New York Islanders: Day One
Updated: Nov 19
Fifty years ago tonight, Bob Minton and I went to the then recently opened Nassau Coliseum to see the first game of the NHL’s newest franchise, the New York Islanders. It also happened the first game ever for the Atlanta Flames as both teams were added together, increasing the NHL to 16 teams. While I will proudly tell anyone who is willing to listen, and often those who are, that I was at the first Islander game ever, I only mention in passing having been at the Flames first game ever and when I do, it’s in an “oh, by the way,” manner. This is for two reason, first, as the Atlanta Flames no longer exist, having moved to Calgary in 1980, and much like the NBA’s Minnesota Lakers and the New Orleans Jazz, dragged along a great moniker that has no association with their current city. Secondly, I don’t live in Atlanta, I’ve never been to Calgary and most importantly, the Flames could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn’t care, unless it meant that Elias Lindholm would be heading to the Island.
As for the game itself, the Isles lost, 3-2, something they would do often that year, compiling a 12-60-6 record. The Isles first goal was scored by their Captain Eddie Westfall, with Billy Harris, the #1 pick in the NHL that season scoring his first. Not playing that first game, but taking the ice for the Islanders’ second game were goaltender Billy Smith, who would get the Isles’ first win, and eventually lead them to 4 consecutive Stanley Cups and Lorne Henning, who would get an assist on Bobby Nystroms overtime goal that gave them their first Stanley Cup.
There were 12,221 in attendance that night, not a sellout, and a somewhat subdued crowd, not know exactly what to expect. Outside of the two Islander goals the biggest reaction was the booing of the Zamboni driver, who evidently was also “driving” his first game, and would leave huge swaths of the ice not resurfaced.
Overall, well worth the $3.00 student ticket ($30 when adjusted for inflation) especially when you consider that the parking back then at the Coliseum was free.