UNIONDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The New York Islanders will welcome a crowd of fans to a game at Nassau Coliseum for the first time in over a year on Thursday.

The Islanders will host 1,000 front-line workers from Northwell Health when they take on the New Jersey Devils.

“I’m excited for the hockey game,” 4-year-old Andrew Hernandez told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.

Andrew, along with his 15-year-old brother, Bryan, will be attending their first Islanders game in person when the Northwell front-line workers are thanked.

Among them, their mom, Alejandra.

“Proud of her for being able to raise me and my brother and still balance out all this work on top of it,” Bryan said.

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Alejandra, a community outreach health worker, recently lost two uncles and a best friend to COVID-19.

“Passing away alone and you don’t have that opportunity to say goodbye,” Alejandra said.

It is front-line workers’ spirit of continuing on, despite personal struggles, that is being acknowledged by the Islanders.

“This is a war and they’ve been the warriors, so thank you to them,” Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein said.

“I feel honored to go to the game next to all the health care workers, and the boys will remember this forever,” Alejandra said.

The Islanders last played in front of their home fans on March 7, 2020.

“This is the first in-person game since the pandemic, so this is a big step,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

The team will reopen games to season ticket holders on March 18 at 10% capacity, which is about 1,400 people.

Laura Zelenka-Dufresne just lost her husband, Bob, to COVID-19, despite valiant efforts to save him.

“Being a health care provider has been both gruesome and grueling,” Zelenka-Dufresne said.

“I know my dad is looking down on us right now,” daughter Megan added.

Megan and her bother, Tyler, said their dad was overwhelmed with pride by their mom’s crucial hospital work, and also for his New York sports teams.

“We were a real underdog family, always rooting for the Islanders,” Zelenka-Dufresne said. “We loved watching hockey together as a family.”

Though their immediate family is smaller, the Dufresne’s health care family is growing with love, support and gratitude.

Jennifer McLogan