UNIONDALE, NY – There’s something special about old hockey arenas. They have that comfort that makes you feel like you are wrapped in a warm wool sweater, which, to be fair, you could definitely wear in some of them. They have charm and subtle nuances that make them special, and they have a unique history.
And maybe it’s for days like Thursday, when the Islanders hosted the Penguins in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup playoff matchup, and the seats had fans.
Many of them.
It had been a long time coming.
The COVID-19 pandemic robbed everyone of seeing the end of the 2019-20 season. It forced the world to watch the summer postseason from home, including fans who could walk past the NHL’s bubble hockey venues at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place. Most of the tracks were still not allowing fans at the start of the 2021 season in January, and the four remaining Canadian clubs in the postseason still have no fans.
“We miss my fans so much,” said Oilers captain and Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid recently. “It is difficult to see some of these [playoff] games in the south with fans going wild and the building seems pretty crowded. Obviously we miss him so much and we know our fans would go crazy this time of year. “
Was the Colosseum filled to capacity on Thursday or even Saturday for Game 4? No, not even close. There were only about 6,800 in a building that seats more than 13,000. But after months of being locked up, searching for the familiar, wanting things to go back to the way they were, Thursday felt almost normal.
“I’ve been to so many games at the Coliseum over the years, including a lot of big playoff games,” said Nick Hirshon, an Islanders fan and season ticket holder. “You’re used to it being a raucous environment, especially in a game like [Thursday] where it’s back and forth and great goals are scored, fights, everyone high-fives, sings. There were still a lot of chants from ‘Let’s Go Islander’. There were still a lot of people coming in, obviously, when the islanders come back, tie the game. But it didn’t feel the same, it felt like it was a little closer to that. “
Wearing blue or white Islanders jerseys, the faithful supported their club. From the packaged vaccinated half to the more socially distanced unvaccinated (by New York State guidelines), chants and cheers reverberated around the Old Barn on their latest spin around the playoff dance floor.
At times, it seemed closer to the days when islanders recited four Stanley Cups in a row. At times, it felt closer to the days of the old Rangers and Islanders rivalry. At times, it felt closer to the recent memory of John Tavares’ return as the Maple Leaf.
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They chanted “Barry” to head coach Trotz as he cautiously walked along the boards on the ice to the bench in his rubber-soled dress shoes. Boos rained down as the penguins skidded every time and cheered their team like crazy, especially when there was a thunderous check or a big save from Semyon Varlamov. And of course, every time the Long Island boys mounted a comeback before losing 5-4 and falling 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“We are going to need all the positive vibes from our audience,” Trotz said Thursday. “We may not get off to a great start, but stay with us. When we started shooting, they were a big part of it. It’s great. It’s a great atmosphere and our fans will help us get through this series and hopefully win the Serie.”
Hello old friend, nice to see you one more time.
(Vaccinated and unvaccinated sections in the Colosseum ready for tonight). pic.twitter.com/px7sabqYDP
– Jackie Spiegel (@ jackiespiegel93) May 20, 2021
Not surprisingly, the building was noisy even though it wasn’t packed to the brim. Newer buildings aren’t being built like this one, which will close its hockey doors at the end of this Isles postseason. The ceiling hangs low and condenses and compresses each fan into a pitch-perfect note as if they’re screaming in unison in your ear.
“The crowd was interested and it was fun to have the fans back in the building. Obviously, it gave us a lot of energy and we felt confident,” said Anthony Beauvillier.
The energy was strong, albeit a bit skewed with one side slimmer in number than the other, but it felt almost normal.
Every time the team yelled “Jar-ry” to interrupt Penguins goalkeeper Tristan Jarry, it seemed like one more step.
Every time they reacted with a wave of emotion, like when the 5v5 scrum happened at the beginning of the third period, another step.
And yes, every time they told the referees they didn’t think they were very good at their job.
We are almost there.
Now we’ve seen it all over the NHL, from the Golden Knights in Las Vegas to the fans who fill Amalie Arena to watch the Lightning host the Panthers to the Caniacs who stay for the “Storm Surge” in Raleigh, NC. And we’ll see. for at least one more game at the Coliseum after the Islanders tied the series on Saturday.
Things are getting back to normal.
It is all we are looking for. We are one step closer to that atmosphere, to everything we remember. The familiar, like that warm wool sweater.
And this is good.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.