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For those of us of a certain age, watching the Islanders renaissance has been a splendid reminder of what we had — what, sadly, we took for granted — all those many years ago. Long Islanders are parochial and proud of it. Billy Joel is one of us, always. Jerry Seinfeld? One of us. Billy Crystal? Eddie Burns?
One of us. Always.
That was the Isles of 1980-83. They not only made us proud, they made us champions. Islanders fans have other rooting interests in other sports, but the Isles were ours. Maybe it seems silly. Believe me, it was real.
The best part of this new Isles Mania is all the faces of folks under 45 years old. For them, this was a different franchise, cast adrift for years by lousy management and awful teams. Yet they stuck around. It was easy for guys like me: J.P. Parise scored his famous goal against the Rangers when I was 8. From then through college the Isles were a given.
“As a kid, I remember Pierre Turgeon getting clocked by Dale Hunter,” says Joe Taglia, 38, a coach and teacher at Syosset High School who lives in Merrick. “After that it’s been kind of … lean. To say the least.”
“This is so much sweeter,” says 42-year-old Neil McMahon of Lake Ronkonkoma, “after two decades of … well, not much.”
There are so many of them, raised on terrible Mike Milbury trades, reared on the slapstick of John Spano. It’s been easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of the Old Barn with raucous crowds elevating the good guys, singing along to the national anthem, generating a din only sports can achieve.
Of course that’s bogus. There were so many nights the past 30 years when the Coliseum was empty, when the banners up above felt so detached from what was on the ice.
“Sixteen-dollar tickets, 300 level,” Taglia says. “It was always pretty easy to move down.”
This is better. Taglia watched the Bruins clincher at home with his wife, Amanda, and four kids — the oldest, 8-year-old Joseph, plays goalie for the Junior Islanders. He’s all-in. He made it halfway Wednesday night so father and son enjoyed this exchange the next morning:
“Dad, did they win?”
“They did,” and Joseph exploded. “Who do we play next?” he asked. Joe told him Tampa.
“We got ’em,” Joseph said. “We’re good!”
They are, again, and maybe it will be kids of Joseph Taglia’s generation who will once again be allowed to feel as my generation did once: confident, at all times. Because we’re good.
McMahon’s daughters have learned to live with their dad’s exuberance. Soon-to-be-8-year-old Emma has become an Islanders fan herself. Sixteen-month-old Gracie forced her old man to execute a tricky maneuver during Game 6 of Isles-Bruins.
“They’re playing great,” he says, “but it’s still 1-1 and I have her in my arms, and then Brock [Nelson] scores and we’re up but I have Gracie and her bottle and she’s asleep and I have to scream without using my voice.”
You suspect that from Hempstead to the Hamptons, from Oyster Bay to Orient Point and dozens of places in between, there have been a lot of scenes like that. Great as The Barn is, just 12,000 can be there. Everywhere else, families have tried to build their own Barns in living rooms and dens and man caves.
Feeling what we once felt, what they’ve only known through highlight videos.
“I was 12 and went to Bobby Nystrom’s number retirement, and that’s when it really hit me how much history happened there,” Taglia says.
“I always heard about Potvin and Bossy, always knew the names,” McMahon says. “But I never saw the games.”
They have their own Potvins and Bossys now, their own games. And they are halfway home to a Cup. Whether that happens is almost irrelevant. This is a quintessential journey far more important and enjoyable than the destination.
I was hoping to choose the new Liam Neeson flick. Overruled by the wife, who went with “The Courier,” and I can’t tell you how terrific a choice that was. Liam will have to wait for next week.
A shout-out to my old earth science teacher at Chaminade High, Mike Pienkos, who this week won Long Island CHSAA baseball championship No. 14. This was his 40th year at the helm; his teams have made it at least as far as the finals 35 times and he has 617 career victories. If Brian Cashman wants his number …
I still miss June 15 as the trade deadline. Donn Clendenon. Keith Hernandez. Heck, even if the Tom Seaver trade ended my baseball childhood, you always had a profound respect for June 15.
Yes, I can officially report that Tom Thibodeau sent the acolytes of a certain western New York college into a tizzy when he mentioned his dad’s alma mater the other night on TNT while discussing his Coach of the Year award. School apparently called “St. Bonaventure.” I hope I got the spelling right.
@MikeVacc: I’ve said it (and written it) many times before: if I bought a franchise — any sport, not just hockey — my first call would be Lou Lamoriello, bearing a blank check.
Whack Back at Vac
George Corchia: I’d love to hire Kevin Durant’s bodyguard. Here’s a dude that will protect his client at all costs and doesn’t care about arena rules, NBA guidelines or sports traditions. Too bad Mike Piazza didn’t have his services when he got beaned by Roger Clemens.
Vac: They say you see something new in sports every day. That was Thursday’s edition.
Howie Siegel: It’s so refreshing to see a coach win Coach of the Year honors and not necessarily go deep into the playoffs. This was more than just being at the right place at the right time for Thibs. He breathed life into a franchise on life support. Will talent now be attracted to MSG? I say yes.
Vac: It does seem like the Phoenix Suns are on a mission to make voters second-guess their preference for Tom Thibodeau over Monty Williams, though.
@biranmoran: Lou Lamoriello is a master at getting buy-in from the entire team. It’s a good time to be someone who grew up on Long Island in the ’70s/’80s with the Mets, Nets and Islanders playing so well.
Roland Chapdelain: After hearing Gerrit Cole’s double-talk, I expected Mickey Mantle to come up behind him, saying, “My views are just about the same as Gerrit’s!”
Vac: Trust me, if you know the reference, that’s the funniest thing you’ll see all day.
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