Uniondale, NY–Being a self-confessed hockey nut, making the transition from what is the last true NFL Football Sunday today is much easier for me than for most sports fans. In fact one day last week, courtesy of my vast sports movie library, I decided to indulge on a hockey double-feature and viewed “Goon” and “Slapshot.” Everybody has seen the latter, but one must treat themselves to viewing “Goon” at some point soon–it is that good! And if this wasn’t enough to get me stoked for projectile vulcanized rubber and flying fists and elbows, there was also some entertainment from a minor league game in Quebec this week. Maybe this is the “Iron League” referred to in “Slapshot” by Reg Dunlop and the Hanson brothers?
There was also some noteworthy local NHL action which our resident hockey correspondent, Different Matt, touched upon in his Friday column. Break up the Isles who continue their Cinderella-like season and, like the “Charlestown Chiefs,” are relocating from their antiquated Nassau digs to the far less than aesthetic and previously bashed (by Fake Sandy Alderson) Barclay’s Center. Wait a minute, the Islanders? Yes, the Islanders who lead the Eastern Conference in points. Yes, the Islanders who lead the NHL in victories. Yes, the Islanders who recently shut out and shut down the previously white-hot Rangers. Yes, the Islanders who fought back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Crosbys on Friday. Can this be the season where electrocuting juice revives the Big Apple’s once fierce hockey rivalry between the Rangers and Islanders?
There was a time where Islanders-Rangers was an early spring ritual and so was piling into Grote2DMax’s parents’ living room to watch the action on SportsChannel. Islanders fans were few and the majority of folks, including Grote’s thick-brogued father, pulled for the underdog Rangers. There was always a near-miss for the Rangers as the dirty-dog Islanders found ways to win no matter the circumstance, on the way to their 4 Stanley Cups.
The entire lot of us hated the Islanders as much as Grote and I hate the Canadiens. Those were good days that spanned our pre and post drinking ages as soda gave way to beer. In-game, between-periods beer runs were part of the experience. Playoff formats have changed often over the years and made it tougher for Islanders-Rangers playoff series but mainly because the Nassau denizens have sucked for a quarter century. The last time the New York pair met resulted in a Rangers sweep during their own Cup run in 1994.
Often called the Nassau Mausoleum, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is rising from its grave this season with raucous sellout crowds filled with home team (bandwagon?) fans. The voices of Howie Rose and Butch Goring on Islanders telecasts tell you all you need to know. This could be the year we are all treated to a late Spring run complete with packed houses at MSG and the Old Barn on Hempstead Turnpike. The Rangers now wear the target as favorites, coming off a Stanley Cup appearance and are poised to make another run at Hockey’s ultimate hardware. The Islanders would be underdogs in this series regardless of regular season standings. Should we be treated to a resumption of this one-time Spring ritual I’ll be rooting for the Islanders. Call it the Mausoleum. Call it a graveyard. Call it the Old Barn. But you won’t be able to call it empty this Spring when the boys from the big city come calling.