UNIONDALE, N.Y. - When the final horn sounds to end today’s Game 6 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, it could very well mark the end of an era here on Long Island.
Next season the Islanders will be moving into the two-year-old Barclays Center in Brooklyn , leaving behind a 43-year-old arena that holds four Stanley Cup banners [1980-83] and thousands of memories.
Before Game 3 of the series I sat down to chat with Bill Torrey, the former president, general manager and architect of those Stanley Cup teams and a man who has his own banner hanging from the rafters of the Coliseum.
Torrey, 80, is now an alternate governor of the Florida Panthers, a team he helped build as its first president in 1993.
On returning to the Coliseum for its last hurrah:
I’ve known for some time the doors are going to be closed. Since [the NHL’s 1972-73] expansion I think this has been one of the best of the older buildings. It’s a great hockey building. There isn’t a bad seat in it. The atmosphere is hockey and no matter what it might be today compared to million dollar new buildings, if you wanted to come see a hockey game in a hockey atmosphere there’s no better place than here.
On his emotions as the Coliseum hosts its final playoff games:
I’ve lived long enough to know nothing is forever. We’re all mortal. I’m mortal, you’re mortal. Even buildings are mortal.
Naturally, I’m sad to see it go because I’ve raised a family here. I have three sons who still live on the Island . I have 10 grandchildren that live here. My grandchildren, three of them girls, they play hockey and I know there are quite a lot of people that are quite upset that this is happening, that nothing more was done to prolong it. But unfortunately, that’s the way it is in all business.
On why he traveled from his home in West Palm Beach to see the Coliseum one last time:
I came up here because, obviously, I’m rooting for the home team. And I have strong feelings. We didn’t get the fifth Cup, so I’m hoping these guys can get it.
On the hundreds of arena employees who are working hockey games for the final time:
They’ve been loyal. I’ve shook hands with people today. I was here when we opened the doors and they’ve been loyal. They’ve had some very down years, some tough years, but their loyalty never wavered and we had some awfully good years. You have to take the bitter with the sweet, but it will be a sad day and I feel sorry for those who have made the ice, taken tickets, done a lot of things that a lot of other people haven’t noticed. It’s been family if I can use that word.
On whether the Islanders’ fan base will support the team once it moves to Brooklyn:
I don’t know the particulars of who’s going and who’s not going. Whether they make that commitment [to season tickets] before they try it or whether they try it before they make the commitment, I don’t know. Fortunately, Brooklyn is getting a good product, a product that should even improve. That’s a big plus. A winning team sells tickets a lot easier than a non-winning team. I know [Barclays Center] already is for sale. I know the basketball team [Brooklyn Nets] is for sale. You have to wonder a little bit, but I have no intimate knowledge of what’s going to happen over there.
On the future of the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., and the hiring of executive chairman Peter Luukko:
Peter Luukko is a major addition for our franchise. He’s a very knowledgeable man, he’s fit in terrific. He loves being around [general manager] Dale [Tallon]. I’ve sat with him for a number of games. He loves our young team and he’s excited about it. Peter could have done a lot of things. He chose to come to Florida and I don’t think he’s going to regret it. He knows the business. The arena hasn’t functioned the way it should and I know he’ll take care of that. All I can tell you is when we’ve been in the playoffs we’ve sold out all our buildings, OK? Winning is winning. A lot of teams told me they were happy we didn’t get in [to the playoffs].
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