Islanders Point Blank spoke with author Nick Hirshon, who penned the book Images of America: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Hirshon has been an Islander fan since the 1999-2000 season and is a teaching fellow at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. In addition to writing his book on the history of the Nassau Coliseum, he has worked for the New York Daily News and DNAInfo.com. Hirshon was kind enough to sit down and chat with IPB about the hockey barn he holds near and dear to his heart.
IPB: Do you remember your first game you ever attended?
Hirshon: December 2, 1999. The Islanders lost 5-0 to the Calgary Flames. I don't remember much about the game. When I was leaving the Coliseum, I overheard a guy talking to his wife on a payphone. He said, "I've got good news and I've got bad news. The bad news is the Islanders lost. The good news is, I caught a puck, honey!"
IPB: What was the best game you’ve been to at the Nassau Coliseum?
Hirshon: I've been to a bunch of memorable games at Nassau Coliseum. I went to the game on October 20, 2001, when No. 19 was retired for Bryan Trottier, and I saw all three home games between the Islanders and the Penguins in the 2013 playoffs. The crowd was wild for all those games.
But nothing beats Game 4 of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals versus the Maple Leafs on April 24, 2002. You have to understand how awful the Islanders had been leading up to that season. Absolute laughingstocks. So bad that I used to do a double take when the crawl on the morning news shows said the Islanders had won. And then they have this magical turnaround season and face an Original Six team in the first round. And the Maple Leafs were so easy to hate. Darcy Tucker takes out the Islanders' captain, Mike Peca, with a dirty check. Gary Roberts takes out our best defenseman, Kenny Jonsson. It felt like good versus evil. So it was really sweet when the Islanders won Game 4. Shawn Bates had a penalty shot late in the game, and I remember waving my arms to encourage other fans to get on their feet. As if they weren't already on their feet. There was this magnificent silence when Bates was skating in on Curtis Joseph, and then just a deafening roar when Bates scored.
I had been in the Coliseum on so many nights when only a few thousand fans were there and the place was dead. It was amazing to see a raucous, sell-out crowd. People actually proud to be Islanders fans.
(Editor's note: A name was changed in the passage above to correctly identify Gary Roberts as the player who injured Islanders' defenseman Kenny Johnson during the 2002 playoffs.)
IPB: What was the most memorable moment you’ve experienced at Nassau Coliseum during an Islander game?
Hirshon: I guess I'd have to go back to the Shawn Bates penalty shot. But there was also the moment earlier that season when the Islanders beat Washington to clinch a playoff spot for the first time in eight years. It was a Saturday night, and the place was packed. So many fans had waited so long to see the Islanders back in the postseason. I remember Claude Lapointe took the final face-off with a few seconds left. That was so fitting, because Lapointe was a leader on the team when they were cellar-dwellers. Another great moment was the Casey Cizikas goal versus the Penguins in the 2013 playoffs. The Coliseum just erupted. Strangers hugging and high-fiving, people losing their voices. Lots of fun.
IPB: Do you have a funny story or memory from attending a game at the Coliseum?
Hirshon: I remember one time when the Islanders handed out blue boxers with the team logo before the game. Jason Blake scored a hat trick, and people started throwing the boxers onto the ice. Boxers don't make for good projectiles. They kept landing on people's heads and stuff. It was pretty funny.
IPB: You wrote a book on the Coliseum. What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching and writing the book?
Hirshon: I had no idea that Presidents Nixon and Ford made major campaign speeches at Nassau Coliseum. When I did a book signing at the Coliseum a few years ago, someone came up to me and said that a balloon from either the Nixon rally or the Ford rally was in the rafters for years later. I also didn't realize how successful the other tenants of the Coliseum have been over the years: the Nets, of course, but also the Arrows in soccer, the Sets in tennis and the Tomahawks in lacrosse. It was really Fort Neverlose for a lot of teams, not just the Islanders. It's pretty cool to watch footage from WrestleMania 2 in 1986, also. Ray Charles singing "America The Beautiful" in Nassau Coliseum... Joan Rivers announcing... Mr. T fighting Rowdy Roddy Piper. I would have loved to have been there back then.
IPB: What makes the Coliseum special to you?
Hirshon: The Coliseum has been a big part of my life for 15 years, and it feels like longer. I started following the Islanders when I started high school, the time when you're really discovering who you are and defining your interests. So I feel like I grew up at the Coliseum. I've been there with my parents more times than I can count. I've been there with lots of friends. I've gone to concerts, ice shows, arena football, lacrosse, events in the exhibition hall, you name it. We all go through ups and downs, and people and places come into our lives for a certain period of time, and often those people and places go. We lose touch with some friends, relationships end, we change jobs, we move.
Through all of that, the Coliseum has been a mainstay in my life. Because I'm from New York, I grew up around a lot of Rangers fans, or people who dismissed hockey entirely. The Islanders were always the underdog, and so was the Coliseum. Little media attention, no respect. Long Island's way of trying to exit the shadow of New York City, to show that it deserved to be in the big leagues. It was easy to fall in love. One of my college professors had been general manager of the Coliseum. The Coliseum became the subject of my first book. I covered events there as a reporter. And now I'm doing research on the Coliseum and the Islanders as part of my doctoral work. I'm going to conferences in South Carolina and Minnesota presenting papers on Nassau Coliseum.
Once you fall in love with something, you want to share it with the world. And I try to give the Coliseum some of the respect that I think it deserves, and preserve its history for posterity.
IPB: What will you miss the most about the Coliseum?
Hirshon: I've been going to the Coliseum for most of my life, so I'll miss the entire game experience. Hanging out at the Long Island Marriott before the game, having the buffet at Prime Seasons with my family, heading into the Coliseum early for warm-ups, seeing the banners for the Hall of Famers and the Stanley Cup championships.
That magical moment when the lights go dark and some dramatic video plays to pump up the crowd before the Islanders come out. The boisterous reaction when the Islanders score -- the goal horn, the "Wooo!" and the "Yes!" chant this season. And then leaving the Coliseum and hearing everyone honk along to "Let's go Islanders!" I don't think that'll work too well at the Barclays Center, with the din of the city competing with the horns.