The Last Daze Of The Coliseum: A Cheapseats Diary
by Bill Jensen
The days of veiled threats and misdirection plays are over. The
Islanders’ prickly owners are making themselves quite clear: They just
don’t know whether you fans deserve to keep Long Island’s only
They won’t even talk to Nassau County Executive Tom Gulotta about a new
arena, leaving that task to National Hockey League Commissioner Gary
Bettman. They got uppity after Gulotta likened the owners to “pigs at the
trough” for their ever-increasing demands for a sweetheart development
deal. Historians will note that utterance as Gulotta’s ballsiest move
since he dissed Nassau Republican boss Joe Mondello back in 1994.
So what are Bettman- who has never before negotiated an arena deal with a
municipality- and the county talking about? The latest description
offered by David Seldin, president of New York Sports Ventures and
frontman for the ownership team of Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern,
is enough to give any fan the chills.
“This isn’t about a real-estate deal,” Seldin told the Long Island Voice’
at the Coliseum last week. “It’s not about our owners trying to get a
great deal, or break the bank or get something they’re not entitled to.
It’s about whether hockey can be viable in Nassau County, and that’s the
basis on which Bettman is negotiating. He’s not trying to get a windfall.
He’s trying to see if a hockey team can survive here.”
The next day, NHL spokesman Frank Brown tried to backtrack on Seldin’s
assessment by saying the Island’s big-league fitness “may come up in
conversation, but the direction of the talks is about a new arena.” But
Mort Certilman, the Nassau official negotiating with the NHL,
acknowledges that the consequences of a stalemate in the talks would be
“I think that we are within thirty days of making or breaking a deal, and
I think it’s going to be made, not broken,” Certilman said. “I don’t even
want to think about what happens if it’s broken.”
Brown said that he doesn’t know if the Islander owners have talked to
league officials about moving the team. “Even if they did, they would
have to have the approval of the Board of Governors,” he said. “They
can’t just say they’d like it better in Seattle.”
That sounded a little too specific for me.
The county is all for building a new arena. It’s just that for this one
project, your friendly neighborhood Republican machine isn’t bending over
completely for the developers. It may be the biggest story in all of this
One way or another, we are witnessing the Islanders’ final days at the
Nassau Coliseum, where a legendary team won four Stanley Cups in a row
and put Uniondale on the national sports map. Now the organization that
inherited a young team with potential won’t even pay its best player near
what he deserves, focusing instead on things like restroom capacity as
one reason the fans aren’t flocking to see their team. Funny how that
doesn’t seem to stop the pro-wrestling shows from selling out every time
they hit town.
The Islanders are even having a hard time getting their games on cable
TV, despite the fact that they receive $13 million a season from
Cablevision. So I hardly had any choice but to go see them in the flesh
in this season on the brink.
Oct. 21- Edmonton 4, Isles 2
And The Rock Feels No Pain, And An Islander Never Cries
It’s nine minutes before the Coliseum doors open, and a heavy-set guy is
sitting in Section 201 using a remote radio control to fly the
advertising blimp around the arena. Behind the Zamboni doors at ice
level, the anthem singer is practicing the opening strains of “O Canada!”
Her voice stings the ears as it bounces off the empty seats and naked
Looking up at the rafters and all the championship banners, I don’t think
of Bossy and Trottier and Potvin. Sure, I was here when Nystrom beat the
Flyers for the first Cup. I was here when Smith stonewalled the Oilers
for the last. I saw Tonelli come back against the Penguins, Kenny Morrow
deflate the Rangers, Kasparaitis torture Lemiuex.
But if you want to talk about consecrated ground, go outside the Coliseum
and stand in the parking lot on Hempstead Turnpike, that yawning stretch
of asphalt where fans tailgate and scalpers can make a living. The
parking lot always smelled like hockey, or at least hot pretzels, which
is nearly the same thing.
Tonight, 45 minutes before gametime, the lot is empty. Only the insanely
devoted will show for a weeknight game against an unfamiliar opponent.
The Yankees will clinch the World Series five hours from now in balmy San
There is no line in front of the will call window, where tickets used to
wait for hotshots with reservations. No scalpers in the parking lot. The
security guards look bored.
Tom Van Laere, a photo technician from Carle Place, stands stoically at
the arena’s front doors waiting for them to open, his arms crossed in
front of his blue satin Islanders jacket. He’s been coming to games since
the beginning. His kids grew up at the Coliseum.
“I just feel shafted,” says Van Laere, 38. “I honestly feel that they are
doing this deliberately to have an excuse to leave this place.”
