I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always been a fan of the NY Islanders. In fact, I wasn’t even a fan of hockey until the year the Islanders won their last playoff series in 1993.
I was 13 and in Catholic school and hockey was the sport de jour in my tiny school (there were only 25 students in the entire 8th grade, including me). Funny thing was, even though I grew up in Virginia and my school was no more than ten miles out of Washington, D.C., nobody rooted for the Washington Capitals because no one really cared about them because they really couldn’t be taken seriously. During that NHL season, I fell in love with Andy Moog, the goalie for the Boston Bruins, which then led me to fall in love with the rest of the team that included Cam Neeley, Adam Oates, Joe Juneau, and Ray Bourque. Even when Moog was traded to the Dallas Stars the following season and even though I would follow him there and root him on, the Bruins always were my hockey team, even when they lost the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 by letting in two goals in a matter of 17 seconds apart from one another. Oh, the agony.
That next NHL season found me living back in New York City in northern Manhattan. It was difficult following the Bruins since I was still living out-of-market but then I started watching the Islanders. I had always been curious of the Islanders mainly because, as a Bruins fan, I had nothing but contempt for the NY Rangers. What really got me hooked on the Islanders that season was during a regular season game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the teams went into a marathon shoot-out to determine the winner of the game with both goalies putting on a clinic. Sadly, the Islanders missed the playoffs that season but I knew I was hooked. And, to be honest, it was nice to actually root for a home team for once.
It was the following NHL season of 2014-2015 that I became a big time Islanders fan. This was the period of my life when I was at my worst with my depression and anxiety. This was when I was trying to be a grad student at an Ivy League School. This was when I was only sleeping between two to four hours a day. And it was because of that insomnia that I attached myself to the Islanders. The local New York sports channel would re-air the games of all three local hockey teams (Islanders, NJ Devils, and NY Rangers) and I couldn’t bring myself to watch the Rangers and there was no way I was ever going to root for a team from New Jersey; add to the fact I was already rooting for the Isles and I really began to follow them as a true fan. On surface level this was fun but on a deeper level it helped me survive.
During that winter, I would spend most nights in bed desperately trying to fall asleep but I never could. My anxiety would cause me to carefully rethink and analyze just about every detail and every action I had done that day. This is called ruminating. It was because of that ruminating that I couldn’t fall asleep and it continued to make my insomnia worse as time went on. To distract myself from my ruminations, I would go out to the living room, lie on the couch, and, without fail, most nights I could catch the re-airing of an Islanders game that would be on at those unholy hours of the night. Watching those games and getting into the team distracted me from my ruminations, which in turn lowered my anxiety just a bit, which in turn helped me to overcome my insomnia along with other tactics I used. It was also the last season the Islanders would be playing in their first and only home, Nassau Coliseum, and it was the season that the “YES, YES, YES” chant really took off and there was that no-loss streak in January and February. It was a fun time to be an Isles fan and it was at that point I knew there was no looking back. I was officially a fan of the New York Islanders.
Yes, I know, I wasn’t there when they were born in 1972 and were terrible. I wasn’t there when they were a dynasty in the early 1980s or for the record-setting 19 playoff series wins that still stands to this day. I wasn’t there when that dynasty collapsed or for the Easter Epic. I wasn’t a fan who had to endure the “fishsticks” fiasco or the embarrassment that was John Spano. Also, I wasn’t an Islanders fan who had to wait 23 years for the team to finally win a playoff series like they did last night (April 24, 2016) against the Florida Panthers. I’m not really looking to validate or to justify my membership into the fanbase of the Islanders because they are more than a team to me, they are a part of my mental health recovery and one of my many good things that came into my life just when I needed them to in order to help save my life. I do not write those words lightly.
I was so depressed, anxiety-ridden, and sleep deprived that I had become suicidal. The Islanders were one of the facets that helped me through that dark period of my life. I will never root for another hockey team as long as I live. I am so in debt to this team that I’m not sure I will ever be able to adequately employ the words in the English language to tell just how I feel. Not only am I happy for the team to finally get that monkey off their back and win a playoff series, but I am happy for the fanbase that has been through some of the worst things a fanbase of any team would have to endure. But most importantly, I can say that I am happy. And part of my happiness is being an Islanders fan.
Let’s go Islanders! Yes, Yes, Yes!
Oh, and I made it into the NHL’s My Playoffs Moments video for the Islanders winning the series against the Panthers. That’s me at the end. Needless to say that I was pretty happy.
-Matthew A. Sandusky