April 24th, 1994
Most of my younger Islanders know the year, but anyone who was around to witness hockey history, it’s a date that still haunts the older Islanders fans. That’s the date where everything flipped on it’s hockey end and essentially came crashing down for the New York Islanders organization. The New York Rangers had finally won the Stanley Cup. It had been 10 years since the Isles last visit to the Stanley Cup finals and 15 for the Rangers. However when the playoffs started in 1994, I had every Rangers fans wanting to bet, only I said no. Good thing too. 1994 was all Rangers, who were the President Trophy winners and the Islanders first round opponent. I told my friends that if any team could beat the Rangers in the playoffs, it were the Isles. They sheepishly agreed, until of course the Rangers slaughtered the Isles in a four game sweep.
Gone were the chants of “19-40!” by the Isles fans, especially when Adam Graves looked straight into the camera and excitingly mocked the chant after winning the Cup. One curse was gone, another was taking form. Thus began the “Dark Ages” (1995-2001) for the Islanders, although it had it’s pre-cursor long before 1994. I’m not going to delve too deep, most know or remember hearing what happened. But some highlights include the following:
Current islanders owner Charles Wang and names like John Pickett, John Spano, Howard Milstein/Steve Gluckstern, all formers former owners of the New York Islanders in that 20 year span (Spano didn’t really get to do anything with the Isles). All of whom made inquiries about either renovating the Nassau Coliseum and/or developing the area around it, only to be denied every time by Nassau County, hence guaranteeing them a loss in revenue every year, except of course for Spano, who never had the money to begin with. While the Rangers have Dolan and Cablevision.
The dreaded Fisherman Jersey. He was actually a Mariner, but the Rangers fans chanted “We want Fish Sticks” at every game and even thought the Mariner was NHL Hockey guru Stan Fischler!! For those who did not like the now deceased Isles third jersey, count your blessings. They’re better than what was going on in the mid 90’s.
Mike Milbury….with or without cash….right or wrong will be the scapegoat in many fans eyes. The one General Manager who tried to get himself fired during that time, but never happened.
The Nassau Coliseum went from “Fort Never Lose” to the “Nassau Mausoleum.”
The Islanders were then called the “Icelanders” by many.
Even as recent as 2013, my first Islanders/Rangers game where the Rangers won at Nassau and they celebrated like they had just won a playoff round with half the chants coming from Rangers fans.
From a hockey records comparison, the New York Rangers went on to have some modest playoff success, especially in recent times. Since 1994, the Rangers were in the playoffs from 1995-97 with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997. They too had a playoff drought but since 2006 have made the playoffs 8 out of the last 9 years with two trips the Eastern Conference finals in the last three years and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals just last year. The names of Graves, Richter, Leetch & Messier now hang above the newly renovated Madison Square Garden.
For the Islanders, well….since 1994, they had more owners than playoff appearances and weren’t anywhere near the playoffs until the 2001-02 season. From there they have made it to the playoffs just four more times, never making it out of the first round despite some memorable games. They couldn’t keep players on the Island, except for Islanders Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Jonsson. As for the Coliseum? The Islanders are moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn next year.
Enter the 2014-15 season. I had written after the draft that with the Josh Ho-Sang pick in the latter half of the first round, the Islanders are done rebuilding through the draft. Reread that seven times…I’ll wait…Read that again and again and again so that it sinks in. When you think of the future of the Islanders, you know the names of Lee, Strome, Reinhart, Pulock, Dal Colle, Ho-Sang, possibly Collberg. Only the Calder Cup Finals Bridgeport team from the 2001-02 season (Hunter, DiPietro, Torres, Tarnstrom) can even come close to what the Isles have in their organization today.
So when Islanders General Manager Garth Snow went out and revamped the goaltending, signed two forwards who add much needed scoring depth, got a defenceman that could replace Andrew MacDonald for a tenth of the price, and has enough depth in the minors to bring up another young prospect during the season or playoffs. It all reminds me of 2001-02 all over again. Personally, I know training camp is huge this year, but I’m not concerned who gets sent down or cut at training camp. The difference makers on this team will be the ones who have been here from their beginnings, the ones who have seen the downs as well as the ups. Like 2013, the playoffs will be determined by the core players.
Having said all this, after looking at the rosters of other teams, for now, the Islanders are ahead of the curve. They’re ready. Nothing would make Islanders fans happier than securing a playoff spot one last time in the Coliseum. But there’s only one opponent I want in the first round….the New York Rangers. Why not? What better way to end the curse than against the team that helped put the Isles in there in the first place. Whether Isles fans like it or not, the Islanders need the Rangers and vice versa.
First off, the TV ratings would be great exposure for this up and coming team going up against an original six. Second, the Islanders will get the “Cinderella” label if/when they get past the first round and will be compared to the team of 1993 (or 1975 depending on how old you are) all over again. Third, the closing of the Coliseum will attract every hockey fan and build up momentum for future season ticket holders in Brooklyn. Fourth, the Rangers are the defending Eastern Conference Champions and losing in the first round is not in their plans, hence their rivalry will truly be renewed as the playoff series continues. Fifth, the proper celebration of the Islanders winning playoff games and possibly the series at home and the confidence of the players going into the next round will be contagious. Sixth, it will be a warning to teams in the future rounds that the Coliseum will be “Fort Never Lose” one last time.
There could be something special about this years team, but I do admit it’s early. There the same feelings the Rangers had in 1994 about their team. I’m not saying the Isles are Stanley Cup bound, but beyond the first round and a deep Cup run is possible. It happened in 1975 when the Isles got the exposure and recognition for beating the Rangers in the first round. Took some time and a blip in 1979, but looked what it did. It happened in 1994 when the Rangers ended their longest curse and it was started by beating the Islanders in the first round of that year as well. Success has for the most part followed the Rangers along the way. It’s time for the rubber match. It’s been almost 20 years every time this happens. If the Islanders want to exorcise all their demons, and change the fortunes of this organization, and give the Coliseum a proper send off, let them go through the Rangers first.