In what was easily the only largest display of passion at an Islanders game this season, an estimated 1,100 fans of the long defunct Quebec Nordiques stormed Nassau Colliseum for Saturday’s game between the Islanders and Thrashers.
Islanders players are quite familiar with the colour blue. That’s the colour of the rink’s seats, and there’s plenty of empty ones on a nightly basis. The hockey wasteland otherwise known as Long Island is second only to Phoenix–hockey’s toxic dump–in terms of pathetic attendance. An average of 10,770 show up to watch the league’s worst team on a nightly basis.
If that fan interest seems shockingly low, consider that the Islanders’ average attendance has dropped by about 2,000 from last season. League commissioner Gary Bettman has made saying vague, all-compassing statements that seem to satisfy everyone while accomplishing nothing a sport, and he’s said that given the “right circumstances” the NHL would like to make its return to Quebec City.
Islanders owner Charles Wang continues to sink his wallet deeper into a franchise that’s decreasing in value by the year. The team is worth $151 million, according to Forbes, a drop of 20 percent. Both Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have said they have no intention to intervening , and general manager Garth Snow is still wearing his Islanders coloured glasses.
The Islanders lost 18 of their last 19 games coming into tonight, and the future of the team has come into question with the lease on Nassau Coliseum running out at the end of the 2015 season. The word “irony” comes to mind while reading Snow’s assessment of tonight’s events.
“We have, here on Long Island, the most passionate hockey fans,” said Snow. “I think that the positive side with something like tonight is how many fans we have in the NHL. We welcome all fans of the NHL.”
Yep, everyone’s welcome on Long Island. Even if they’ve highlighted a franchise that’s slowly crumbling. The Nordiques fans erupted at the 15 minute mark of each period, a nod to how many years its been since the NHL left their city.
Dubbed “Nordiques Nation” and organized by sports travel agency owner Eric Granier, the blue-clad throwback fans arrived in 22 busloads. But their intentions weren’t sinister towards the Islanders. No, it wasn’t the future of Wang’s club that they wanted to dismantled; that’ll happen on its own.
The Quebecers just wanted to bend the ear of Mr. Bettman, and do it during a game that featured two of the league’s least supported teams. The Thrashers are only one spot above New York in average attendance, despite a surprisingly good start that has Atlanta currently occupying the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We respect all teams, but we think Quebec City deserves a team more than about a third of the league’s markets that aren’t doing too well,” said Grenier.