Story Time: Rangers-Islanders 1999

I originally started writing this post as a connection to Eitan’s first baseball game but I got so involved in the story that it became its own post. I decided I enjoyed writing it so much that I would finish it and post it anyway, even though it was a long time ago and being a parent was one of the farthest things from my mind. I’ll post more memories occasionally under the “Story Time” title. If there are specific types of stories you’d like to hear from when I was younger, either stories that you were a part of or a type of story you’d like to read from my point of view, either send me an email at sleepingontheedgeblog@gmail.com or post on the blog’s Facebook page. Enjoy!


 

I was in middle school when I first started paying attention to professional hockey. My closest friend was a New York Islanders fan, so that’s the team that I first started following (I went back to my Chicago roots with the Blackhawks a few years later). The downside was that the Islanders were terrible and played in an awful arena (two facts which remain true today, unfortunately, although apparently they’re moving to Brooklyn). The upside, though, was that because they were terrible and played in an awful arena, their tickets were really cheap, which came in handy for a middle school student with no income. My friend and I went to a couple of games and my love for the sport was sealed.

One of the games that we went to was against the New York Rangers. The Rangers and Islanders have a long and storied history. It’s hard for me to call it a rivalry, as they haven’t often both been competitive at the same time, but because of their proximity and the nature of the sport, their games always tend to get a bit chippy.1 A group of my friends made plans to see this game together; one guy bought the tickets over the phone and we planned to pick them up at the game. We met up after school, drove to Nassau Coliseum, went to the Will Call window and…

No tickets.

My friend, Jon, was beside himself. He pleaded with the ticket person, said that he had given his credit card information on the phone, gave his name, his phone number, his drivers license, anything he could think of. The ticket person asked him to wait a minute and move to the side so that she could help the other customers. Jon did so reluctantly and after a minute, a tall, muscular man wearing a maroon customer service vest came out of the ticket office door. He asked us what had happened and Jon made his case. The man listened and, when Jon had finished, told us to wait while he would see what he could do. He went back into the office and we waited in silence, watching with increasing despair as the other fans around us – you know, the ones who actually had tickets – filed into the arena. The young woman who sang the Star Spangled Banner that night had just finished when the man emerged again.

“Okay, guys, here’s the deal,” he said to us. My heart immediately sank, as there was no way good news could follow an introduction like that. The night would be a supreme disappointment, we would have to go home empty-handed and there was nothing at all that could be done about it, no matter how much we begged.

“The good news is that I got you tickets to the game.”

My emotions have never made as fast U-turn as they did in that moment.

“The bad news is that they’re obstructed vision. Rangers-Islanders, you know, it’s sold out obviously. We keep a couple of seats open just for misunderstandings like this, though.”

We thanked him profusely as he handed us the stubs, said we didn’t care about the vision as long as we could get in. This was 95% true. Remember, I said Nassau Coliseum is an awful arena. It’s old, it smells and it’s falling apart.2 There are poles and beams placed sporadically through the arena. There are places in the upper decks and at the backs of the lower decks where the roof or the levels above you hang over, allowing you to see the nearest corner of the ice and forcing you to watch the rest of the action on tiny televisions installed in the very parts of the building blocking your view. It’s as though the architect forgot that people would want to come to the arena to watch live sports. So there were tiny pieces of our hearts that were disappointed about the phrase “obstructed vision,” but we were being honest when we said that we just wanted to be at the game. There are few pairs of teams that inspire such animosity in each other’s players and fans. Think Yankees-Red Sox, but if they played forty-five minutes away from each other instead of five hours.

We made our way inside and our excitement grew exponentially as we entered. The game had just started and to say that the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement. We handed our tickets to the usher and waited to see just how much the Coliseum was going to force us to depend on the crowd’s reaction to see what was happening in the game as opposed to seeing it for ourselves. We braced ourselves for the inevitable climb up, up, up to the last row of nosebleed seats. The usher glanced at our tickets and began to lead us down to our seats.

Down to our seats.

We looked at each other, none of us daring to say a word, in case the usher had somehow made a mistake. We followed him down, getting closer and closer to the ice and the players on it. The usher finally stopped, gestured to the row of empty seats and said simply, “These are your seats.”

We were sitting in the front row.

I couldn’t help myself. I was at the front of our group so I asked him, “Are you sure?” No one else in our group had moved, so I’m assuming I had voiced the question they were all wondering.

He laughed and said, “Enjoy the game, boys.”

He had not made a mistake. As it turns out, one of the other ways a spectator’s view can be obstructed is by the six inch advertising strip that lines the base of the glass around the rink and the broad shoulders of the players sitting on the bench. I was sitting no more than three feet behind the Islanders goalie, Roberto Luongo.3 If not for the glass, I could have reached out and touched him without leaving my seat.

The game was fantastic. A rare 4-2 win for the hometown Islanders, including an incredible glove save from Isles goaltender Kevin Weekes and the diminutive Rangers forward Theo Fleury slashing his stick at the calves of the hulking Isles defenseman, Zdeno Chara, who returned the favor by stealing a Fleury pass and assisting on a goal.

The night that had started so inauspiciously had turned into an amazing evening that none of us would ever forget. It was the last time I saw a game at Nassau Coliseum, but I doubt highly that any other game could match the emotion of that night.

 


1. Poor Tommy Salo…
2. The arm rest from my seat at my first game literally came off during the evening. Just fell right off of its base. Naturally, I kept it as a souvenir.
3. Yes, this Roberto Luongo.

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