The fans file in slowly and find Islander employees stationed in front of
cardboard boxes, handing out free programs. It’s a nice gesture, but also
a bit sad when you remember people were once willing to pay for the
The Coliseum is freezing. The new organist, Robert Shaheen, is playing
the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”
He replaced long-time New York fixture Eddie Layton because, according to
insiders, the Coliseum wanted to go in a “new direction.” When the
linesman drops the puck, there are 17 people sitting in Section 114, by
the face-off circle.
The fans resemble the residents of a dead-end neighborhood bar. The
old-timers don’t look so good, kind of beat up as they walk around the
outer concourse in a daze, carrying their $5 beers in front of their
The season-ticket holders have taken too many punches from a series of
owners- the dull, incessant pounding of no-show John Pickett, the phantom
blow of con man John Spano and now the thundering, repeated thwacks of
New York Sports Ventures. Thump- moving the team’s offices out of the
Coliseum and refusing to play games in the arena because it’s “not safe.”
Thump- not announcing the players’ names on opening night. Thump- the
final indignity- not having enough juice to get the team’s games on TV.
All of this makes for a lot of pissed-off people who have been pissed on
for too long, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
On the ice, this was the Islanders’ first chance in 10 years to be the
top team in the metropolitan area. The Devils are sitting in the Jersey
swamps, confused about why they can’t score more goals. And that giant
sucking sound you are hearing from the west is coming from Madison Square
Garden, where even the Great Aging Gretzky can’t do it alone.
Instead, the owners signed no free agents, including Ziggy Palffy, the
Islander’s lone superstar, and have made politics and grudge matches with
the county their main game.
This isn’t a knock on the players. The 20 guys coach/general manager Mike
Milbury puts on the ice chew tinfoil every night to get a win. In the
locker room after an uninspired loss to the Oilers, the players go
through their post-game rituals in silence.
Left winger Ken Belanger, whose hammering of Edmonton defenseman Sean
Brown got the second biggest applause of the night after the announcement
of the Yankee score, walks into the weight room. Rising star Bryan
Berard, just out of the shower, talks to a single reporter. Former
first-round pick defenseman Eric Brewer, who was not in uniform for the
game because of erratic play, walks around the room in a well-tailored
Trevor Linden, the Islanders’ 28-year-old warrior captain, is the lone
presence keeping the locker room from looking like a minor-league
stands before reporters with a furrowed brow, looking as intense and
professional as you can be when the only thing you’re wearing is a towel.
The obvious questions come slowly, but repeatedly. The team’s PR people
say the official attendance is “not available.” Reporters estimate there
are about 3,500 in the stands.
“Is it tough to play in front of such a small crowd?”
“We have to create our own excitement,” Linden says again and again.
Across the room, 26-year-old forward Bryan Smolinski doesn’t choose his
words as carefully.
“When you only see eight-, seven-, even five-thousand people, it’s kind
of disgusting,” he says. “But it’s not our fault they’re not here.”
NYI: LI Voice 11/6 – Part 4
•From: Jeff Bernstein (view other messages by this author)
•Date: Fri, 6 Nov 1998 09:00:22
The Great Islander Puck Off
A Q&A with three of Long Island’s hockey intelligentsia
The following are excerpts from an electronic roundtable discussion
moderated by Bill Jensen with Bud Tkachuk, lead singer for Two Man
Advantage and writer of punk rock songs about hockey and beer; Stan
Fischler, The Maven, cable TV commentator and author of more than 70
books on hockey; and Gary Dell’Abate, producer of The Howard Stern Show,
who grew up in Uniondale and interned at the Coliseum for Sportschannel
in the early ’80s:
What Is Your Hockey Experience?
Tkachuk: I played roller and ice in high school and then I played for a
Long Island junior team that got their asses kicked 21-0 to the Rochester
Americans. I played goal. (I let up eight goals in a period and a half of
Fischler: I played roller hockey in Queens for the YMCA. I then played
ice hockey. I was a left defenseman.
Dell’Abate: I played floor hockey.
Best Islander, Then And Now?
Tkachuk: This is tough, ’cause I love Billy Smith. He inspired me to play
the sport. I also have a spot in my heart for Denis Potvin. No other
player in the history of the game annoyed the New York Rangers more.
Sh*t, they still chant, “Beat your wife, Denny. Beat your wife” 15 years
or so later. And those blue-seat drunks are still pissed at Potvin.
Nowadays, they all suck. But I’ll have to go with Ziggy.
