Islanders Bob Nystrom, Clark Gillies prep for Nassau Coliseum return
The two Islanders legends and media got a sneak peek at the team's renovated home on Long Island as their Brooklyn schedule grows thinner.
It might look plenty different, but not much had changed for New York Islanders legends Bobby Nystrom and Clark Gillies as they toured their old home, the Nassau Coliseum, on Wednesday afternoon.
After three years, $10 million in renovations, and a failed move to Brooklyn, the NHL franchise is set to take the ice at its former home once again in the regular season.
Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET) will provide a homecoming for a majority of the fanbase — now including Nystrom and Gillies — who had called the venue home from 1972-2015 before the team moved to the Barclays Center.
The Islanders will split their home games between Brooklyn and the Coliseum for each of the next three seasons. Each venue will get 21 games this season before the Coliseum gets a combined 48 games over the next two years.
Nystrom, known as Mr. Islander after playing 14 seasons with the team, and the Hall-of-Famer Gillies, who played 12 years on Long Island, got a sneak peek at the spruced-up Coliseum in its hockey layout. Re-opened in April of 2017, the Coliseum's main purpose is to host special events such as concerts. Regardless, roomier seats, updated amenities and a more modern look, the fan experience has improved plenty at the arena nicknamed "The Old Barn."
"I've never seen the old place look so good," Gillies said. "I think the fans are going to be the big winners here. This place is gorgeous, they've done a lot of great work on it. I think everyone is going to be very thrilled when they get in here."
What hasn't changed is the intimacy of the Coliseum. While renovations saw the seating capacity for hockey games drop from 16,700 to 13,900, the arena's low roof coupled with both levels' proximity to the ice has ensured that the Coliseum is going to be as loud as ever on game nights.
"I think that the structure itself was kept similar because you want that noise factor... that's the most important thing," Nystrom said. "You look at all the buildings that have been replaced... they were so tight in those days and it was just a little bit of a different feel. So to come back here and see it the way that it is now is going to be fantastic."
Among other notable changes are the locker rooms. The Islanders' changing room is now where the visitor's room used to be while getting updated to comfortably house an NHL team.
"My gosh, you can fit two of our locker rooms in their locker room now," Nystrom joked.
During its 43-year run as the primary home of the Islanders, the franchise won four-consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-1983 which included an NHL record 19-straight postseason series wins. Nystrom and Gillies were both a part of those teams, which helped put Long Island on the professional sporting map, providing a true hometown franchise for the 118-mile stripe east of New York City.
It was Nystrom that sparked the dynasty as his overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers in 1980 delivered the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
"We have so many memories here and just in talking to the fans... they're just absolutely thrilled that the team is coming back here to play some games," Nystrom said. "It makes it a lot easier for the youngsters to come... it's going to be a great thing for Long Island."
Failed attempts to upgrade the arena and its crumbling infrastructure throughout the first decade of the millennium forced the team West to Brooklyn where the Barclays Center was expected to be their home for at least the next 25 years.
It pitted most of its fans based on Long Island with a long commute on the LIRR. Not to mention the players, as well.
As a result, attendance at the Barclays Center was always rooted at the bottom of the league's list. After averaging just over 13,360 fans per night in their first two years at the Barclays Center, the Islanders ranked dead-last in attendance last season with an average of 12,002 fans per game.
Through 11 games this season, the Islanders rank dead-last in the league yet again with 10,477 fans per game.
"I think there had been a little separation between the fans and the team over the past three years," Gillies said. "Playing here at the Coliseum is going to bring those two groups a little tighter."
Even with the smallest seating capacity in the NHL, the Nassau Coliseum is going to yield some big, loud crowds for the Islanders.
"I know the players are going to love it," Gillies said. "They have a 10-minute commute instead of a two-hour commute to the Barclays Center. A lot of real, big positives for the fans and players."
As for the fans, Nystrom is expecting big things as he and Gillies will be in attendance on Saturday night.
"The fact of the matter is we have the greatest fans, the loudest fans... you just can't duplicate what you have here," he said. "I expect the fans to really come out and root the team on... It's going to be rocking."