Double-dipping: Bad for chip eaters. Great for hockey fans.
Two days before I landed on Long Island, I realized that the New York Islanders were scheduled to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at home.
When I bought my ticket for the Caps game last summer, it never occurred to me to check the Islanders schedule for before that day. Back-to-back nights of home games are rare in the NHL. You’re more likely to see a back-to-back with a team traveling for one of those games.
I’m in the middle of watching the Caps in person drubbing the Ottawa Senators and I immediately search for tickets. This Islanders vs Leafs game was the return of John Tavares to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (or NYCB Live at Nassau Coliseum). I couldn’t say no. I was booked to stay at the Long Island Marriott, so the place was guaranteed to be rowdy that night. The price of drinking at the hotel for the night would have easily been the price of a ticket (about $180).
Islanders fans don’t let things go. Especially betrayal. The last regular season NHL game I can ever remember of this much hate and build-up to would be…you know what? I really can’t think of one during my time of following hockey since I was 11. There have been instances of hated for players like Sean Avery, Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Marchment and Claude Lemieux. I can’t remember a fan base — during the regular season — being on a player at this intensity from warm-ups to post-game. Hell, even during the post-game media scrum, you could hear on TV highlights a fan yelling in the background: “John! You suck!”
It felt like WrestleMania. It felt like a European soccer match, short of a riot. It was a Roman Coliseum, really, with every spectator thirsty for carnage. When I sat out to see a game in every NHL arena in my lifetime, my hope was to go as a home fan as much as possible, experiencing the passion of the local crowd. This visit exceed expectations.
Constant chanting. From “We Don’t Need You” to “Where’s Your Jammies” to “That’s Our Captain” when Anders Lee scored a goal, the Nassau faithful were savage. They really put in complete effort on shaming and exerting revenge the best a fan could — without fighting a player.
The intensity was so strong that when an Islanders fan wanted to give a standing ovation with less than 2 minutes to go in the game, the fellow Islanders fan behind him yelled at him to sit down. When he didn’t comply and said something the large man when to shove him and there was a little back and forth but no fists thrown.
Back at the hotel, a bartender told customers how that night was the busiest, and probably highest grossing for sales at the hotel bar/restaurant in 18 years. He estimated it to be $42,000, which is really crazy. I worked at a small town department store where a $27,000 day left you out of breath, even if you just worked a five-hour shift.
I was most impressed by the people who went to professional sign shops to make slick signs to degrade Tavares. Or, spend money to embroider “Traitor” or stick “Palffy” upside down on the nameplate above 91. (Turn it upside down and it’s a 16—Ziggy’s number as an Isle.) Or wearing Islander pajamas.
By far the most entertaining regular season game I’ve attended from what I can recall. The following night, I was very tense, uneasy. Instead of a 6-1 drubbing while rooting for the Islanders, I cheered for my Caps with the Caps Road Crew. Somehow, we survived a tight-checking game with two teams playing similar styles and system and won 3-1.
So, what about the arena itself and its environs?
I don’t think I’ve written this much about transportation to and from an arena/nearby accommodations. If you don’t care about this, skip ahead.
If you have a car, it’s better if you can somehow survive the hell of driving through congestion on I-95 from Baltimore to New York in all the usual places. From Baltimore, it’s almost four hours of driving if you’re lucky to avoid construction zones and crashes.
One-way tolls cost about $37 and $20 in gas each way, brings you to $114 total. A round-trip flight costs about the same from BWI to JFK, which is what I opted for thanks to an airline voucher that covered the cost of the flight.
As much as I hate driving through congestion, here’s why I would use a car over flying and transit:
I stayed at the Long Island Marriott, which is basically in the parking lot of the arena. The arena is the only walkable destination from the hotel. Actually, the hotel is the only walkable hotel to the arena for that matter
There is nowhere to safely walk to in a short distance to grab food outside of the hotel. The restaurant’s prices are OK, but breakfast can run you $20. We’re talking $5 for a muffin, OK? The convenience store is at arena concession prices. Cliff Bar and an OJ? $10 thank you.
There’s a McDonald’s and Chipotle that you could walk 10 minutes to if you cut straight across the parking lot. A raised crosswalk at Hofstra University can take you over the Hempstead Turnpike. By that time, I think you burned the calories needed for a Happy Meal.
Getting from a Long Island Rail Road train station to the hotel/arena can be confusing for those not familiar with the area and want to avoid paying another $10 or so for a Lyft. Google Maps by default point you to the Mineola or Westbury stops if coming from JFK. The hotel only lists Westbury, which is 2.5 miles from the hotel. The problem with Mineola, Westbury and even Carle Place, which drops off in a residential area, is that taking a bus is a chore from those areas, so you’re stuck calling for a cab or ride share. It would take nearly an hour by bus, including having to switch bus lines, or walking across a college campus for a mile, and catching a bus there. (I really could have used a Bird or Lime scooter here.)
Here’s what I recommend: Walk south from the hotel to the corner of James Doolittle and Hempstead Turnpike. It takes maybe three or four minutes to walk across the lot, or down the street, and you find yourself at the local NICE bus line for n70 or n71. In about 15-20 minutes, that bus will take you to the Hempstead Bus Terminal. Across the street is the Hempstead LIRR station, which takes you to Jamaica, where you can catch the AirTrain to JFK.
Alternatively, this line will take you to Atlantic Terminal and you can change in Jamaica to Penn Station, too.
I just wish the hotel/arena landlord would build a sidewalk from the hotel south to the turnpike to make the walk safer, especially on a snowy day.