Fischler: Denny Potvin. Now, Kenny Jonsson.
Dell’Abate: Now, no contest, Ziggy is a franchise player. Then, Bossy
scored like a maniac…But for my money, Bryan Trottier did more things
Tkachuk: This guy was so bad we wrote a song about him and called it
“Hockey Fight.” Number nine Clark Gillies!
Fischler: Garry Howatt.
Dell’Abate: Clark Gillies. He kicked the crap out of Dave Schultz on
national TV and gave the Islanders instant respect.
Tkachuk: My boy Billy Smith. He swung that stick like no tomorrow. I
believe he invented the butt end, so when he swung his stick around his
net, he wouldn’t lose it. He also loosened some jaws with that stick.
Fischler: That’s a good one. I’d have to say Gord Lane, ’cause you needed
a crazy guy on that team.
Dell’Abate: One of those Sutter Brothers. I never could remember which
one was which.
All-Time Ugliest Islander?
Tkachuk: Ken Baumgartner. What a f*ckin’ ugly goon.
Fischler: A guy becomes ugly when he blows an open net.
Dell’Abate: No contest, Hector Marini.
Least Favorite Player On Another Team?
Tkachuk: OK, I have a few. Let’s start with Dale Hunter for the cheap
shot on Turgeon. How about every Ranger ever, like Ronnie Dugay and
company for that Sasson jean commercial. You remember, “Ooh-la-la
Sasson.” These days, the player I hate the most is Messiah.
Fischler: Dave Schultz, ’cause he was so tough.
Dell’Abate: That would have to be a tie between Tiger Williams and anyone
on the Rangers from 1974 to 1990, especially Espo, Barry “Shoot the Puck”
Beck and that little pretty boy who got busted for coke whose name I
can’t even remember…Excuse me while I go puke!
Favorite Coliseum Memory?
Tkachuk: It’s a little foggy, but there was a game that was the last game
of the season and the Isles had to win and someone else had to lose for
the Isles to advance to the playoffs. The Isles won and they then stayed
on the ice watching the scoreboard of the other game. The other team did
lose and the place went nuts.
Fischler: The Nystrom goal. We weren’t broadcasting, so I was sitting 30
rows over Pete Peeter’s right shoulder.
Dell’Abate: Is there an Islander fan alive that doesn’t remember what he
was doing when Nystrom put the winning goal in against the Flyers in game
six? I was pumping gas at a Mobil station on Old Country Road in Wantagh.
I remember an old lady beeping her horn for me to come out and give her
gas. All I remember thinking as I watched the game on a 13-inch
black-and-white TV was…”Who the hell isn’t home watching this game?” I
jumped up to the roof when the puck went in and spent the rest of the
weekend celebrating on Hempstead Turnpike with my buddies!
Tkachuk: It was “1940,” but now it’s, “If you know the owners suck, clap
Fischler: “1940.” I lament it a lot. It was a funny chant and it simply
enhanced the rivalry and made it even more special.
Dell’Abate: “Ooh-la-la, f*ck you” from 1980, though, I have to admit that
“Shoot the Puck, Barry” never gets old!
If You Could Have Played On Any Team, Which Year Would It Be?
Tkachuk: Seventy-nine to ’80, the start of it all. The most solid team in
hockey ever! It had character and they were underdogs up to the end. But
they stayed strong and came through. They were the most exciting team to
Fischler: The ’74-’75 team. They were such terrific underdogs. They beat
out Atlanta to get into the playoffs. Then they beat the Rangers. Then
they were down 3-0 and came back to beat Pittsburgh. Then they almost did
the same thing against the Flyers.
Dell’Abate: I would have loved to play for the 1979 team. Besides the
superstars like Bossy, Potvin and Trottier, there were guys with heart
like Gillies, Nystrom, Morrow and Goring. John Tonelli? I’d take 10 guys
like him any day.
If The Iraqi National Team Was Playing The Rangers, Who Would You Root
For And Why?
Tkachuk: Iraqi. I have a saying that I stand by: “I root for two teams,
the Islanders and whoever is playing the Rangers.” As long as the Rangers
lose, I’m happy.
Fischler: I’d root for the Rangers, ’cause the Rangers don’t manufacture
poison and missiles and other things that hurt people. Plus, the Rangers
have a Jewish defenseman [Mathieu Schneider].
Dell’Abate: I feel sorry for those filthy foreigners. They’re smelly,
disgusting people who require our pity. Oh yeah…the Iraqis aren’t so