For over forty years, the New York Islanders have called the Nassau Coliseum home. Throughout the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, teams across the NHL have replaced their old arenas with glitzy new palaces. A new home is in the cards for the Isles too, as they plan to move to nearby Brooklyn and the Barclays Center once their lease runs out at the end of the 2014-15 season. But for a couple more seasons, the Isles play in one of the last dank, tiny barns left in the NHL; a cramped and uncomfortable building that happens to be a terrific place to watch the NHL.
The Islanders owe their existence to Nassau Coliseum. Back in the early 1970’s the NHL and WHA were expanding at a rapid clip, throwing teams into any building large enough to host professional hockey (and several that weren’t, in the WHA’s case). The Isles were born in 1972 alongside the Atlanta Flames, and under the leadership of GM Bill Torrey and Coach Al Arbour, quickly were built into a juggernaut. By the early 1980’s the young core of Bossy, Potvin, Smith, Trottier, Nystrom and Gillies had morphed into an unstoppable force, becoming only the second team in NHL history to win four Stanley Cups in a row (between 1980 and 1983). The Isles stayed strong throughout the 80’s and into the early 90’s, with a last gasp in 1993 as they fell just short of the Stanley Cup finals, and then… the wheels fell off.
It’s not worth repeating the legacy of bad management, one team owner jailed for fraud, one of the most ill-advised logo changes in sporting history, and years of losing here, but suffice to say by the early 2010’s the Isles were considered by many to be one of the NHL’s most likely candidates for relocation.
The Lighthouse Project, a plan to build a new arena in the parking lot of the old, was rejected by Nassau County voters in 2011, and many assumed that the Isles would eventually leave for Quebec or Seattle or Kansas City or any of the many cities around the continent that come up repeatedly whenever relocation is discussed. Instead, the Isles surprised the hockey world by signing a 30 year lease at the Barclays Center in nearby Brooklyn, still on Long Island in fact, if not culturally or in the hearts and minds of most inhabitants.
With the Isles’ future in the New York area secure and the team actually competitive again for the first time in many years, it’s once again possible to go to a game at the Nassau Coliseum and enjoy it for what it is – a throwback to the 1970’s, a gloriously intimate building with a great atmosphere – instead of as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the NHL’s goofy overexpansion, poor vetting of potential ownership and incompetent management.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concept of high-end food at sporting events wasn't invented in the 1970's. The Coliseum has hot dogs, soda, fries, and the rest of the usual ballpark dreck. Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs are a nice, local touch. Prices are surprisingly reasonable considering this is a New York sporting event.
There is a sushi bar and a pair of small sports bars attached to the building as well, but for the most part, your best bet is to eat before coming to the game. There are a ton of food options in the neighborhood.
Your experience may vary of course, but if you get the Coliseum when it's full there are few buildings in the NHL that are louder. The Coliseum is incredibly small by modern standards, and with a low ceiling, the noise reverberates throughout. It's really all one level, with suites hanging from the rafters instead of separating the lower and upper decks, so there's no dead space for noise to die. The Isles have a pipe organ which is put to good use.
As for the fans, the crowd noise can be equal to a soccer crowd. A group of young men stand throughout the game near the back of one upper bowl section and sing terrace songs and lead the chants, and at the game I attended (the last regular season game of the 2012-13 season), the entire building chanted "WE WANT PLAYOFFS!" nearly a dozen times. The Isles were famous for Richter Scale-level crowds back in the 1980's, and if the young team stays competitive, the last few years at the Coliseum may well bring some of the roar back permanently.
There's nothing within walking distance, but if you have a car there are plenty of diversions close by. Roosevelt Fields Mall (one of the ten largest in the US) is a short drive away, as is the campus of Hofstra University and Nassau's "Museum District". If you're interested, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Bethpage is one of the top aviation museums in the country, built on the site of the former Mitchel and Roosevelt Field airfields (Roosevelt Field is where Charles Lindbergh departed New York en route to Paris in 1927).
Nassau Coliseum sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap for being a suburban rink surrounded by parking lots, but if you can't find something to entertain you before the game within a mile of the arena, you're not trying.
The Isles fans never really went away, they just stopped going to games. Any bad team will struggle with attendance, and twenty years of losing will decimate any team's fan base. Yet the Isles fans never switched affiliations to the Rangers or Devils, and with the young, Tavares-led Isles looking like a future juggernaut and the team's future in the area secure, the roar is coming back.
Driving to the game is really the only viable option, and there are acres of parking on site for a reasonable price. If you live in the Five Boroughs, or are visiting New York as a tourist, and want to come to an Isles game, renting a car may be your best bet in spite of it being the most expensive city in America to rent a car. The Long Island Rail Road departs Penn Station in Manhattan and stops somewhat nearby at Westbury or Hempstead stations, but from there you're stuck to either a bus that runs infrequently, or (more likely) a taxi.
As for internal access, the Coliseum was built with a single concourse to handle the entire building, like most 1970's arenas. But even in comparison to its counterparts like the Joe Louis Arena or the old Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey, the Isles' concourse is incredibly narrow and cramped. Don't even think about wandering during the intermissions; you won't get very far.
Face value is still expensive, but good seats can be easily found on Stubhub or other aftermarket resellers for most games. I was able to find seats in the eighth row for less than half of face value for the game I attended. In comparison to the rest of the league, the Isles are mid-range, but in comparison to the Rangers, the Isles are a bargain... at least until they move to Brooklyn.
Most arenas in the NHL share with an NBA team and have to serve two tenants, and so generic, neutral colours abound. Arenas that only have one tenant can get a little bit more creative, and nowhere in the NHL is as awash in team colours as the Coliseum. Dark blue and orange paint is on every surface in the concourse, the bathrooms, and on any other surface that can be painted. The banners are perfectly color-coordinated and are exactly the right size for the building. Even without a lot of visible history on the walls, the arena feels like it belongs to the team and vice versa, in a way that multi-tenant arenas can never match.
