I went to see the New York Islanders a couple of nights ago, and one of my lifelong goals was realized during the first intermission. After the Zamboni worked its rejuvenating magic to the rink, the Ice Girls skated out armed with their t-shirt guns. Even though I don’t want to look overeager, I always stand up, ready for that infinitesimal chance that a t-shirt might be launched my way.
Everyone wants a free t-shirt. I don’t know why the Islanders don’t just give out free t-shirts with the price of every ticket. “Welcome to the Nassau County Coliseum,” they’d usher you inside after a vigorous pat-down, “Here’s your free t-shirt.” Ticket sales would be up at every home game, I guarantee it.
But then I guess if everybody got a free t-shirt, I wouldn’t be feeling as special as I’m feeling right now. Yep, that’s right, I caught a free t-shirt. It finally happened for me. Never again am I going to come home from a game, staring at my shirtless torso in the mirror, forced only to dream of what I’d look like if only I were draped in an XL, one-size-fits-most one hundred percent white cotton tee, the New York Islanders logo screen printed on the front, an advertisement for the Roslyn Savings Bank displayed even larger on the reverse side.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. We got to the Coliseum and I hurried through my pre-game routine. To be honest, free t-shirts weren’t really even on my mind. I’m not even sure hockey was at the forefront yet.
First things first: the fifty-fifty. As far as I know, the Nassau Coliseum is the only place outside of a senior citizens’ church bingo luncheon that regularly holds a fifty-fifty. And I don’t understand why the fifty-fifty isn’t more common, because its allure is universal. Everybody put in some money, and we’ll pick one of you to win half of the total. It’s so simple, it’s genius. No gimmicks, no games. Besides going to a Seven-Eleven, buying a bunch of scratch-offs, and having the guy behind the register immediately scan the barcodes without you having even done any scratching, the fifty-fifty is about the closest you can get to straight gambling. It’s like freebasing, but on a stadium-wide level.
After that, I’ve got to swing by either Gate 7 or 15 to buy my chance to play Chuck-a-Puck. It’s another Islanders game staple. For ten bucks, you get a bag of five orange foam hockey pucks. Right after the second period ends, they put this giant bulls eye in the center of the ice. You then chuck your puck, and the closest to the middle gets a cash prize. Fifty-fifty, check, Chuck-a-Puck, check, now all I needed was a hotdog, a pretzel, a churro, and a large Mountain Dew, and I’d be ready to watch some hockey.
The Islanders were playing the Dallas Stars, and by the end of the first period, I had all but forgotten about the t-shirt guns. And boy was I happy when I saw them being locked and loaded. I needed some positivity. We all did. It wasn’t a good start to the game. The Stars scored almost immediately, and then the Isles’ goalie Evgeni Nabokov hurt his groin. Upon replacing Nabby in net, backup goalie Kevin Poulin broke in his pads by letting up another goal almost instantly. At the end of the first, it was 2-0 Dallas.
I almost didn’t even feel like standing up for the Ice Girls. Maybe if I hadn’t just watched one of the worst first periods in NHL history, I’d be more enthusiastic about waving my hands in the air for a t-shirt that was unlikely to hit my direction. But something inside pulled me to my feet, and then I saw one of the Ice Girls aim in my direction.
Boom! The t-shirt arched in the air and, right before I reached out my hand, time seemed to freeze beside me, like I could see this thing hovering right in front of my face. I looked around, all of the other fans jumping and reaching my way. But I didn’t even have to compete. It was as simple as extending my left arm and welcoming it into my open palm.
The guy sitting to my right gave me a high-five and told me, “Awesome grab man!” and for a few minutes, I was stunned, like did this really just happen? Did, after twenty-five years of attending New York Islanders games, did I just effortlessly catch a free t-shirt from an Ice Girl?
I can’t say for sure that my good fortune had anything to do with what happened next, but going into the second period, the Islanders immediately turned things around. Where the mood just moments before was grim, a current of positively charged energy jolted the crowd to its feet as the home team scored one, then two goals to tie the game, then a third one to secure the lead. As the final seconds of the game ticked by, the Isles wound up crushing the Stars with a final score of 7-4.
It was everything I could have wanted out of hockey game. You know, besides winning the fifty-fifty or the Chuck-a-Puck. And also, they were out of churros. But it’s OK, I had some Dippin’ Dots instead. Captain John Tavares scored a hat trick. I’d never seen one outside of a video game. The fans actually threw hats, it was awesome! And I won a free t-shirt. My very own free New York Islanders t-shirt.
My wife looked at it and said, “When are you going to wear an extra large t-shirt?” And I just laughed to myself, I thought, “Ha. When am I not going to wear it?” Because seriously, I’m never taking this thing off. I’ll wear it forever. I’m wearing it right now. And it didn’t cost me anything. I won it. It was free.