one at all. It's on the west side of the building. There are smaller souvenir stands all around.

But you won't be able to find books or DVDs about the Islanders there. Maybe that will change at the Barclays Center, but not yet.

In 2012, to commemorate the team's 40th Anniversary, Greg Prato wrote Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders, 1972-1984. In 2005, Peter Botte of the Daily News and Alan Hahn of MSG Network picked up the story from the end of the dynasty with Fish Sticks: The Fall and Rise of the New York Islanders.

To celebrate their 15th Anniversary in 1987, the team released Pride of the Island: The New York Islanders Story, which is available on Amazon.com, but only in VHS form. So is Never Say Die: The Story of the New York Islanders, released in 1996.

In 2009, the NHL released the DVD New York Islanders: 10 Greatest Games, but Amazon says it is currently not available. It includes all 4 Cup clinchers, the 1982 Game 5 comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the overtime Playoff clincher against the Rangers in 1984, the 4-overtime Game 7 "Easter Epic" against the Washington Capitals in 1987, the 1993 overtime winner against the Penguins in 1993, a 2002 Playoff win over the Toronto Maple Leafs that featured a penalty shot by Shawn Bates, and Arbour's 1,500th game in 2007 (also against the Penguins). It doesn't, however, include the Game 7 overtime winner against the Capitals by Pierre Turgeon (and his subsequent clobbering by Dale Hunter), the Islanders' most consequential win of the last 30 years.

During the Game. Islander fans hate the Rangers. They also don't like the Devils -- but their jealousy of our 3 Stanley Cups since 1995 leads them to say we are jealous of them for their 4 Cups, now long ago. Riiiight. At any rate, they don't especially hate us any more than Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington or Boston. They certainly don't hate us as much as they hate the Rangers. A Ranger fan, wearing a Ranger jersey, takes his life into his hands in and around the Nassau Coliseum. A Devils fan, wearing Scarlet & Black, should be fine, as long as he doesn't provoke Islander fans.

Make sure you go to the bathroom and get your food before the pregame ceremonies, or else you might miss half a period on line -- for each of those. It's not just the single, narrow concourse, it's the fact that there simply aren't enough bathrooms, and that the ones they do have are small. It never occurred to the architect in the late 1960s that, in a crowd of over 16,000 people, during the course of a 3-hour sporting event, there's a pretty good chance that each and every one of them will have to relieve themselves during the course of a game. So they didn't build enough bathrooms, or bathrooms that were big enough. This will not be a problem next season at the Barclays Center.

The Islanders' mascot is Sparky the Dragon, adopted after the folding of the Arena Football League's New York Dragons, who also played at the Coliseum. Their goal song is "Crowd Chant" by Joe Satriani. The fans have a deep attachment to their cheerleaders/cleanup crew, the Ice Girls. At least once every period, the whistle to which we have all become accustomed at the Prudential Center, and before that at the Meadowlands, will ring out in the arena where it originated, followed by the chant: "RANGERS SUCK!" (Which... they do.) Islander fans do not, however, add what we add, because they simply don't hate the Flyers as much as we do.

Inevitably, at some people, the Coliseum organist will play "The Chicken Dance," and at the point where most people would do the 4 claps, Islander fans shout, "The Rangers suck!" (Which, as I said, they do.)

After the Game. Having just the one concourse, getting out isn't easy. And, if you didn't drive, the distance from the exit to the bus shelter on the Hempstead Turnpike -- especially at night, and especially if it's cold, or wet -- can seem interminable. And the wait for a bus can be just as bad. But, at the least, you'll probably be safe. And if there's someone who looks like he's getting a little unruly, just tell him that the Rangers suck. That should turn him around -- or, at least, redirect his anger.

Looking for a good place to have a postgame meal, or just a pint? A 5-minute walk east of the Coliseum is the Long Island Marriott, which has a sports bar called Champions. If that's not your idea of the right place, you may be out of luck. Across the Turnpike, there's a McDonald's, a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts, but if it's beer you want, you may have to drive (in which case, you shouldn't be drinking). If you came by train & bus, and you miss your connection to the train back to The City, there are delis and Chinese restaurants open late in Hempstead. But I wouldn't recommend trying the bars.

Sidelights. This is where I discuss other sports-related sites in the metropolitan area in question, and then move on to tourist attractions that have no (or little) connection to sports. Since the Islanders are still, for another 4 months (possibly including Playoffs), in the only home they've ever known, I'll limit this to their upcoming new home and other Long Island sports sites.

* Hofstra University. The campus of Long Island's best-known institution of higher learning has its campus to the south of the Coliseum, across the Hempstead Turnpike; and to the west of it, across Earl Ovington Blvd.. To the west is Weeb Ewbank Hall, the former offices and practice facility of the New York Jets.

To the south is most of the school's athletic facilities, James M. Shuart Stadium. Hofstra -- originally the Flying Dutchmen, and now, in a weird nod to political correctness (I don't recall any Dutch-American groups getting upset at the name), the Pride -- no longer plays football. But they do play other sports there, and the new version of the New York Cosmos, as the original version did for a time in the early 1970s, plays their home games there while they look for a stadium closer to The City.

Hofstra's theater, the Leo A. Guthart Cultural Center, hosted the 2nd Presidential Debate of 2008, between Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and John McCain of Arizona; and the 3rd Debate of 2012, between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. 779 Hempstead Turnpike, at California Avenue, 2 blocks west of Shuart Stadium and 9 blocks west of the Coliseum.

