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In 1972, the NHL added a second team to the greater New York area in an attempt to prevent the upstart WHA from taking over a new arena on Long Island, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Over forty years later, the New York Islanders continue to skate at the Coliseum. In the meantime the league has moved forward, expanding to 30 teams, with all but one playing in a venue newer than Nassau. In fact, the only older arena is Madison Square Garden which itself has just completed an extensive renovation, so you could argue that the Coliseum is the oldest venue in the league. When you first walk inside, you might think you’ve entered a time machine; a cramped single concourse and limited food offerings are reminiscent of Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum in the early 1990s.
Certainly there is room for improvement, but it will come too late for the Islanders, who will move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for the 2015-16 season. This leaves you fewer than 50 games to make a visit before the arena is completely renovated. Although it is old, uncomfortable, and inconvenient, a trip to the Coliseum is a must for any NHL fan because it offers the best value in the league today; value that will probably disappear forever when the club leaves for the nattier neighborhood of Brooklyn in 2015.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is little here worth mentioning in terms of your food options. A menu is posted along the concourse wall that lists every option and the section in which it can be found. A few of those items: nachos, pizza, hamburgers, chicken tenders, Greek food, cheesesteak, Bavarian Nuts, and wraps.
Prices are somewhat expensive here, with hot dogs at $6, pretzels at $5.50, three chicken tenders at $8, and hamburgers at $7.50. Not outrageous, but not as low as you might expect. Specialty items are limited to wraps ($9.50) and Italian Sausage ($9.25). Perhaps the best bet is the I&D Glatt stand with knishes for $5 and chicken poppers for $7.75 along with salads. Glatt is a Brooklyn-based kosher butcher and the food here is better than what you would get at the typical concession stands.
Bottled beer will set you back $9, while bottled water is $5 with bottled soda an extra 50 cents. Gatorade, Snapple, coffee and juice are also available at select stands.
The small size of the seating bowl really allows you to hear the game on the ice from anywhere. The noise of the crowd is also dominant and when the Islanders score, the place rocks even without a full house. There is also an organ that gets fans going during the odd quiet time.
When a time out occurs, scantily clad ice girls appear to shovel away the accumulated snow while t-shirts are tossed into the crowd on occasion. The benefits of a low seat are more apparent at this time for both these reasons.
One key thing to note here is that ushers enforce the "Wait Until a Stoppage" rule, which is generally becoming more common around the league. This really improves the atmosphere, as you are not forced to miss the play while some bonehead inches his way to his middle seat in the row in front of you.
I have heard good things about the surrounding area, but a car is a necessity in those cases. The Roosevelt Fields Mall is just two miles away while the campus of Hofstra University is right next door and offers opportunities for doubleheaders should the basketball or baseball team be home in the afternoon while the Islanders have a night game (or vice versa).
If you're an aviation buff, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is just a mile away in Garden City. Considered one of the top aviation museums in the country, it was 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).
Horse enthusiasts have Belmont Park about eight miles west, although the ponies and hockey rarely line up for a convenient full day of sport.
Finally, culture connoisseurs can enjoy Nassau's "Museum District" in Roslyn Harbor, about 10 miles north.
In terms of bars, the Marriott Hotel next to the Coliseum has a Champions Sports Bar if you get there early or want to wait out traffic after the game. In general there are things to do here, but again, don't bother with public transit.
The fans at Nassau Coliseum are real hockey lovers and it shows. They know the game, cheer for their team despite years of being a league laughingstock, and are well behaved. Unfortunately, with the team in Long Island now a lame duck, it appears as if some fans have stopped coming. I attended two games and at both there were a lot of empty seats. Those that are there make up for the missing comrades, but I would like to see more fans here celebrating the end of an era.
If you are without a car in New York City and want to get out to the Coliseum, it can be done by public transit, but it will take a long time. The quickest option is the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station. Options vary; one is to take the Babylon Train to Hempstead, walk across the street to the Hempstead Bus Terminal and grab one of the n70/n71/n72 buses that head along the Hempstead Turnpike. This will cost you $21 return, assuming you are going to a weekend game and paying the off-peak fare both ways. A one-way peak fare is only $3 more. If there are more than two of you, renting a car is likely cheaper and more convenient, as well as allowing you to visit some of the attractions listed above.
