Unlike baseball which have two grossly subpar facilities, none of the 32 NHL arenas are “bad” places to watch a game. All have some merit.
Interestingly, the New York Islanders played in two different barns prior to their move to the state-of-the-art UBS Arena. The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was a former dump that was made a lot better thanks to a $100 million renovation. And the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was a beautiful arena, but was bad for hockey.
Let’s take a trip to the not too distant past and take a look at these now-defunct Islanders’ arenas.
The Barclays Center is a gorgeous facility. It uses a tasteful dark brown and grey motif and has a fantastic HD videoboard. The Oculus above the main entrance with its LCD screen is quite impressive and unique in stadium design. Nice touches like planting the Ebbets Field flagpole at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush helped give it a sense of place. And they sell wonderful (albeit expensive) local delicacies in the concession stands.
…But Not for Hockey
It’s flaw was that it wasn’t built for hockey. During the building stage, they decided not to build it as a multi-sport facility, and instead focused on basketball and concerts. As such, this state-of-the-art building was a horrible place for pucks in many seats.
The scoreboard sat over a blue line rather than center ice. Many of the seats did not allow for full views of the ice. Hell, some seats at one end of the upper deck had no view of one of the goals! That’s a VERY obstructed view.
Poor fan support
Not only that, but there was also a real lack of fan support. The Islanders have a proud and loyal base on Long Island (yes, Brooklyn is technically part of Long Island; but a tomato is technically a fruit). Many didn’t follow the team to Brooklyn given traffic or the hassle of taking the train for a weeknight game. And the team was unable to build much a new fan base with the Brooklyn hipsters.
In the end, the Islanders got kicked out and moved back to the Nassau Coliseum on a full-time basis in 2020-21
As it turns out, I saw one of the last hockey games played here. I would have taken some souvenirs had I known that at the time.
NASSAU VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM
The Nassau Coliseum had a reputation for being a bare-bones dump. But that’s not true anymore. If it were bigger, the Isles might have stayed.
There were only 32 luxury suites, and they sit above the upper deck of seats, and not in between the lower and upper bowls. There was no Club Level. As such, the upper-level seats were the closest to the ice in the NHL. This proximity of “the real fans” created more energy in the building despite its low seating capacity; unlike most larger rinks, this place felt full even if there were only 13,000 people there. Attendees tended to be older, long-time supporters (often wearing vintage New York Islanders jerseys) making it a savvier, albeit cynical, crowd.
The renovations helped with some sore spots.
With the reduced capacity, every fan got more room. Washrooms were doubled. A VIP area was added beneath part of the lower bowl. And the new exterior, with the façade featuring 4,700 aluminum fins, looked a hell of a lot sharper than the old Soviet-style concrete design.
But she was still flawed
Concourses were still cramped, and concessions were surprising inefficient with long lines and poor throughput (at least on the night that I attended). Unless you lived/worked in Nassau or Suffolk county, getting there was a pain; the rink is 30 miles from NYC and it was easier with a car since public transit involves a rail line and a bus through dodgy Hempstead, or the LIRR and an Uber. And there was very little within walking distance other than a Marriott and a few fast-food joints, meaning the pre-game scene was lacking.
Despite all that, it reminded us of a simpler time in pro sports. In a weird way, I’m sad to see her go.
Here’s to making new memories in Elmont.