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Schwartz: Memories Are Many As Islanders Near The End At The Venerable 'Old Barn'

By Peter Schwartz
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With their magic number down to 1 point, the Islanders' 43-year run at the Nassau Coliseum will end, barring a tragic turn of events, sometime during -- or perhaps at the end -- of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Regardless if they lose in the first round, win the Cup, or if their season ends somewhere in between, the Isles will then pack up and head to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

So, not knowing when they will actually play their final game at the barn, the Islanders will salute their long-time home on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the final regular season home game at the Coliseum.

The Islanders will wear throwback uniforms and the organization will welcome back players from the past. The fans will gear up for the postseason by rocking the barn one final time, but they'll certainly have plenty in reserve for when the sparklers come out next week.

For many Islanders fans like myself, it will be tough to see the team playing anywhere but on Hempstead Turnpike. But it will also be hard to say goodbye to a building that housed so many great memories over the years. The Coliseum hasn't just been home to the Islanders, but also for many other sporting events, concerts, and family shows.

Nassau Coliseum
Nassau Coliseum (Photo by Peter Schwartz/CBSNewYork)

After the Islanders leave, the Coliseum will undergo a $229 million renovation that will see the building downsized to 13,000 seats. AHL hockey will replace the Islanders but there will also be other sporting events and shows that will make the new Coliseum a destination for Long Islanders.

Growing up, my trip to the Coliseum lasted all of five minutes by car. Today, it's ballooned to about 15 minutes. Next year, I'll need an hour train ride to get to a game.

Times they are a changing.

As of now, the last scheduled event at the Coliseum is a Shania Twain concert on July 1. Nothing against Shania, but I'm thinking the final event in the old barn should be someone a little more Long Island. Maybe that person plays the piano and has sung about the village green, the miracle mile, and the plight of the fishermen.

I'm going to miss the old place, a venue that I've been going to since I was a kid. I've seen just about every type of event that has taken place at the Coliseum and I can remember some weekends as a kid when I was at events three straight days.

Yeah, the Coliseum is a dump. There's no question about it. But just like Mets fans felt about Shea Stadium, the Coliseum was my dump. It was like another home to me and it will be hard to say goodbye. I came to know just about every nook and cranny in the place. Just about every seat in the place provided a good view for hockey but not all of them were conducive to my 6-foot-4 frame.

I'll be at the Coliseum on Saturday as well as some playoff games and my plan is to do the same thing I did when I went to the last game at old Yankee Stadium. I'll walk around the place, take a good look around, and remember many of the great times I had, both as a fan and as a reporter.

My first Islanders game was on Jan. 7, 1978, a 5-3 win over the Cleveland Barons. I didn't see any of the three home-ice Stanley Cup wins in person but I saw so many other great playoff moments -- like beating the Bruins in the 1983 Wales Conference finals, the 1993 playoff run, and the Shawn Bates penalty shot.

I saw plenty of basketball games at the Coliseum, including a handful of Nets games and Knicks exhibition games. I also went to the NCAA Tournament, the Harlem Globetrotters, college hockey, and high school basketball.

There were two indoor soccer teams that played at the barn. The New York Arrows won the first four MISL Championships from 1979 to 1982. Remember Steve Zungul? He was indoor soccer's version of Pele and the Coliseum was his playground. I went to plenty of those games as well as a handful of New York Express games.

Professionally, I was the radio play-by-play announcer for the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League as well as the Arena Football League's New York Dragons. I sat in the same seat that Barry Landers occupied for many years and the one that Chris King currently owns. It's a great spot to both watch and broadcast a game.

I saw a bunch of concerts, including many performances by Billy Joel. Also, there was the Ringling Brothers Circus, Disney on Ice, tennis matches, and the Auto, Home, and Baby shows in the Expo Hall.

There have been so many great memories at the Coliseum and I'll cherish them forever. My dad took me to the Coliseum many times. My wife and I have taken our kids there and we're going to miss it. I'm thankful that we were able to get to some this season. Win or lose, we had a blast.

Peter Schwartz
Peter Schwartz and family (Photo: Peter Schwartz)

Even after the Lighthouse Project was rejected and Nassau County voters said "no" in a referendum for a new coliseum, I never dreamed that the Islanders would leave. I always figured that something would get done at the last minute to keep the Islanders right where they were.

It's really sad that they are leaving and it never should have come to that. I think even the biggest of Rangers fans would agree that the Islanders belong on Long Island.

Now that the final games at the coliseum are upon us, I'm feeling a spectrum of emotions. I smile at all of the great times I spent in the building and I well up thinking that this era of my life is over. For me, seeing the Islanders move to Brooklyn is like when my uncle and his family moved from Long Island to New Jersey. I still see them, just not as much as I'm accustomed to.

The Islanders are still my team and I'll try to get out to Barclays Center as much as possible. But it won't be the same as going to the Nassau Coliseum. Thank you old barn for your many years of service to Islanders Country. Yeah, you might have sprung a leak here and there and the concourse was always crowded, but you were a good friend.

I'll be keeping Kleenex in business over the next couple of weeks and hopefully through June.

The original Yankee Stadium was "The House That Ruth Built." Madison Square Garden is "The World's Most Famous Arena." In recent years, people have affectionately called the Nassau Coliseum "The Barn."

That's funny because all I ever remember it being was "home."

Follow Peter on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan

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