The only downside to Hempstead is that the service isn’t as frequent to get you to Jamaica, or into Brooklyn and Manhattan if you’re looking to visit there. Mineola has the most lines that stops for stations east of Jamaica, so you’re not going to wait long if you’re looking to get there or go into the city. At Hempstead, it’s about once an hour except evening rush hour service sends more frequent trains. It’s worth taking a look at.
What’s the point of all of this?
Let’s all hope that the new arena at Belmont gets a full-time LIRR stop when the new arena opens with a sufficient number of trains. There’s a part-time stop there, but any arena in the 21st century needs mass transit, especially some sort of rail service, serving the arena directly or at least in a short walk.
The New Old Barn
I’ve watched games of the Coliseum on TV for years from afar and amazed at the well-worn seats and place was still standing with its prison facade and dim on-ice lighting. The place wasn’t high on my list because I figured it would be here forever because the team’s ownership, area’s political will (and a huge ask of tax dollars during the Great Recession) kept a new arena from proceeding.
The new aluminum fin treatment on the exterior is a smart move, making the arena look modern with how the design swoops around like a wave. The developers did one of the better jobs of renovating an old property with an uncertain future.
Inside, the concourses, lighting, restrooms, seats — everything is brand new. I would genuinely enjoy watching a game here any day of the year. The Upper Bowl is really like Club Level in most arenas. Reminds me of the old Pittsburgh Igloo with how the lower bowl just continues on up forever.
I sat in 240 Row 11 on Thursday, positioned where the Isles shoot twice between the blue line and circles without any issue. On Friday, I was behind the Isles’ goal in 212 Row 10 and the overhang from the suites block the view of the banners and the top of the scoreboard. A TV is placed on your left to make up for the obstruction. This type of obstruction I could deal with if it’s just blocking the banners. I could see the entire ice surface, which is not something you have an easy time doing in Brooklyn.
The pitch of the upper bowl is PERFECT. There is no need to lean and the only times fans would lean is when the action heated up and you were halfway standing up for another goal in that 6-1 route. (However, on Friday, a group of 10 teens at the game felt the need to stand up during play constantly and just come and go as they pleased. They are the worst kind of people and should never come to a hockey game again.)
The new capacity of the coliseum is 13,917 for hockey, down from 16,170 before the re-do. The reason why you have fewer seats is mainly for comfort. The seats are an inch wider and there is 34 inches of legroom with the new seats, according to Newsday. I’m a bigger guy and I never felt cramped between my seat mates.
Speaking of suites —not that I could afford one — but with suites and boxes being moneymakers for pro teams, it’s cool seeing an arena with only a handful of them leaving more room for seats for the rest of us. The suites are the highest seats in the venue, tucked above the Islanders end zone. A team can’t make the money its peers do without more suites and boxes, which is one of the main drivers why the team needed a new arena 20 years ago…
How small is this place? There’s only one concourse, and it felt more than adequate. I felt more frustrated walking through the upper concourse in D.C. and at some other arenas than navigating the single concourse on Long Island. The men’s room wait was actually somewhat brief for as long as the line was during a sell-out—better than in D.C.
It turns out that the renovation made the concourse a foot wider by pushing back concession stands and doubled the total of toilets/urinals/sinks overall, according to Newsday. With all the flashy, money-grabbing features of state-of-the-art arenas, the Coliseum serves as a great reminder that if you make it a comfortable place to watch a game and get through the restroom line quick, fans will notice.
Bottom line: If you haven’t watched a game at the Coliseum, take advantage and do it now in the next two seasons before the Islanders really do stop playing here. (At least, I think they’ll stop playing there one day, right?)
If you have watched a game here before the renovations, come back because chances are it’ll be a more pleasant experience.
Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In
Arena Total: 18
Individual Home Teams Visited: 15
NYCB Live (Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum) – Feb. 28, 2019 (Islanders 6, Maple Leafs 1) — In a six-goal feast, nobody really remembers who scored in this game beyond Captain Anders Lee. The fans were the real star of this game with the epic trolling of former Islanders captain John Tavares returning home to the Coliseum for the first time as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Tavares got owned both on and off the ice in a game that will be remembered for years to come. Side note: Johnny Boychuk had a scary incident taking a skate to the throat, rushing off the ice grabbing his throat. The cut wasn’t serious and he was able to return to the game.
Prudential Center — Jan. 12, 2019 (Devils 3, Flyers 2) Long removed from the days of Brodeur vs Hextall, two rookie goalies faced off in this rivalry game. One, the much heralded Carter Hart for Philly, and the other, MacKenzie Blackwood, who is working to earn respect on the goalie depth chart. Dana Severson buried a one-time feed from Drew Stafford at the bottom left circle to open the scoring. Later, Nico Hischier went five hole on a breakaway in the second period then feeds Miles Wood for the final goal. James van Riemsdyk shoveled a puck top shelf in the second to get the Flyers on the board. Philly’s second goal game with 2 seconds left in the game when Sean Couturier received a stretch pass to break in and get the puck past Blackwood. Attendance: 16,514
Barclays Center — Nov. 13, 2018 (Islanders 5, Canucks 2) Thomas Khunackl scored two goals, including a nifty fluke goal on his back, easily being named the First Star of the game. Jacob Markstrom looked a bit shaky in goal as the team was coming off a back-to-back swing, losing to the Rangers the night before. Matthew Barzel and Brock Nelson also picked up two assists.. Canucks rookie phenom Elias Pettersson was held scoreless and was a -3.But did anyone notice? The official attendance was 8,806.
T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025
Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two. Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win. (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)
Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.
Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)
Consol Energy Center (Now PPG Paints Arena) – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.
(Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)
Nationwide Arena – Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.
BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)
Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)
RBC Center (Now PNC Arena) – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)
Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)
TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)
Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)
United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)
MCI Center/Verizon Center/CapitalOne Arena – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)
US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)