By Peter Schwartz
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“Henning comes back to his own blue line and shoots it up ice to Tonelli. Tonelli comes in over the blue line on the off wing. He comes in front the shot to Nystrom. Score! The Islanders win the Stanley Cup! The Islanders win the Stanley Cup on the overtime goal by Bobby Nystrom!” — Islanders radio voice Bob Lawrence, at 7:11 of overtime on May 24, 1980.
When the Islanders’ 43-year history at Nassau Coliseum ends after this coming season, That moment will always stand alone as the best.
No matter how you slice it, Bobby Nystrom’s overtime goal against the Flyers in Game 6 of the 1980 finals that brought Long Island its first Stanley Cup will forever be remembered as the single greatest moment in Islanders history.
“It was a dream come true,” said Nystrom, whose number 23 hangs from the rafters of the Nassau Coliseum.
But that number, along with all of the other retired numbers and championship banners, will relocate to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season. It’s a tough pill to swallow for Nystrom, who called the coliseum his home office for 14 seasons.
He told me recently he’s excited about the Islander’s outlook for 2014-15, but there’s a bittersweet feeling about the upcoming campaign.
“Needless to say I’m happy about the season but really unhappy that this will be the last year at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,” Nystrom said.
Thore Robert Nystrom was the Islanders’ third round pick (33rd overall) in the 1972 NHL Entry Draft. He played in just 11 games during the Isles’ inaugural season in 1972-73 but became a regular the following season.
“Mr. Islander” would score 235 goals during his career with many of them coming at the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike. He said he will always remember what it was like to play at the Coliseum.
“It was fabulous,” said Nystrom. “It was the only place that I played. To me, that was Long Island. It’s one of the first things that I saw when I came down to the island. The fact is that I saw four Stanley Cup (banners) raised there and it was just a real big part of my life.”
The Coliseum was a big part of many Long Islanders’ lives as the Islanders went from laughing stocks to champions in just their eighth season. What set the Islanders apart from other franchises, particularly when you look at the NY/NJ metropolitan area, was that they were really part of the community.
You could go anywhere on Long Island, whether it was a store or restaurant, and you just might run into an Islanders player.
“When you looked at the different communities on Long Island, we were part of the fabric,” Nystrom said. “We were out there with the fans and very accessible from the standpoint of going to events and charities. We absolutely loved the environment that we had here and I think that the fans really connected with us.”
But things are about to change.
Two years ago, after an exhaustive effort to try to build a new home for the Islanders on Long Island, owner Charles Wang announced that the team would relocate to Barclays Center starting with the 2015-16 season.
Just like many Islanders fans, Nystrom was stunned to hear the news.
“I was definitely saddened by it, but it was a long, long process,” said Nystrom. “The fact is that I was involved in a number of different meetings and campaigns and things like that to try and keep the Islanders here. Unfortunately, that failed. It’s disappointing and I think that many Islanders fans are in the same boat. They’re disappointed that we’ve lost part of our heritage.”
While it’s certainly a disappointment that the Islanders are leaving Long Island for New York City, it’s better than the alternative. There are a number of markets in North America that want an NHL team and they could have been landing spots for the Islanders if Wang didn’t have a local option.
Wang tried hard for a new building on Long Island, but it didn’t work out. The consolation prize is that Brooklyn is an easier commute for Islanders fans than Kansas City or Quebec.
“He did his very best,” Nystrom said of Wang’s pursuit of a new arena. “I’m disappointed a little bit in that we weren’t able to accomplish it.”
As for the Islanders’ future home, Barclays Center has some issues when it comes to hockey. The scoreboard will hang over a blue line instead of over center ice and there are a number of seats that will have obstructed views.
“My understanding is that it’s not really suitable for hockey,” said Nystrom, who plans on getting his first look at the building later this week.
But before the move to Brooklyn, the Islanders will play one final season at Nassau Coliseum, a campaign that will be filled with plenty of emotion as the team celebrates its past with a number of special events on the schedule.
The ultimate sendoff for the building would be a return to the playoffs and perhaps that elusive playoff series win that hasn’t happened since 1993.
With John Tavares returning from a knee injury and some key offseason acquisitions, including goalie Jaroslav Halak, the Islanders just might be in position to make some noise.
“Oh I think that they’re right there,” said Nystrom. “I see that they have the key ingredients. I like the way they play and I think that they have a really good opportunity to go very far.”
How far the Islanders will go this season remains to be seen, but we know how far they are going after the season is over. They will pack up their belongings, including their four Stanley Cups, and head 30 miles west to Brooklyn.
Geographically, the western edge of Brooklyn joins the north-western part of Queens on the western edge of Long Island. But that’s just semantics.
The Islanders are leaving the basic geographic area that is found on their logo. The Islanders franchise will benefit economically from the move, but their core fan base will have to travel a bit farther to see their home games.
Once the Islanders leave, the plan is for the coliseum to be refurbished and downsized to a 13,000-seat arena that is slated to host a variety of sporting events, including an AHL team.
But the man who fired the shot hear ’round Long Island 34 years ago is holding out hope for something better.
“I’ve thrown it out there before and I’ll throw it out there again,” said Nystrom. “I’m kind of hoping that the Islanders will be back once they refurbish the coliseum.”
From Nystrom’s mouth to God’s ears!
Follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow Bobby at @BobNystrom23
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