New York Islanders fans: bloodthirsty, boorish and absent

As I exited from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night after the Penguins dispatched the Islanders 4-2, a security guard playfully urged me and a group of others to hurry up. “Go on you Penguins fans,” he joked, “get outta here.”

I responded in kind by thanking him for the hospitality. He scolded me briefly before I told him I was kidding. “Hey, it’s always fun to come out to the island,” I told him.

I was lying.

I’ve been lucky enough to live in the heart of the NHL’s Atlantic Division since I moved to New York City in the summer of 2010. Although this limits how many Pens’ games I can see in Pittsburgh every season, I still have relatively easy access to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. and the Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. Because of this access and my affinity for seeing the Pens play live, I go to four or five away games every year against the Rangers, Devils and Islanders.

There’s something uniquely enjoyable being a Penguins fan in these venues. Rather than identifying with the majority, I become the enemy with limited or no support from other human beings around me. Sometimes, it feels borderline-dangerous and I’ll admit it’s kind of a rush. A little back and forth with local fans is entertaining and usually it’s just good-natured ribbing from both sides. But when I show up on Long Island to watch the Pens, I have to say that the majority (not all) of Islanders fans are boorish, rude and easy to dislike.

My experience on Tuesday was no different.

I’ve been to Nassau Coliseum to watch the Pens four or five times in my life and each time, I find myself being verbally accosted for no reason other than for wearing a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin shirt. I never instigate and I never reply. Usually I’m by myself, so getting into an altercation with hoards of “enemy” fans would be unwise. But the main reason I don’t respond is because I don’t want to be a poor representative of Penguins fans. That is a concept that most Islanders fans cannot seem to grasp.

Within minutes of entering the arena last night, I was approached by three full-grown men who felt the need to inform me that many things “sucked.” It wasn’t just the typical “Crosby sucks,” it was “Hey man, you suck–” followed by some language I won’t repeat.

Charming.

This scenario happened a number of times during the course of the evening, in addition to being told to “shut the f*** up” after I cheered for the Pens. I turned the other cheek and smiled because after all, Pittsburgh was winning and nothing else mattered. I’ve come to expect the hostility from fans in the New York metro area (as well as most other pro sports venues that I’ve been to) but the Islanders faithful managed to step it up a notch on Tuesday.

The most disturbing portion of the night happened early in the second period when a Kris Letang shot caught Crosby in the face. Play was halted and the bloodied Penguins captain was immediately led into the locker room by trainers with a towel over his face. As soon as the scant crowd realized who had gotten hurt, it erupted into their loudest cheer of the night followed by a “Crosby sucks” chant.

How winsome.

Now, I realize opposing fans love to hate Crosby. He gets booed in every away arena in the United States (and even in Canada, despite the fact he won the country a friggin’ gold medal in 2010). Is it jealousy or even a form of veneration? Perhaps. On NHL Live last night, Boston Bruins radio analyst Bob Beers said that “everywhere Zdeno Chara goes, he seems to get booed, which I guess is the ultimate form of respect.”

So by that reasoning, Crosby is the most respected player in the NHL.

I’ve never had a problem with booing, it’s kind of a dumb fan tradition (imagine booing vegetables on your plate as a child or booing the staff at the DMV), but everyone does it and it’s harmless. I’ll take a “boo” over mindless cursing and the utterance of homophobic slurs any day.

But there is never an excuse for fans to cheer when a player gets injured.  That’s over-the-line behavior. It’s an abusive mob mentality that perfectly depicts the lack of respect some fans have. I’m sure the cowards who harassed me before the game were among the boisterous thousands who cheered while Crosby, a player with a history of head injuries, lay bleeding on the ice before them. It’s probably not a stretch to presume they’ve never been pelted in the face with a frozen rubber puck going 50-plus miles per hour, either.

