Whenever I hazily remember something now, I look to the Internet for confirmation or corroboration. It’s bothersome, then, when there is no online evidence of something I am certain happened. This story came up a couple of weeks ago while I was making paper airplanes with my 2-year-old nephew. I pursued it later and found nothing, though I didn’t even know where to start with search terms. Like I said, my memory of the event is hazy, but in the interest of getting it documented, here’s what I remember:
During what I believe was the 1990-91 NHL season, I went to an Islanders game with my brother and a couple of friends. We were never huge hockey fans, but we grew up about 10 minutes from Nassau Coliseum and wound up going to Islanders games a few times a season. The Isles’ run of early-80s greatness came before I appreciated sports, but in the late part of the decade they added a couple of ruthless goons we liked to go see, Mick Vukota and Ken Baumgartner.
This particular night was Dental Hygiene Awareness night, and at the door they gave everyone small posters — probably about 17 x 11 inches — to celebrate the event. The posters were glossy and printed on good, sturdy stock, and featured an Islander with a man-sized turquoise toothbrush.
I want to say it was Pat LaFontaine, but I’m almost certain it wasn’t — we would have been more excited about it if it were LaFontaine, since he was the Isles’ main dude then. I’m pretty sure it was some complementary Isle, like Pat Flatley or Brent Sutter. All I know for sure is he was standing there with an enormous toothbrush on a poster begging to be framed in kid-friendly dentists’ offices everywhere.
By the second period, the Isles were getting their asses kicked, as they were wont to do back then (see also: now). I can’t remember the score or who they were playing.
But crystal clear in my memory is the sight of a single dental-hygiene-awareness-poster airplane floating lazily down from the Coliseum’s upper levels and onto the ice. It touched down between the blue lines, just shy of the faceoff circle, away from the action but prominently enough for everyone in the arena to notice it.
Within minutes, the ice was blanketed in paper airplanes. Everybody in the Coliseum got into the act. There were trick planes and gliders and all sorts of fancy origami creations, but mostly the standard dart-style plane, only bigger and stronger thanks to the medium. The suckers were flying everywhere, a swarm of tartar-control locusts wildly descending on the rink. Not all the planes made it to the ice on first flight, but fans all over the arena were happy to relaunch the ones that didn’t. We started with four posters, but between us we must have thrown 15 onto the ice. Bedlam.
The refs stopped play and the P.A. announcer begged fans to stop throwing foreign objects onto the ice, and also asked fans to report anyone they saw doing so. I remember a funny guy a few rows ahead of us standing up and pointing in every which direction. There was no way to single out the instigators; it was an arena-wide mutiny against crappy hockey, and, presumably, dogmatic proponents of dental hygiene.
Eventually, a cleanup crew cleared the ice and the Isles prepared to resume play. Then came the part I wasn’t expecting: Moments after the horn sounded and play started up again, another round of airplanes immediately swooped down and covered the ice. Whoom. The second set felt more premeditated, nastier. They came from the fans who actually thought to hang onto their airplanes for a chance to interrupt play again, a group that apparently had more arm strength or better aim than the general arena populace. The second wave of planes almost universally reached the ice.
The refs stopped play again, the cleanup crew again cleared the ice, and from there, the teams played mostly uninterrupted hockey. A few more planes trickled onto the rink later in the game, but there weren’t enough posters left in fans’ hands to stop play again.
That happened. I’m sketchy on the details, but I wanted to make sure the Internet knew about it.