Retro jerseys, plenty of giveaways, public honors for team greats. Not all memories can be planned and repackaged.
As we head into the final year of calling the Coliseum home to the New York Islanders, I’d like to share with you some random memories.
The hotel walk used to be famous. It brought players and fans together for better or worse. The visiting team, staying at the Marriott, had to walk through the east parking lot to get to the building they were more than likely going to lose in. There’s the throng of fans camped out to see anyone of note, those in line at the box office to get last minute tickets, and that REALLY creepy stairway to darkness. It was a ritual that only a few teams partake in today. One of my favorite non-Islanders memories of The Walk was when Carolina was visiting for a weekend game. My friend Phil and I had our Hurricanes cards and other random things to get signed when Arturs Irbe approached us to give us autographs we hadn’t yet asked for. “Wait…you’re willing to sign for us?” we asked, baffled. “Guys, I know the drill. Even if I write your name on this card, it’s going on eBay. Joke’s on you though, my stuff isn’t worth much.” We laughed awkwardly and told him we were genuinely looking to get his signature. For the next few minutes we talked with Arturs on his way to the Coliseum doors. He asked us about school, we asked about Raleigh, he told us to study, we said we were glad he found a solid job that wasn’t in Dallas (he chuckled), then he signed a few cards for us. Really made it difficult to root against him. The Walk showed us the little goalie from Latvia was a great person.
Each of the first four Islanders games I went to opened with “Baba O’Riley”. Lights dimmed, keyboard hit, the lyrics fit the attitude the Islanders had when they hit the ice. Even when they stunk. The song triggers memories of weird smells of the back 300’s and temporary epilepsy from light off the disco ball.
Parking At Hofstra
Even while I was there, I’d still park in the far east lot that led out to Charles Lindbergh Boulevard. Cold nights or warm nights, it was easier to drive from the towers then walk over. Walking the 20 minutes from my dorm to the box office in February? Hell no. When the game went to OT my friends and I would panic. The gate might be closed. And it might be raining. The more…um…corpulent version of me had to go over the top, which was really the smarter way to go. “Skinny” me could go underneath but come out slightly bloody. And there was the night of the nightmare rain and I had to fit slightly-not-skinny me under the gate because the wind was flat out dangerous. Wet, scraped up, AND a torn shirt? AWESOME! Many nights ended with a pseudo walk of shame down Hempstead Turnpike when Hofstra Public Safety was there beating back the masses. “Where’s my car? Crap.”
The Eric Cairns Kid
Every game day at 4pm saw the convoy of players drive down the ramp into the secured parking lot. Every game day there was one little kid, maybe 6 years old, in a white #33 jersey standing at the top of the ramp hoping to see Cairns. “EWIC! EWIC! GOOD LUCK TONIGHT!” Cairns always stopped to talk and high-five the kid, his mom holding him up to the Ford F-150 Super Crew so her son could talk to his idol. Many time, but not always, the routine would be repeated post game. Cairns the Enforcer, Eric the Destroyer…Big E the Big Teddy Bear when he saw that kid. If my math is close enough, that kid is now 19. The Coliseum could always bring players and fans together. And now I feel old.
“Don’t You Have Any Friends?”
Sophomore year of high school and I didn’t have cable (yet). My live Islanders broadcast in Connecticut was 92.7 FM, with your hosts Jim Cerny, Ed Westfall, and Chris King. I was doing Latin homework with a game on in the background and I was focused on the upcoming question of the night. I felt good about this question.
Roughly: “Which four Islanders wore the original uniform and this current wavy one?”
Rich Pilon, Zigmund Palffy, Tommy Salo, and Scott Lachance.
I won!…something! It would be a few weeks until I heard what I had won. A hat or shirt would’ve been cool, but I was told it was going to be dealt with after some management issues.
Press passes! The team sent me press passes to sit in the 92.7 booth! It was a March game against Washington, at the height of the 22-game winless streak. Mike Milbury, GM at the time, had reassumed head coaching duities and was no longer going to stop by media row for segments. “Drat.”
My arrival time was set for 4pm. If I got there 35 seconds sooner I’d have met Tommy Salo. Shucks.
Jim Cerny was my guide all night, and Kinger was in my ear during commercial breaks asking me for analysis. Because a 16yo who can’t watch games on TV can add value. Jim prepped me on in game protocol, who not to cut in line at the media buffet, and how to speak on the radio. Yeah, I was the special 2nd-period radio interview. Jim and Ed chatted with me about the basics; who I am, where I’m from, how I’m liking the experience, how big a fan I am, yadda yadda yadda.
Then, Jim Cerny asked the question. “You got two passes and you’re here alone. Don’t you have any friends?” Thanks, dick. I plead my case that I’m pretty much the only Islanders fan in Connecticut and even press passes couldn’t sway some people. They took pity on me and we went along with the night.
After the Capitals won (remember, the streak) Jim, Ed, and Chris thanked me on air for being there and being a fan, and escorted me back to the parking lot where my mom was waiting. She forgot to listen to the game. Thanks, mom.
Brighter days lie ahead but the old barn on Hempstead butt hese are the some of the more abstract memories I’ll take from the Coliseum.