Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Universe Conspired Against Me: Missing the End of an Era

I'm catching up on drafts. I listed a few planned blogs throughout the pain of the past months, but many were never finished. So here I am, finishing the ones I most cared about.

I am an Islanders fan. I grew up in Merrick, a stone's throw from Nassau Coliseum. Officially the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, it was also known as the Old Barn. It was a beloved old arena, but sorely outdated. For 43 years the Islanders played there. The Old Barn was spartan. Seats were uncomfortable. The noise echoed in an ear-splitting din that made the building shake. But through it all, the Old Barn was beloved. Not only close to the Coliseum, I grew up in Islanders' heyday. Four Stanley Cups and 19 post-season series. Islanders' players also mingled with fans. I remember seeing players at public rinks. They spoke to us from the tunnel. They'd smile at us from the benches. We felt they were our team. We lived and breathed blue and orange. Even now, I have an Isles' jersey in my closet and a mini hockey stick on my office wall.

This year the Isles played their last game (maybe) in the Old Barn. (Rumor has it they may play a few games in the future). For all of its drawbacks, it was wonderful. Small and intimate, it felt like we were all a family cheering together.

December was the last time I was in the tri-state during hockey season. My last two Isles games were here in Toronto. This trip, my brother and I were planning a trek back to the Coliseum for a game. It was a bad idea. I was suffering from sciatica. Russ was good and sick. Neither of us was up for a two-hour trip to Long Island. Still, we were hopeful. Unfortunately for our plans Russell took Dad to a doctor's appointment. That ran late and into traffic on the way back. They arrived home way too late to start the drive to Uniondale. Simple fate prevented me from attending that final game.
Hindsight, even as it was happening, told me it was for the best. Neither Russell nor I belonged in a car that night. We would have driven 3 1/2 - 4 hours sick and in pain. We would have sat in cramped uncomfortable seats. We would have paid for it dearly in the days after. Still, I wish I had the chance. For the first time in a long time the Isles were playing great. It was a pleasure to watch. Reading the stats raised my spirits. After getting so used to disappointment, I didn't know how to react. What I do know, is it was the way the Isles needed to say goodbye to the Old Barn. In the words (slightly edited to the first person) of Joe Delessio, a writer for Sports on Earth, "it might be a dump, but it was our dump."