By Jeff Capellini
There are a few things you can take to the bank every time you watch an Islanders game on television.
First, what actually happens on the ice will be an assault on your senses — and that’s even if the Isles somehow win.
Second, MSG Network play-by-play man Howie Rose will always be the ultimate professional, and won’t shy away from telling the viewers what he really thinks. Call him a homer at your own peril.
Such was the case Tuesday night when the Islanders hosted the Florida Panthers.
It all started innocently enough. Late in the first period, with the score tied, Rose, always known for interjecting a good anecdotal tale into his craft, started talking about how legendary Islanders general manager Bill Torrey, who ended his Hall of Fame career as the GM of the Panthers from 1993-2001, hated to trade draft picks, but changed his mind on one occasion because of the uniqueness of the request.
As Rose told it, the New York Nets, who had won two American Basketball Association championships and were owned at the time by Islanders owner Roy Boe, were trying in 1976 to become one of four teams to merge into the NBA, but needed to be approved by a vote of the league’s owners. Tom Cousins, the owner of the Atlanta Hawks, who also owned the Atlanta Flames at the time, would only vote in favor of the Nets joining the NBA if Torrey agreed to trade the Flames a draft pick.
Torrey agreed, the Nets joined the world’s greatest basketball league, immediately moved to New Jersey and today call Brooklyn home. The Islanders will join them in time for the 2015-16 season.
Cool, ironic and innocent enough story, right?
But what was said next by Rose was really refreshing, obviously sad, and probably a long time coming. It spoke volumes about how the vast majority of Islanders fans feel, given the news of late about what’s to become of Nassau Coliseum once the franchise leaves.
“You know, you look at those Nets banners and you look at those Islanders banners,” Rose said, “and you look at this building and remember what was – how Long Island was major league in every respect – and once the Islanders leave here and go to Brooklyn, now the objective is to bring a minor league team here? So you look at this place and think of what was and this is all you need to know about what’s happened here in Nassau County. Now they aspire to be minor league – and that’s just an absolute shame.”
Rose then tried to go back to calling the game, but his attempt lasted only a few seconds.
“I can’t help it, it gets me worked up,” said Rose, an admitted Rangers fan who has called Islanders games since replacing fan favorite Jiggs McDonald in 1995. “When I see those Nets banners and I look at those Islanders banners, and I remember the noise and I remember what was and what was for a long time – a good run by the Nets, a long run by the Islanders — that’s why I wonder about Bill Torrey’s inner-most thoughts because he remembers those days …”
Color commentator Butch Goring, perhaps sensing Rose was in need of an assist, then jumped in and added a priceless nugget about Torrey, the man who will always be remembered as the architect of what was once the greatest American-based NHL franchise.
“He built it and it’s kind of like the Berlin Wall: Somebody built it and now somebody’s tearing it down,” Goring said.
That “somebody” Rose and Goring were referring to is the entity known as Nassau County politics, which fumbled the Islanders to the point where owner Charles Wang had no choice but to move the franchise. The county eventually announced a coliseum renovation that may end up looking really nice, but will ultimately be a step down in the type of stature Long Island once enjoyed.
Obviously, there are many Long Islanders who don’t care about the Islanders leaving, but there’s no question they would have benefited had the team stayed. Regardless if you like sports, having a professional franchise in your vicinity increases the socioeconomic reputation of your area, which in turn impacts what you own. To lose professional sports is to take a step backwards as a municipality. But the politicians, who know damn well who they are, banded together to convince residents that the Nassau “Hub” can be the Hamptons without the Islanders, ironically not long after being at each other’s throats over who’s idea was better and which side of the aisle it came from.
Regardless of what the refurbished coliseum ends up looking like, it will be a building that’s lost its identity — unless, perhaps, tween concerts, the circus and, oh yeah, minor league hockey are your things.
The sadness of the Islanders moving isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now, but it will become much more apparent as next season, the final season at the old barn off the Hempstead Turnpike, moves along. The greatness that once was will be replaced by the unknown that is, but I’m guessing it won’t hold a candle to what the Islanders did, not only for themselves, but for Long Island.
Another reason why Rose’s words ring so true is because the only consistent criticism of both Nassau County and the Islanders’ overall ineptitude as a franchise these days comes from furious fans on social media. Mainstream news organizations short of Newsday have all but abandoned the Islanders. The Daily News’ website lacks a quick link to an Islanders team page. The Post seems to know the team still exists, but only sporadically. We here at WFAN do what we can, but, admittedly, would do much more if the product on the ice was more compelling.
As the team’s hometown paper, Newsday fights the good fight as best it can, but without other outlets pushing it’s hard to flesh out the news people need to know, which I don’t have to tell you is plenty these days. Some of the media outlets will come back when the Islanders get to Brooklyn, but the biggest story having to do with this team really isn’t about four straight Stanley Cups anymore; it’s the one Rose told on Tuesday night that’s a running narrative not only on a fall from glory, but also betrayal.
The Islanders were once an institution. Now they are a cautionary tale. And while a lot of their misfortune was their doing, they were basically abandoned when they were at their weakest by the people that think being in the bus league is much more appealing than flying first class.
Howie couldn’t have said it better. The whole thing is an absolute disgrace.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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