If you have a weekly or monthly MTA transit pass though, you can get to the Nassau Coliseum for free. Take an n6x bus from 169th Street (the penultimate stop on the F train) to Hempstead Terminal and switch to the aforementioned n70, n71, or n72. By the way, the n stands for NICE (Nassau Inter-County Express) which is the bus system on Long Island, and misnamed twice as it is neither nice nor express. On one occasion I waited 30 minutes at the terminal for the scheduled bus, which never arrived. Keep that in mind and aim to show up at least an hour before the game if taking transit.
If you are driving, the Coliseum is still painful to get to, with the best route from Manhattan likely the 495 to Northern State Parkway, switching to the Meadowbrook State Parkway, and getting off at Hempstead Turnpike. Parking is plentiful and $8 for general and $12 for preferred, which will save you a couple of minutes. You can also park across the street for free in the residential areas, if you get there early enough. Getting out seems to be a quick experience as they hold the lights at Hempstead Turnpike for extended periods to help cars back onto the road with a minimum of delay.
Inside, the Coliseum was built with a single concourse to handle the entire building, like most 1970's arenas and it is quite narrow and cramped, even before the game. Still, with a smaller crowd than usual, I never had trouble making my way through during intermissions.
I'm not even going to bother listing the face value prices here because you will be buying your tickets from a second hand ticket provider. I recently purchased a front row seat for $20. Entry into any game not featuring a rival New York team will set you back no more than $10. Given that the upper deck is very close to the ice, this is a bargain, especially when compared to the Rangers in Manhattan. One thing to note is that the first row does sit right at ice level and many people do not like this angle. The 100 level has only 6 rows (A-F in most cases, although some sections have row AA at the front) so row A in the 200 level is just 7 rows from the ice. Row F in the 200 level is probably the best as you can see above the glass for the most part, but for value, try lower down in the 300 level.
The scoreboard is terrible here, and only Islander highlights are shown during the intermission, a policy that always annoys me. Show all the good plays regardless of who makes them.
Even with this minor quibble, there is no doubt that this gets a full score in this category, even if the Islanders are not a top-tier team these days. When two people can see an NHL game, in good seats no less, for less than $50 total, then that has to be rewarded.
There is a small display of Plexiglas along the concourse, with Islander mannequins inside. Doesn't really add anything to your visit, but it is a bit unusual and worth a point.
There is also a Breathalyzer machine for $3.75. I have not seen that before and frankly they should be free if they want to make a difference.
I noticed a Last Shot Speed displayed on the scoreboard after a slap shot was taken. This is something that I have not seen before and could be added to other NHL rinks.
Although the Islanders are heading to the westernmost edge of Long Island, Nassau Coliseum will not be demolished. Instead, a proposal from Forest City Ratner that has already been passed will redevelop the arena into a smaller venue centering an entertainment hub. Seating capacity will shrink to 13,000, and over 300 events per year are expected to be held here, including boxing, minor league hockey and the Brooklyn Nets once a season. Even the Islanders will return for six games every year, although by then, who knows how easy or cheap those tickets will be. So if you want a true throwback NHL experience, visit the Islanders before they make their move. The 2014-15 season will be your last chance.
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
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.
Call me crazy, but I've been going to Islander games way before my very first memory.
With the move to Brooklyn coming in 2015, I've been to Barclays Center and it's not a hockey venue at all. The Coliseum beats it by a mile. There's no bad seat at the Coliseum. In fact, it's a lot closer to the ice than it is at each of the 29 other NHL arenas. The Coliseum is more inclusive than anywhere else.
I feel that the purpose of going to a sporting event is simply to watch the game, not to be going around to these high end clubs, even though I can afford those high end clubs and lounges. Getting in and out of the parking lot in 30 seconds is great. I have friends up in section 329 starting the chants. I can hear them all the way on the opposite end of the rink.
I've been in the skyboxes. They are nice, complete with memorabilia.
I feel safe inside the Coliseum, despite having the toughest security in the league. But I'm allowed to walk around the perimeter of the rink freely.
During playoff time, this place is loud. Louder than the United Center in Chicago by far. If you want to just see a hockey game, the Coliseum is your place to go. And even though the building to many is a dump, it's our dump, and heck we Islander fans are proud of the Madhouse off the Meadowbrook.
There's a lot of history at the Coliseum, and it represents Long Island well, with a nice blue-collar tradition, and provides entertainment that upper class people have no problem going to.
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