I wasn’t the only person who was disgusted by the scene in Long Island Tuesday night:

Seth Rorabaugh — Penguins writer for the Penguins for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Jesse Marshall — Co-owner/operator of Faceoff-Factor.com

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Dejan Kovacevic — Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sports columnist

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Arthur Staple — Islanders writer for Newsday

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Dave Molinari — Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Josh Yohe — Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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Crosby’s incident wasn’t quite as bad as Eagles fans cheering when Michael Irvin suffered a neck injury during a game in 1999, but both were disgusting. Philly fans already have the reputation for having the worst fans in all of pro sports, but New Yorkers (Islanders fans specifically) aren’t far behind.

I understand that this kind of behavior isn’t happening in the vacuum of New York and Philadelphia. Every fan base in pro sports has its share of bad apples, idiots, slack-jawed ignoramuses and drunken  morons — Pittsburgh included.

So what gives for all the idiocy and ignorance?

Former NBCSports.com contributor and current Miami Heat columnist for the Palm Beach Post Ethan J. Skolnick wrote an article in 2009 entitled “Why do sports turn us into irrational fanatics?” In the article, he interviewed Dr. Richard Lustberg, a Long Island resident who runs the site psychologyofsports.com. Lustberg offered one explanation of why fans act like fools:

“It’s without a doubt one of the great diversions that you can have in entertainment. People take that entertainment and then relate it to their own lives. People can understand getting to the precipice of getting to a promotion, and then succeeding at it or not. The merging that occurs between fans and players is the involvement that takes you away from other issues in your life, but also the understanding that you too have been involved with highs, lows, ups, downs in your life, and that’s how you relate.”

In the same article, Christian End, an assistant psychology professor at Xavier University specializing in sports fan behavior, said the following:

“Groups strive to make themselves distinct from other groups,” End said. “They also want to be better than the other groups when you compare them head-to-head. If they begin to believe that the taunting is having an impact on the game, they sort of take pride in being the best at providing a distraction. That can help them buffer, and make them feel better if the team isn’t as successful head-to-head.”

Take those two opinions, toss in a few decades of losing seasons and you have a valid representation of an Islanders fan.

Watching your favorite hockey team is supposed to be fun. It should be a pleasant distraction to everyday problems. But for Islanders’ fans, the team is just another problem creating yet another need for more distraction, i.e., drinking too much, name calling, etc. The team hasn’t finished above .500 since 2007, which also marks the last time it reached the postseason (they lost the series 4-1 to the Buffalo Sabres). The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993 and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1983. In my lifetime (25 years), they’ve been a winning team a grand total of eight times.

Yep, must be frustrating but it’s still no excuse.

And according to End, those fans take pride in being the best distraction since their team is no good. However, they failed at being anything more than background noise when it came to the play of the Penguins. Cheering during Crosby’s injury was distracting for me, but I highly doubt it did anything other than motivate Crosby and the rest of the Penguins. He returned in about 10 minutes he didn’t seem to exhibit any ill effects.

I suppose the cheering may have been more effective if Islanders fans would actually bother to come to the games. If you want to see an NHL game but can only afford to spend less than $20, the Islanders are for you! There’s virtually no local interest in this team. I bought my ticket on Stub Hub the evening before the game and the base price was $9.50.

$9.50.

With additional fees and the other standard charges, the grand total came to $19.50. Only twice have I paid less money for a ticket to a professional sporting event and both of those times were at Citi Field when the woeful Pirates came to town to play the lowly Mets.

Here’s the Coliseum about an hour before the puck drops. Yes, that’s pretty early before the game but there were about 20 fans in the building. The attendance of the hotel bar next door was far greater.

Come early and often! Or, don't bother with either...I guess.

Come early and often! Or, don’t bother with either!

So you’d figure that the Penguins would get a decent draw for away games. They’re one of the best teams in the league and super stars like Crosby and Malkin are major attractions, regardless of whether fans love them or hate them. But here’s a picture I took during the pregame warmups. This was about 20 minutes before game time.

The Islanders can't give away tickets.

The Penguins hold practices in front of larger crowds.

