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Islander Fans Already Miss Their 'Wonderful Dump' Of A Stadium


The center of North American - of the North American hockey universe was once a squat concrete stadium in the middle of a parking lot in Uniondale, Long Island. The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was home to the New York Islanders while they were winning four Stanley cups in a row from 1980 to 1983.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: The Islanders win the Stanley Cup.

WERTHEIMER: But the 43-year-old marriage between team and stadium is about to end. Next season, the Islanders will play in Barclay Center in Brooklyn. WNYC's Jim O'Grady went to the Nassau Coliseum to find out what Islander fanatics fear will be lost when their team packs up.

JIM O'GRADY, BYLINE: Islanders fans define themselves by what they're not. They're not Rangers fans. David Martin is my friend, and he's a diehard Islanders fan. He breaks it down.

DAVID MARTIN: There's the layers at the bottom of an ocean - you know, it's like whale crap, lawyers and then Rangers fans. That's the strata and...

O'GRADY: You know that I'm a Rangers fan.

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh, I didn't. Oh, my word. I guess I should retract everything I said, except I won't.

O'GRADY: The Rangers play in world-famous Madison Square Garden in the middle of glamorous Manhattan. The Islanders play out there in the burbs in a stadium that looks like a food dish for a giant, sad dog.

MARTIN: It's a dump, but it's a wonderful dump because it's intimate. There's not a bad sight line. So when they move to Brooklyn, that's all going to be lost.

O'GRADY: Martin's routine for the last 12 years has been to crank Mozart on his sound system while driving to games. I ask him to describe his fellow fans.

MARTIN: People from Nassau and Suffolk - I'm trying to think how to put - I mean, strong Islanders, blue-collar, people with mustaches, grizzled.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Hockey fans, let's hear it for your New York Islanders.

O'GRADY: The Islanders are playing the Anaheim Ducks. In the early going, the team has chances to score, but have trouble putting the puck in the net. After two periods, the Islanders trail the Ducks, 3 to 1. We head to a hot dog stand where we run into Frances Hoey, who's been coming to Islander games with her dad since she was a kid.

FRANCES HOEY: It's special - everything, tailgating. And when they go to the Barclay Center, they won't be able to do that anymore. Everyone's going to be taking the train.

O'GRADY: What do you do when you tailgate?

HOEY: Well, you know.

O'GRADY: By you know, she means we drink and eat grilled meat in the parking lot. The Coliseum is the second oldest building in the National Hockey League. The oldest - Madison Square Garden. Several years ago, the Islanders owner had big plans to renovate the arena and develop the surrounding area. But when local opposition killed the deal in 2011, he basically took his team and said I'm out of here. Fan Blaise Ognebany and his family were at the game in memory of his brother Woody, an Islanders fan who died in 2001.

BLAISE OGNEBANY: We're here with, like, 60 people today. We're actually here because, you know what it is, we lost my brother in 9/11. He died at the World Trade Center.

O'GRADY: So, in a sense, is this one way to keep his memory alive?

OGNEBANY: Oh, yeah, we keep his memory alive. This was his love.

O'GRADY: The Islanders end up losing 3 to 2, but they're in the playoffs. If they reach the second round, they might even play the Rangers. God help them. For NPR News, I'm Jim O'Grady. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim O'Grady
Jim O'Grady is a contributor to NPR's Planet Money podcast.