That's the distance from my front door to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The last two times I'd made this trek, the home team had been shut out - once in a disappointing season opener, the other in a horrendous showing that turned out to be Butch Goring's last stand as Islander coach. On Saturday night, Richard Park made sure that wouldn't happen again just under six minutes into the first frame. Moreover, the Isles appeared to be in the driver's seat in this particular contest, up 3-1 after the opening stanza. As we know, the end result wasn't exactly what the full house was hoping for but, after a few deep breaths to take it all in later that evening and on the plane ride home, I realized - really reminded myself - that Saturday night, my Blog Box debut, the whole trip really, was not about the two points at stake. (It'd be damn near impossible to convince the team of that, of course. The morgue-like atmosphere at Ted Nolan's postgame media briefing made that abundantly clear.) A win surely would have been the cherry I was looking for on top of this particular sundae but, in the end, it wasn't everything.
Anyone that knows me well at all will tell you that, "It wasn't all about winning," is not something they would ever expect to hear me say - especially about an Isles game - and, quite honestly, I've had to continually convince myself that it's okay to say here. But truly, the whole experience Saturday night was much, much more for me.
The link to my Isles blog through <a href=http://islanders.nhl.com/blogbox/blog_box.htm>the team web site</a> carries the title, "The Long Distance Islander
." That really is what I've almost always been. I moved to Florida in 1986 with my parents at just 7 years of age but my sports allegiances have always remained as they had always been - Isles, Mets, Jets - and while this has caused me more than my fair share of separation anxiety as well as some undeserved grief from friends and local foes alike over the years, nothing will ever be able to change that. On top of that, it's made for some great road trips!
The team rallying cry for the Isles the past two seasons has been, "We're all Islanders." Players, coaches, local celebrities and the like have all steadfastly affirmed as much. I live in Tampa, Florida. Any way you look at it, however ... I'm Jon Jordan ... and, damn it! I'm an Islander
A big thanks to B.D. Gallof, your hockeybuzz Isles aficionado and my fellow Blog Boxer, for his willingness to meet with me and my crew before the game and for showing me the ways of (and, quite literally, the way to) the Blog Box itself. We shared chicken wings and stories, onion rings and a laugh or two and, yes, cookies (thanks, Dee!) B.D. probably laughed at how cold I was walking to the Coliseum, though he didn't give me too much of a rib about my Floridian blood.
Thinking back on this game, I'll remember it in segments.
After the opening Flyers goal, the Isles scored three straight. The Loudville-influenced, "You suck!" chants during the "Hey" song after a goal had baffled me from a distance so far this season but, as I commented to B.D. and others, hearing it in person has completely changed my tune. I'm still not sure who it is that sucks, exactly, but I'm now in love with the chant! (Apologies to Chris Botta, but I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon.) 3-1 after one period. No shutout, for starters, and that's a bit of a victory for me, given my track record. If I forget the rest of the evening, we win! (Sigh
Myself and Mr. Gallof in the Blog Box
There was some notable humor throughout this contest. I always get a kick out of the occasional scrap in the stands. (Having possibly
been involved in such a fracas at some point in the past - though, if anyone asks, I cannot recall
said involvement on my part - I always find it interesting to see different "strategies" being employed.) There were a few of these on this particular evening, seemingly all stemming from Flyers/Islanders-related yapping. At some point, Rick DiPietro took a spill into the bench after leaving the ice on a delayed penalty. I believe this was in the second period, though my in-game notes have failed me in this instance.
DP on his can! Seconds earlier, he was spread eagle. Figured I'd spare you that sight. Sorry, ladies.
The end result, naturally, was a disappointment. The Flyers four unanswered goals (lucky breaks or not, Mr. Hartnell) did put a slight damper on the evening for the majority of those in attendance. But I was still looking forward to the crown jewel of the Blog Box experience - getting down to the locker room area to meet with Nolan and a few of the players.
When I was selected for the Blog Box - the only such member who has the slight disadvantage of being "geographically challenged" - my anticipation of this evening began immediately. Obviously, I had to plan my first (and hopefully not only) trip up this season far in advance and I just couldn't wait to join the positive postgame vibes of a big Isles win! Irresponsibly enough, through all of my preparation, through all the different scenarios I let run through my mind, I never once allowed myself to think we might be dealing with a loss come postgame interview time. Whoops!
Upon entering the press room with the other writers, bloggers and camera folk, I whispered the word, "funeral" to B.D. (It's all I could come up with but I think it was fairly accurate.)
So, while there weren't any high-fives or high-five type moments in the room after the game as I had hoped for, I took plenty out of just being there.
It was important for me to meet and shake hands with both Chris Botta and Corey Witt, the gentlemen responsible for the Blog Box endeavor. The idea is as brilliant as it is bold and, yes, I'd still say that even if I was not involved personally. That said, they certainly didn't have to include the Florida guy and, for that, I am beyond grateful. Hopefully I can make a dent with my humble contributions. (Gentlemen, I shall see you again and for more than just a few moments next time, I do hope.)
One thing that will stick with me forever is something that other out-of-town fans may actually benefit from. I've been guilty, in the past, of questioning players and even coaches after a disappointing loss in terms of how much failing to capture the two points affects them. Sometimes, the television/internet cameras fail to communicate emotion properly. But being in the same room with the team after this particular loss, I can honestly tell you that the difference is palpable. The stench of dissatisfaction was instantly overwhelming. As excited as I was to be a part of all of this - to be in the very locker room of the team that I have simply lived and breathed all my life - it hit me like a ton of bricks. Nolan was steamed. Bill Guerin, inches away from me, was clearly upset. DiPietro, quickly showered and dressed, seemed almost depressed. The only possible exception here was Aaron Johnson, returning after a long absence due to injury, who seemed disappointed alongside the others but did manage to keep a smile on his face - perhaps simply relieved to be back with the big club.
As I left the locker room, I said a quick thanks to Witt and Botta on my way out and then nearly ran over Bryan Berard as I wasn't paying attention heading down the hallway. "Next time, I'll be a bit more with it
," I promised myself.
Outside, I bid farewell to my fellow Blog Boxers (including B.D., who still has a beer from me to cash in on - no expiration date there, pal) and I made the frigid walk back to the Marriott to meet with some friends. Despite marginal frostbite, I managed to adequately reflect on a memorable experience.
Where this blogging adventure of mine eventually takes me is completely up in the air. For now, I'm honored to be able to <a href=http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?blogger_id=90>cover the Lightning</a> here for hockeybuzz. I'm thrilled, out-of-town or not, to be a part of the NYI Blog Box and I'm ecstatic to have finally made my official in-house Blog Box debut.
1,168 miles, door to door.
Any time you'll have me (and that I can get away), I'm there.
Some more pics:
The opening faceoff, as performed by a cronie of Hempstead's Kate Murray. (Ms. Murray was MIA ... hmm ... more on that some other time ...)
Philly's Marty Biron. Meditating? Or just constipated?
The Islanders' retired numbers. A view from the Blog Box.