By the end of the night, the total paid attendance was a whopping 11,318. Major high school football games attract higher fan numbers. Last year, average attendance for Islanders games was 13,191 and total attendance was 540,838. The only team with poorer attendance was the Phoenix Coyotes and this year it looks like the Islanders could challenge the Coyotes for the bottom spot on the list.

Long Island used to be the home to a stellar hockey franchise that won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the ’80s. Fans were proud of the team and the team was proud of its fans. They deserved each other.

But now, I dare say that neither side supports the other and any dignity this organization built in the wake of its success has since faded. The on-ice product might be improving with the likes of John Tavares and Michael Grabner, but the fans on Long Island don’t seem to appreciate any kind of talent when it graces the ice of Nassau Coliseum.

Will the Islanders return to form as a playoff contender in the NHL  in the near future? It certainly seems like a legitimate possibility. They have a ton of young talent and the team has looked strong in a number of games this season. But the real question is if a considerate fan base will ever pack the confines of the Islanders’ home arena any time soon. The fact that a resurgence in respectful fan support for a four-time Cup winner can even be questioned is far more devastating than a puck to the face.

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The 2012-2013 NHL Season: What We’re All Missing Part 6

No, New York Islanders fans, you’re not missing your team play in the Barclays Center quite yet. But there’s plenty of other reasons to be disappointed with the lockout this season. See what they are here!

—–The NHL lockout is like playing a dump and chase game, except it doesn’t look like anyone is giving chase.—–

Kings and Devils: Why Hockey is Great

It’s been four days since the last NHL game was played and I’m already going through hockey withdrawal. But that’s nothing compared to the emptiness I’ll be feeling once the 2012 finals are over.

It’s been a terrific playoffs to watch so far, some say the best in years. Part of that reasoning is based on the upsets. No teams seeded better than 6th made it to the final and very rarely do you see something like that happen in any of the other major North American sports.

It’s pretty incredible to look at the preseason odds Vegas gave for the entire NHL last fall. The favorites to reach the finals were the Vancouver Canucks (9/2) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (5/1) . Each team made the playoffs but were unable to escape the first round. Vancouver won only one game and Pittsburgh managed to win only two. A Pittsburgh vs. Vancouver Cup final looked great on paper, but the hockey gods thought otherwise.

So where did the odds makers slot the finals combatants — the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils — heading into the 2011-2012 season?

Los Angeles actually got a pretty good ranking as they were awarded the 11th best odds to win the Cup at 25/1. New Jersey was the real surprise, since Vegas gave them a 250/1 shot at winning it all.

250/1! The only two teams given worse odds were the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders. That’s why the Devils are the perfect example of the claim that “all you have to do is make the playoffs and then all bets are off.”

And let’s forget for a minute that Los Angeles was given a decent shot at the beginning of the year. For the majority of the season, they looked like a floundering team that didn’t stand much of a chance at even making the postseason. Goalie Jonathan Quick seemed to be one of the only stand out players for the Kings and even though you need great goaltending to contend in the NHL, you also need to score goals.

Los Angeles couldn’t score goals.

The Kings finished 29th in scoring in the NHL at the end of the regular season, netting an average of 2.29 goals per game. Only the Minnesota Wild scored fewer, ending with an average of 2.02 goals per game.

But in the final 20 games of the regular season, the Kings scored 65 goals. In that span, their goals per game average was 3.25. It was a team that turned it on at the right time and got red-hot when it really mattered. And even with that performance, they managed to barely slip into the postseason as an 8 seed, making their path to the Cup as difficult as it gets. Hypothetically, there was a chance that the Kings would need to beat the 1,2 and 3 seeds to make it to the final.

And that’s exactly what happened, further solidifying my claim that unpredictability is the hallmark of the NHL playoffs.

But even as entertaining and unpredictable as they have been so far, it’s very possible that the NHL saved the best for last.

