Isles' Crumbling Arena Hasn't Lost All Its Charm
By Alan Hahn
October 1, 2002
The ice was back at Nassau Coliseum yesterday and so were the
Islanders. Five months since those three unforgettably loud nights
during last season's first-round playoff appearance, the crumbling
old dump is now a cherished old friend.
"I don't think anybody minds this, what used to be an old building is
now a building with character," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think
the players enjoy it. There's a lot of talk already about opening
night. It's hard to not get excited about it."
Team historians may recall this to be the year former owners Howard
and Edward Milstein suggested a new arena for the Islanders would
open. But while that regime is long gone, the 30-year-old Coliseum
remains. For the Islanders, it's the only home they've known.
"It doesn't make a difference," forward Oleg Kvasha said. "The
biggest thing is you have ice, you have a rink and you go there to
play hockey. It doesn't matter what kind of building it is."
Kvasha has seen the best and worst of the Coliseum and its patrons.
He's seen the sparse crowds and heard them boo, and he's witnessed
the nightly sellouts and the love-fest generated by last season's
playoff run. He likes to remember things such as when fans circled
the rink for pregame warmups, chanting and cheering and waving towels.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life," he said.
Veteran Claude Lapointe has seen the best and worst at the Coliseum,
too. He's also not seen it, such as when the Milsteins pulled the
team out of the building before the 1998-99 season because of a crack
found in a scoreboard hoist. When the team finally did return, very
few of the fans did. At least until last season. This season, with a
season-ticket base climbing to almost 12,000, the old barn is
expected to be buzzing again.
"I don't think you can compare a few years ago because there was
nobody [coming to games]," Lapointe said. "It changed so much. Like
day and night."
Many of the current Islanders can't relate to Lapointe's
recollections, or ones of his fellow tenured Isles, Kenny Jonsson and
Steve Webb. Laviolette feels that may be a good thing.
"Our team is fairly new," he said. "There's a handful of guys who
remember the old days, but a majority only remember last year. And
those were great memories."
Notes & Quotes: Today's game against the Devils is an 11 a.m. feature
for the "Cool School" program in which only area schoolchildren have
been invited for free . . . Steve Webb (back spasms) practiced
yesterday and is expected to return to the lineup for tomorrow
night's preseason game against the Flyers at Nassau Coliseum.