Exile Island

I know that when people first meet me, they quickly become aware that I am a New York Islanders fan.

If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase “the Islanders suck,” or that they were only good during their dynasty run, I’d probably have enough money to buy typically overpriced Rangers tickets for a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. For those that are unfamiliar with hockey, that team has never advanced past the first round of the playoffs, yet the tickets still cost a fortune.

Everyone has their favorite team, or even a team to just hop on the bandwagon with. But there’s something about the Islanders, who haven’t seen a championship since the early ‘80s, that I don’t see with other professional sports teams.

There are not many professional teams out there with players so involved with the community as much as the Islanders, or fans taking victory laps around the building after a normal win (it’s even better when they make the playoffs… occasionally). 

I remember back in 2008, I went to my first hockey game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale for my friend’s birthday. I remember the run-down scent of  the place. That day I bought my first of many hats — which unfortunately barely fits me now, but that’s okay — and watched the goal horn go off five times en route to an Islanders win.

After that day, I watched the Islanders on television in an attempt to grasp the concept of hockey. It wasn’t long until I started scraping up whatever money I had on me to buy hockey tickets. 

Over time, I met many of the welcoming fans, which eventually led me to Section 329. An outsider may view the fans in this section as wild, drunk lunatics who dedicate most of their lives to chanting for the team, but there were people of all ages in this section ready to Rock The Barn. They instantly became a hockey family to me and changed my perspective on the sport. 

I ended up getting better deals on hockey tickets through them, which allowed me to go to more games. I participated in all-day tailgates that consisted of street hockey, barbecues, talking, or just constantly going in and out of the Marriott hotel next door for warmth during the chilly winters. Sometimes Islanders players or players on the opposing team would walk out of the Marriott before games and you could have a conversation with them, which was more valuable to me than an autograph or a picture.

With puck drop being at 7 or 7:30 p.m., we would all grab our tickets and head in for warmups, where we would go down to the rink and hold our signs up or just try to grab the attention of our favorite players. 

Then, it was game time. We would walk up to our seats and once we were all settled, Tom, the leader of the section, would scream “what time is it!?” and the rest of the section and surrounding ones would scream “GAME TIME,” repeating ourselves three or four times in order to energize the crowd for games. 

From there, fans would do the “Let’s Go Islanders” chant or sing a variety of songs that even first-time hockey goers in the crowd caught on to. To be told by fans from around the building — and even players — that we sound good up there was truly a rewarding feeling. 

To experience games without hearing the goal horn is always a tough night to deal with, but it’s never a waste of money, because being around the fans is always a truly wonderful experience. I would accept them losing some games, but to see them have winning seasons now is something truly special as a fan.

One of my most memorable wins was in the 2013 playoffs against the Pittsburgh — my first playoff game. I got tickets for $43, which is a steal compared to spending over $100 for a playoff ticket now. 

The game was back and forth and tied at four going into the final few minutes. With under two minutes remaining, fans were on the edge because the Penguins had enough time to tie the game. However, Casey Cizikas came up the ice and squeezed the puck in to give the Islanders the win and two goal advantage. 

The fans in the section actually dogpiled on top of each other. Many probably lost their voices in what was the most relieving goal for any young fan’s under the age of 40. This was the start of a new beginning for the team.

Last season, the team made the unfortunate move to Brooklyn to play at the Barclays Center due to contractual reasons, and the commute and the move itself has been more of an inconvenience for many. There’s nothing that can replace the environment of the Coliseum. I hope one day the team can move back there, although it wouldn’t be the same. 

With all being said, to put all of my experiences as a fan of a historically mediocre team into one article is impossible. As hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once said “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” there’s many shots I took to get involved with a team and a bunch of fans, and I don’t regret any of them.