Some pundits believe that the Kings will roll through this final series. After all, no other team even came close to stopping them — they’ve lost two games since April 11. Quick has been, without a doubt, the best goalie in these playoffs (and I believe the regular season, as well) and it seems that the only way to get pucks behind him is to pray, shoot and pray again.

But I don’t think the Devils are going to be easily stamped out. They’ve had to fight much harder than the Kings and I believe that fight has built up an even bigger level of confidence than in the LA locker room. New Jersey has proven they can win a long series while Los Angeles never had a chance to do so. Devils veteran goalie Marty Broduer looks like he’s 22 again and despite having already played 18 playoff games, he doesn’t seem the least bit tired or worn down. Quick obviously has the athletic edge, but a crafty old former Cup winner like Broduer can add an element to a team that youth and athleticism cannot.

And toward the end of the Kings last series, they seemed to sputter a bit more than in the beginning. Maybe they’re too comfortable. Maybe they’ve been coasting. Regardless of what it is, this is the round where the Kings’ easy path ends.

But that doesn’t mean I’m picking New Jersey to win.

I think that the Kings have the edge in goal-scoring talent and puck stopping talent. All they need to do is prove it four more times, which they’re pretty used to doing by now.

I’m a combined 6-10 with my picks through the first three rounds of the playoffs, so I can’t hit .500 (which I feel like is the bare minimum of respectability). But if I can finish 7-10 with a Cup final win, I think I’ll be satisfied.

My pick: Los Angeles Kings in 7.

Game 25 of Remaining 29: Pittsburgh at Buffalo

Pittsburgh Penguins: 47-24-6 (100 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

 

VS.

Buffalo Sabres: 38-29-10 (86 points)

8th in the Eastern Conference

 

 

 

 

The Penguins are coming off a pair of rough games, getting beaten twice in a row by the New York Islanders. I think Bylsma will light a fire underneath the behinds of his team for this one. It will be a playoff atmosphere in Buffalo as the Sabres are holding onto a tenuous 8th playoff spot. My prediction: Pens WIN.

My final 29 prediction record: 11-13

Game 24 of Remaining 29: Pittsburgh at New York Islanders

Pittsburgh Penguins: 47-23-6 (100 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

VS.

New York Islanders: 32-33-11 (75 points)

13th in the Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh laid an egg two days ago at the Consol Energy Center against the Islanders, losing 5-3. Marc-Andre Fleury looked shaky (and was shaken up on a play in which he collided with defenseman Paul Martin) and the Pens’ defensive play was downright awful. Multiple players for Pittsburgh admitted that they have ignored some parts of the defensive game because of their high scoring abilities.  It’s true that if you can simply score more goals than the other team, you will win. But even if your team is the highest scoring in the league, you still have to play some defense. After all, the old adage is “defense wins championships.” One major problem with the defense right now is the injury situation of Kris Letang. The Pens just aren’t the same without him and reports say that he won’t be back tonight or tomorrow against Buffalo. Hopefully, the fill-ins from the Baby Pens can hold the fort while Tanger recovers. I picked the Pens to win last game and was wrong. I’m picking them to lose tonight and hoping I am wrong. My pick: Pens LOSE.

My remaining 29 record: 10-13

Game 23 of Remaining 29: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins: 47-22-6 (100 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

 

VS.

New York Islanders: 31-33-11 (73 points)

14th in the Eastern Conference

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the Islanders are nearly the worst team in the Eastern Conference, they are always dangerous at this time of year. It is a team that plays carefree hockey because there is no hope for a playoff berth. It will be aggressive and its players are always chippy when it comes to playing Pittsburgh. No need to remind anyone of the debacle that occurred on Long Island last season in which there were 65 penalties, including 15 fighting majors and 21 game misconducts, resulting in a total of 346 minutes. I wouldn’t expect that same type of game, but you can’t forget when a team has played that dirty in the past. This season, I don’t expect a series sweep by the Pens, but I think Pittsburgh will get the W tonight. My prediction: Pens WIN.

My final 29 prediction record: 10-12

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