UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The difference is clear from the approach. You can see the bones, but it doesn’t look like the same building the Islanders used to call home.
The official new name is clunky — NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum — but everything else is nicer.
“It’s actually unreal,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday before his team’s 1-0 shootout win over the Islanders on Long Island. “It’s pretty impressive what has gone on here. It’s definitely more than a cosmetic makeover.”
The background: The Islanders tried for almost 15 years to get a public investment into upgrading the building that was their full-time home starting with their first season, 1972-73. In 2012 they announced they would move to Brooklyn to play at the Barclays Center after their lease expired in 2015. After the Islanders announced their move, Nassau County developed plans to renovate the coliseum and develop the surrounding area.
Meanwhile, the move hasn’t gone well for the Islanders due to a poor fan experience at the Barclays Center. This season they are playing a portion of their home games on Long Island as a new building is being built nearby.
Players had something of a love-hate relationship with the pre-renovated coliseum. It was run-down and dingy but had a great fan atmosphere.
“I always enjoyed playing here,” said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, who played in the building frequently when he was with the Rangers from 2011-14. “It’s a lot cleaner and nicer. You can still see it, the shape and the jumbotron. It’s updated, but it still has the charm.”
“Old barns” have a reputation for having a good atmosphere. The stands tend to be steeper and feel more closed in, with the fans right on top of the ice. Newer arenas lose that feel, that charm, but tend to be nicer, cleaner, more modern.
The dressing rooms at the revamped coliseum, forward Ryan Callahan said, feel more like NHL dressing rooms than they did before.
With the Islanders leaving the coliseum — and even to some extent renovating it — some of the history is lost.
“Do you think they scraped all of the beer from the ‘80s or just papered it over?” Cooper said. “Some big moments happened out there.”