We continue our Coliseum memories series with a friend of the site. Brian Erni is the lead writer over at SNYNets.com (how ironic, right?) and he is also a diehard Islanders fan. In the spirit of friendship (and cross promotion) we spoke with him about his memories about the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike.
IPB: How long have you been a fan of the Islanders?
Erni: I got interested in hockey around 1991, and my Islanders fandom started right away. My grandmother had gotten my dad Islanders season tickets for his high school graduation gift. He gave them up prior to the 1979-80 season. Unreal, right? But he was there for the development of those Cup teams, and did get to Game 6 when the Isles clinched their first Cup. My mom and him frequented a place called Dr. Generosity's, which many long-time fans will recognize. The owner had one extra seat for the game and gave it to my dad, so needless to say, this team was in my blood.
IPB: Do you remember your first game you ever attended?
Erni: I remember what was supposed to be my first game: February 1994 against the Washington Capitals. The plan was to have a banner weekend: a sleepover at my best friend's house, followed by my first Islanders game with my dad and my uncles. I went home after the sleepover to pick up my jersey for the game and boom! A stomach virus hits. Instead of watching the Isles, I'm laid up at my grandparents watching the Olympics in Lillehammer. I think I finally got there later that season, but man, was I disappointed.
IPB: What was the best game you’ve been to at the Nassau Coliseum?
Erni: Yes, I could easily go with one of my favorite playoff games (I'll get to that for in a moment), but there is a game that always sticks out in my mind: January 29, 1999 against the then-Phoenix Coyotes.
If you're looking for some hidden meaning, don't sweat it, because it's not there. The Coyotes were good. Very good, in fact. An eventual-90 point team (good for fourth in the West) with Jeremy Roenick, Shane Doan, Keith Tkachuk and Rick Tocchet. These were big time players, and the Islanders could only counter with the likes of Zigmund Palffy (my all-time favorite Islander), Trevor Linden, Maruisz Czerkawski, Claude Lapointe and Robert Reichel. The Isles went down 2-0 in the first, got one back in the second, but then went down 4-1 in the third. It was another typical Saturday night in Islanders country in 1999. "Comeback," I leaned over and said to my dad, which both prompted us to explode into laughter. Only something happened: they came back! The Isles rattled off three unanswered goals to tie it and send it to overtime. The game ended in a 4-4 tie (no four-on-four and a loser point back then, so it was a nervous trap-heavy five minute overtime).
So here's a game that has no historic significance, no consequence, and no one even won! But that night, a ninth grade kid really believed that great things would happen if you just wanted it badly enough. At almost 30 now, and the world has the capability to make you cynical, I try to remember how it felt that night and re-capture that attitude whenever I can.
IPB: What was the most memorable moment you’ve experienced at Nassau Coliseum during an Islander game?
Erni: Shawn Bates' penalty shot goal in Game 4 of the 2001-02 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Toronto. You have to remember, this was a year removed from being the laughing stock of the league. The year before, I watched Murphy's Law play out at the Coliseum anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Blown leads, injuries, even Jose Theodore scoring a goal on an empty net. Then, overnight, we were relevant. We missed out on an Atlantic division title by a single point, and we were suddenly in the midst of this emotionally-charged series with Toronto. When Bates got tripped up and I saw the point towards the center ice circle, it felt like magic was about to happen. Then when he roofed it... God, I have goosebumps just thinking about it. The place went ballistic. For people in my age bracket, born in the '80s and were too young to have seen the dynasty, I feel like that was our moment. I'll never forget it.
IPB: Do you have a funny story or memory from attending or covering a game at the Coliseum?
Erni: Too many. One I tell most often is how, prior to the 2000-01 season when the team would finish dead last in the NHL, my father and I dragged ourselves to the first preseason game against the Devils and found ourselves as two of 750 people in the place. That's not an exaggeration. I think the team draws more for the Blue vs. White scrimmage nowadays. It was so cold inside the building because there just wasn't enough body heat.
But maybe my favorite thing story was a bit of routine for my dad and I. Like clockwork, every time the group of little kids would come out for skate during intermission, my dad would boo. Not loudly enough to be noticed or heard on the ice, just enough to get a rise out of me. I would hit his leg and shush him, and he'd crack up. Every. Single. Time.
IPB: What will you miss the most about the Coliseum?
Erni: The amazing sightlines and how loud the place can get. I think people almost forgot how good the building is for watching hockey. Is it antiquated in nearly every other way? Of course. The concourses are microscopic, the roof leaks and surviving a trip to the bathroom is enough to give you a bout of PTSD. But to watch a hockey game and experience the organic sights and sounds of what makes this game great, for my money, there's no better building in the league. Two years ago, that Pittsburgh series served as a reminder for everyone that this building can be such a huge advantage for a hard-working, constantly-hitting, no-nonsense hockey team. It's breaks my heart that we're about to lose that. Oh, and the "Let's Go Islanders" horn honking on the way out of the lot after a big win! My wife thinks it's amusing that I get such a kick out of it.
IPB: What makes the Coliseum special to you?
Erni: If anyone asks me where I grew up, I say Nassau Coliseum. My dad and I started splitting season tickets with a friend of his prior to the 1996-97 and that plan lasted us all the way through the first lockout of '04-'05. From seventh grade until my junior year in college, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights were reserved for my father, myself and the New York Islanders. When I think about how much I've grown as a person, from an awkward teenager, to a college kid without a care in the world, to a grown man with a wife looking toward a family of my own some day soon, it gives me great pride that the Coliseum acted as a backdrop; a constant throughout it all. Needless to say, my eyes will not be dry when they shut the door for the final time.