One of the NHL’s last remaining ‘Barns’, Nassau Coliseum is closing its doors at the end of this season as the New York Islanders move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Is there one more run left in the intimate 43-year old epicenter of Long Island sport? Let’s hope so.
The first thing you notice when walking up to Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum is how small it is, as though you can understand its entirety in one view. It’s true, other than the rectangular entry vestibule on the Coliseum’s east side, the concrete exterior is a simple, repetitive expression of its structure. When first opened in 1972 it seated just 14,600 fans but it seems even smaller. The lozenge-shaped building sits bare, almost naked, within an expansive parking lot. The seating bowl half-submerged below ground gives the Coliseum a very humble, low profile. And yet, because of the lack of surrounding buildings, there is a dignified, temple-like quality to the Coliseum, as the professional arena from another era that it is.
Although in recent years it gained the nickname ‘the Mausoleum’, on Saturday when the home New York Islanders took on the visiting Buffalo Sabres, the Coliseum buzzed. The single-tier seating bowl without a bad seat in it buzzed with an intimate, palpable, collective energy so intoxicating you never want games here to end. It buzzed much like I imagine it did in the days when Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier won four straight Stanley Cups in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It buzzed with an energy and connection with its fans that will most likely never exist in the Islanders’ new home in Brooklyn. As Coldplay blared over the speakers and the Islanders took to the ice before a crowd determined to create a few more moments in the old building, buzz was everywhere.
A generation of Long Islanders grew up with Nassau Coliseum as their Boston Garden, their Wrigley Field. It was their field of heroes and last Saturday night, fans from that era and their kids and their kids’ kids filled the old Barn, rooting, pulling, urging their Islanders to give them one last run to make everyone remember what it was like when it was great. The collective passion of the fans, the humble arena dutifully fulfilling its primary task – to provide great sightlines for all, that so many modern arenas forget.
Unfortunately, that special bond between the fans and this building is ending as the Islanders will begin play at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next year. Although technically still on Long Island and only a 30-minute train ride from the Coliseum, Barclays Center couldn’t be a more different building than Nassau Coliseum. However, if this next generation of Islander fans take that train or carpool next year for Islander home games and show their passion and dedication to their team, they will help the still-new, still rather vapid Barclays Center find its soul.