Even if you’re just a casual hockey fan, you’ve probably noticed that the New York Islanders are having a pretty good year. Long Island’s lone professional sports franchise has one of the best records in the NHL this season, so if you haven’t paid attention, it’s time to.
This is the Islanders’ last year at the only place the team has ever called home: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in Uniondale. They will pack up and head west, to Brooklyn, next year, where they will share the gleaming new Barclays Center with the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA.
Technically, the two teams will be reunited: The first event at the Coliseum — 43 years ago, on Feb. 11, 1972 — was a Nets game against the Pittsburgh Condors. The Nets later moved to New Jersey, but the Islanders, who began playing at the Coliseum as an expansion team in 1972, have stayed, even as the building has steadily deteriorated and plan after plan to renovate or replace it has gone nowhere.
It didn’t take long for the Islanders to become relevant. They made the playoffs in their third year, and won four straight Stanley Cups beginning in 1980, a period known as the Dynasty Era. Those teams put Long Island on the sports map, and ticker-tape parades for the champs along Hempstead Turnpike were among the defining events of that era.
By the 1990s, however, the Coliseum was showing its age, the Dynasty Era players were gone and the Islanders were consistently at or near the bottom of the NHL standings. The team became a laughingstock.
Fast-forward to 2014. Thanks to several years of collecting talent through the NHL Entry Draft, and several key trade and free-agent acquisitions, the Islanders turned into serious contenders for a Stanley Cup again. Big wins over the rival New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins have been highlights of a season in which the Isles have won twice as many games as they’ve lost.