According to an article in the October 3, 2014 edition of The New York Times, the most popular college football teams on Long Island are Syracuse and Notre Dame -- Syracuse in Nassau County, Notre Dame in Suffolk County.

* Long Island Arena. Also known as the Commack Arena, this 4,000-seat barn opened in 1956, and from 1959 until 1973 -- forced into irrelevancy and dissolution by the arrival of the Islanders -- it was home to the Long Island Ducks of the Eastern Hockey League. (There is now an independent minor-league baseball team with that name playing in Central Islip, Suffolk County.)

The ABA team in the New York market arrived, after spending the 1st season of 1967-68 as the New Jersey Americans at the Teaneck Armory, and, to rhyme with the Mets and the Jets, changed their name to the New York Nets -- admittedly, a dumb name with a dumb reason. They were terrible in that 1968-69 season, and found the floor unacceptable, full of pits and gouges, and with condensation from the ice beneath coming up, making it slick. After 1 season, the Nets moved again, for reasons that had little to do with poor attendance or performance.

John F. Kennedy made campaign stops at both the Teaneck Armory and the Long Island Arena on November 6, 1960, 2 days before he was elected President. Part of Peter Frampton's album Frampton Comes Alive! was recorded there. It housed an indoor flea market before being closed and demolished in 1996. A shopping center is now on the site. 88 Veterans Memorial Highway at Sunken Meadow Parkway. Not really reachable by public transportation.

* Island Garden. Built across the street from the original Island Garden, which hosted rock concerts from 1957 to 1968, the Nets managed to stay here for 3 seasons, from 1969 to 1972, including Rick Barry's ABA scoring leader season in 1971 and their 1st Division title in 1972.

The opening of the Nassau Coliseum made the Island Garden's 8,500 seats obsolete. (Yes, kids, the "Mausoleum" made another arena obsolete.) It was partly demolished in 1973, and, as with the Long Island/Commack Arena, a shopping center is on the site today. But so is a part of the original arena, and youth basketball is still played there. 45 Cherry Valley Avenue at Terminal Road, West Hempstead. LIRR Hempstead Branch to Queens Village, then transfer to MTA N6 bus.

* Bethpage Ballpark. This 6,002-seat stadium, about 45 miles east of Midtown Manhattan and 20 miles east of the Nassau Coliseum, opened in 2000, and had 4 different names in just 10 years (now 15 seasons of play). Bethpage Federal Credit Union bought the naming rights in 2010, so it has the name of that Suffolk County town, even though it's not in that town.

The Ballpark is home to the Long Island Ducks, named for the old minor-league hockey team, which was named for the many duck farms in Suffolk County. The Ducks have won the Atlantic League Pennant in 2004, 2012 and 2013, and have usually led the League in attendance. Former Met shortstop Bud Harrelson is a part-owner, was their first manager, and is now the 3rd base coach (as he was for the last Met title in 1986), and Gary Carter managed them to a Playoff berth in 2010.

3 Court House Drive, Central Islip. Not really reachable by public transportation: The closest LIRR station is in Central Islip, over 2 miles away.

* Barclays Center. Home of the Nets since the fall of 2012, and the home of the Islanders starting next October, it seats 17,732 for basketball and 15,795 for hockey -- the latter figure being a few hundred less than the Nassau Coliseum, but it's a much more modern arena, comparable to the Prudential Center, and even better than the renovated Madison Square Garden. It's also a lot easier to get to. 620 Atlantic Avenue at Flastbush Avenue. 2, 3, 4, 5, B, N, Q or R train to Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station. Whether the move will help the Islanders competitively remains to be seen, but it hasn't really helped the Nets much yet.

*

Barring a Playoff matchup (don't count on it), this will be the last time the New Jersey Devils play the New York Islanders in a competitive game at the Nassau Coliseum. There's usually 3 trips a year out there, so, figuring in the labor-strife-shortened seasons of 1994-95 and 2013-14, the canceled season of 2004-05, and the Playoff matchup of 1988, and it's probably been a little less than 100 games that counted (not counting preseason exhibitions).

Many Islander fans -- especially those particularly proud to be from Nassau County, and not happy about having to go into Brooklyn, and upset that Long Island's last real major league team is giving up that particular identity -- are not happy about this being the last Islanders-Devils game at the Coliseum. But, for most Devils fans, old enough to remember when the Islanders used to pound them, and still dealing with the aggravation of getting in and out of the place, will probably find going to the Barclays Center next year a relief.

2 comments:

Z said...

Hey - Great info and great blog! I am planning to go to my 1st Islanders game, and want to make sure to be able to see the pre-game ceremonies. In order to see them, would I want to be on the side with Section 102, 102x, etc., or would I want to be on the other side (Sec. 118, etc.)??? If you could email me back (or post a response) ASAP, that'd be great, b/c I want to get the tix before they're gone. Thanks very much!

Prudence Atwater said...

This really is a great article but as an Islanders fan, I must clear two details up. While Devils fans do show up to the Coliseum when they play the Islanders, they never "take over" the building. Saying they do is certainly an exaggeration. Having the benefit of making this comment in March as opposed to when you wrote the article, it should also be noted that tickets were definitely more expensive this season than anytime during the past 5 seasons. Perhaps in the first 3 months of the season when many fans were still skeptical, it was easy but for most of the season, you were absolutely not guaranteed a ticket by just showing up at game time and even the last row up top was at least double the price it had been for the past 5 seasons. We have been through a lot as Isles fans and we are still here despite everything. The RANGERS SUCK.