Schwartz: Game Vs. Buffalo Won't Feature A Walkout, But Appears To Be Organized

By Peter Schwartz

Let’s be honest, fan protests against team owners and management never work. The only way you can really voice your opinion and hurt owners is to hit them in their bank accounts by not buying tickets and by not watching games on television.

But most sports fans are too loyal to follow through on that so they find other ways to voice their opinions and get their message across.

In our area, we have two sets of unhappy customers.

Knicks fans are planning a rally against Knicks owner James Dolan and team executives on March 19, but a group of Islanders fans will strike first a few days earlier.

So, this Saturday, the popular fan website is organizing a protest of Islanders owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow during the team’s home game against the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum.

“We hope Islanders fans can see the problem with this organization,” said owner Pete Truszkowski. “The (Thomas) Vanek trade was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of Isles fans.”

Truszkowski, a 19-year-old finance major at SUNY Albany, started the website last year after the Islanders magical run to the playoffs. His Twitter account, @NYIslesNation, started in January of 2012 has ballooned to more than 5,300 followers and continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Truszkowski is not expecting anything to come of the protest other than just awareness of what’s going on with the team.

“I believe it is a duty to stand up for something you feel strongly about, and sitting back and doing nothing about it just makes you weak,” said the Lindenhurst, Long Island native. “If one media member picks up the story, it’ll be successful.”

Okay, I guess it’s now successful.

But seriously, the protesters are hoping that there will be some sort of reaction to what they do on Saturday night.

“If Howie Rose (on MSG Plus) mentions the chants on the broadcast, we win,” said Truszkowski. “Do I believe that due to this protest, Wang will sell the team and fire Garth Snow? Absolutely not, but it’s just something I feel I have the ability to do.”

There are a number of different elements that will make up Saturday’s protest.

The participants, some with bags over their heads and some carrying banners, plan to meet in the parking lot between the coliseum and the Marriott hotel between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. wearing their Islanders jerseys inside out.

According to Truszkowski, the fan reaction to the protest has been mostly positive with about 60 percent of people saying that they support the effort 100 percent and that they are either coming or wish they could be there. About 25 percent agree with his thoughts but believe it’s a waste of time and effort while about 15 percent are down on the idea.

“I know the idea is gaining momentum and I have a lot of verbal commitments,” said Truszkowski. “I wouldn’t say I need a specific number … just loud people who are willing to do what it takes. I guess 200 or so would be nice.”

That would probably be enough to make some noise, but that’s still 200 tickets that would be sold. With that in mind, the group is encouraging fans to buy tickets from sources such as eBay or StubHub instead of buying them directly from the Islanders.

Remember what I said earlier about hitting owners where it hurts?

“Hey, tickets on the secondary market are dirt cheap,” said Truszkowski. “I’m talking under 10 bucks. It’s something I feel strongly about so why not?”

As of Monday night, the cheapest tickets on StubHub for Saturday’s game are $7.

Angry fans are being encouraged to avoid paying the coliseum parking fee by parking off-site and to avoid buying any food at concession stands during the game.

The protest will begin in the parking lot with participants holding signs, starting chants, and possibly handing out flyers to inform other fans about what is going on. The plan is to enter the coliseum a few minutes before the opening face-off and to stay together as a group. Truszkowski wants fans to be respectful of the national anthem, but after that the chants will start.

According to Truszkowski, these are the chants that are scheduled…

* With 16:00 remaining in every period, they will chant: WANG MUST SELL
* With 12:00 remaining in every period, they will chant: SNOW MUST GO
* With 8:00 remaining in every period, they will chant: FIRE CAPPY
* With 4:00 remaining in every period, they will chant: WE WANT ANSWERS

There are no plans to get up and leave before the game is over.

“We will not be walking out,” said Truszkowski. “That isn’t a good idea as it sends the wrong message to the players. In addition, I don’t believe we will have the numbers necessary for the walkout to send much of a message. We want to be heard, but we also want to root for the boys on the ice.”

At the conclusion of the game, the protesters will gather outside of Gate 11 and make their way around the coliseum’s concourse to spread the word. Then, they will go back to the plaza outside of the coliseum near the box office where they will continue chanting and holding up banners.

Let me say this about the protest: as an Islanders fan, I can understand how Truszkowski, his followers, and other fans may feel. Losing stinks. It’s the worst part of being a sports fan. You don’t mind it if you see progress and for the Islanders, there was a glimmer of that last season.

To say that this season has been a major step backwards would be a major understatement.  There’s plenty of blame to go around, especially in the direction of Snow and head coach Jack Capuano.  Both of them should be on the hot seat. Snow should be on notice because he is responsible for the makeup of the team and Capuano should be on shaky ground because of all the blown leads.

But, I think the fans’ primary target is Wang, the Islanders owner since 2000. I might be in the minority here, but I can’t kill Wang. Let’s remember that when he bought the team, it’s not like there was a line of suitors that he had to beat out.

If you remember, Wang, a proud Long Islander, felt it would be good for the community to try and keep the Islanders in town. He tried everything to get a new building or to have the Coliseum renovated.

For one reason or another, nothing worked.

As far as putting money into the team, how much money can one man lose? Wang is losing millions each year. The current situation is awful in terms of revenue for the team.

This problem should be fixed when the team moves to Brooklyn.

I worked for Charles for eight years when he owned the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. I know he wants the Islanders to win. Remember when the Islanders traded for Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca in 2001? He immediately signed both to contract extension. Then, just before the season started, the Red Wings exposed goalie Chris Osgood in the waiver draft. He didn’t have to give the go ahead for another big money contract, but he gave GM Mike Milbury the green light to claim Osgood.

The Islanders went to the playoffs.

Let’s also remember that Wang is a businessman. He has a right to try and make money. The Islanders need a better situation for the franchise and hopefully that happens when the team relocates to Barclays Center.

As far as the protest goes on Saturday, I wish Pete and his followers all the best. Islander fans have taken a beating for a long time. They are tired of losing. Let’s hope that brighter days are ahead.

The Islanders have lost a lot of games over the last few years, but the fans have not lost their passion.

Truszkowski and the other loyal fans are proof of that.

Follow Peter on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan

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