Michael McNiff, a bar owner and resident of Wantagh, New York, on Long Island, was getting ready to go to a New York Islanders game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum about 10 or so years ago, maybe more. He can't quite remember. A friend had invited him to the game, and as an "Islanders nut" and "anti-Rangers guy," he didn't refuse tickets.
As with many sports, there are rituals and routines that are performed prior to going to games. If you're a Long Islander, you probably know some of these well: the line of cars that snakes around to the Long Island Turnpike, drinks at the Marriott across the street, gatherings of friends wearing orange and blue in the parking lot.
It's quite a scene. Tailgates in front of the old barn looked and felt more like NFL games than NHL games. It was a spectacle visible from the Turnpike. The morning after games, several cars typically remained.
But this time, McNiff saw nothing. No cars, no crowds and only a few lonely business travelers inside the Marriott bar.
"He picks me up, we pull into the Coliseum and the Coliseum is empty," McNiff told Bleacher Report while sitting in his bar, The Irish Poet. "It turns out they were on the road."
The fact that the Islanders weren't even playing at home that night is fitting for this franchise. Home has been a relative term for the Islanders in recent years. There was the stint in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, which was built for basketball and made for a terrible hockey experience, with bad ice and an off-center scoreboard. There was a split schedule that had the team playing in Brooklyn and at the Coliseum. The 2021-22 season started with a 13-game road trip. There were threats of relocation to a city outside of New York.
But finally, the Islanders will return home Saturday, opening their brand-new, state-of-the-art building in Elmont, New York, called UBS Arena. It's a privately financed, 690,000-square-foot arena built with hockey as the priority. It's not far from the old barn, and inside it looks like a grown-up version with many of the same qualities of the Coliseum, including the ceiling, which is only three feet higher at UBS.