The Isles also get bonus points for continuing to improve the Coliseum even as it remains a lame duck - a new team store was installed in 2011.
With a new arena on the way as soon as the Coliseum lease expires and the team's future in the area secure, it's possible now to go to a game and experience it as a loud, raucous throwback to old time hockey and not an anachronistic embarrassment.
Nassau Coliseum is one of the last of a dying breed in the NHL, and with a good team and excellent atmosphere finally resident again, hockey fans who want to experience the NHL as it once was would do well to visit. This is still the old NHL, before overexpansion, before Gary Bettman, before cavernous sports and entertainment centers and before corporate interests and advertising changed the experience of attending a game forever. Go while you still can.
When the 2010-11 hockey season opens, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will be the second oldest building in use in the National Hockey League. Only Madison Square Garden, home of the rival New York Rangers was used prior to the Islanders entering the National Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1972.
The building has been the center of contentious negotiations between Islander owner Charles Wang and North Hempstead town supervisor Kate Murray. Wang, along with his partner Scott Rechler, wants to develop the area around the Coliseum as part of a grand "Lighthouse Project". The Islanders' lease expires in 2015; it is hard to imagine the team playing at the Coliseum beyond that date without a renovation that would occur as part of the Lighthouse Project.
The building has been derided as "a dump" or "The Mausoleum", but there are certainly some good things about it, even as it approaches its 40th birthday. First and foremost are the sightlines, which are considered to be some of the best in the game. The Coliseum's low roof also adds to the ambience. The Isles have made the playoffs only four times since 1994, but the noise level in those playoffs made the building literally shake.
The Islander fan base has certainly declined since the team's glory days when they won four consecutive Stanley Cup championships, but the fans will come back, new building or not, if the team's fortunes on the ice improve.
The Islanders biggest rival is the Rangers, and in recent years Ranger fans have been louder than Islander fans at the Coliseum. Opening night is always an event, as are games against divisional rivals Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the 2009-10 season, games against Montreal featured many visiting fans in the rink, leading to an atmosphere more similar to a European soccer match than a National Hockey League game. The large number of Canadien fans is due in large part to the Isles group sales, which ranks among the tops in the NHL (largely due to their lower season ticket base).
Most Islander fans arrive by car. Area train stations are either a bus or taxi ride away. Many fans take to parking at neighboring colleges; this could increase as parking fees are expected to rise from the $8 level this past season.
The Coliseum has only one concourse, which can get crowded during sold out games. Bathroom space was such an issue that the Islanders installed bathrooms and smoking areas outside of the physical building several years back.
While Islander fans certainly want a new or refurbished building, the ice where legends such as Bossy, Trottier and Gillies once played holds great memories for Islander fans over the age of 40. The feeling of many: "It's a dump, but it's our dump".
In 2010, the Islanders founded Islanders Entertainment (islandersentertainment.com) which offers packages featuring two of the best available seats and a parking pass to a game or show, overnight accommodations for two at The Long Island Marriott, and breakfast for two the next morning. Pricing can be steep, but offers the complete VIP experience.
As the only professional sports franchise on Long Island of the four major sports, the New York Islanders have an important responsibility to provide quality sports entertainment away from New York City.
Sadly, while Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum enters its 40th season, the facility has a difficult time in accomplishing this task.
Even die-hard Islanders fans will admit that the team needs a new arena.
In the summer of 2011, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang enacted a public referendum that would approve the allotment of $400 million for a new arena and even a minor league baseball stadium in the "Nassau Hub," the centrally located area of the county.
Nassau voters disapproved the referendum, since there would have been a yearly tax increase. Several years ago, a similar plan known as the "Lighthouse Project" also fell through. As a result, the same old Nassau Coliseum will serve the Islanders at least until their lease with the county expires in 2014.
The worst part about not having a new arena is that the Islanders are one of the NHL's most up-and-coming teams. The young core built around John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo should bring excitement back to the Coliseum. The Islanders have not reached the playoffs since the 2006-07 season.
The Coliseum, which seats 16,250, actually offers a great view of the action due to its small size. Even from the highest seats, it's easy to follow along with the game, which is sometimes difficult anyway in hockey due to the pace of play.
The Islanders proudly display their six retired jerseys from the rafters: Dennis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Bobby Nystrom and Billy Smith. Also, the banners of the team's four consecutive Stanley Cup victories (1980-83) hang from above.
The Coliseum plays home to more than just hockey, however. Concerts and various community events are often held at the arena.
So the stadium will be home to the Isles for at least a few more seasons, but then what? How could the Islanders play anywhere other than Long Island?
But it might become a reality if a deal for a new arena can't be negotiated.
I rue the day the Islanders leave the Mausoleaum. It's a great old school hockey arena. Call me a tradionalist, but it focuses on the game, not a giant HD scoreboard shooting out T-shirts. RIP Nassau
Agree with the reviews above....the Coliseum is definitely old-school and though there are several characteristics that make the place awful, the atmosphere can make it special. It is located amongst parking lot and the concourse is insanely tight. Inside, the 300 level has obstructed views of the scoreboard and rest of the building. Yet, the sightlines are pretty good and the one deck facility seems to be built for hockey. It's also great to see hardly any specialty seating as the suites are perched way up high, out of sight. Though the place can be empty often, when this place rocks, it rocks. Hopefully the Isles can get back to the playoffs this year so fans can experience this. Check out a video of Shawn Bates' penalty shot in Game 5 of the 2001 Eastern Quarters for a taste
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