Organ transplant! Islanders brought a little bit of home to Barclays Center

Organ transplant! Islanders brought a little bit of home to Barclays Center
Photo by Jason Speakman

When the Islanders decamped from Long Island to Brooklyn, the team brought along a piece of its history — the original organ from the Nassau Coliseum.

Some might even call it the beating heart of the franchise.

“It really is a signature sound at Isles games,” said the team’s longtime organist, Paul Cartier, who will be playing for the fans at its new home.

True fans will recognize the familiar combination of traditional songs and contemporary pop coming from the freshly transplanted organ at Isles games in the upcoming season.

“A lot of Islanders fans are worried the move to Brooklyn means a loss of tradition, and rightfully so. So it’s smart that the Islanders are bringing Paul Cartier and his organ to Barclays. It’s a touch of the familiar,” said Nicholas Hirshon, author of “Images of America: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.”

As more stadiums and sports franchises switch to computerized soundboards, a traditional stadium organ such as the Islanders’ 366-pound Lowry Sensation is something of a retro curiosity. But Hirshon said that a real instrument at the fingertips of an experienced maestro such as Cartier — also plays for the New York Yankees — can engage fans in a way nothing else can.

“Organs add charm to the game experience, and also some mischief,” said Hirshon. “An organist can communicate messages that the scoreboard operator can’t. With a few notes, [Cartier] could get 16,000 people to chant, ‘Let’s go Islanders!’ to get fans back into the game — even if they felt like burying their faces in their hands.”

Cartier is a lifelong Isles fan, and was at the team’s very first game at age 12.

“I grew up and went to school in the shadows of the Nassau Coliseum,” he said.

He began playing for the Islanders in 1979, occasionally filling in for the Isles’ original organist Fred Mendelson, who hooked Cartier up with his first gig at the Nassau stadium.

“I mentioned that I played, and that my brother had season tickets. This meant I was there almost every game,” Cartier said. “[Mendelson] asked me to come upstairs to the organ, which I did the next game. He had me play right then, between periods of an Isles game.”

When there was an opening for an organist with a new indoor soccer team playing at the coliseum, Cartier got the gig, and filled in for Mendelson at Islanders games before replacing him full-time when his mentor retired in 2004. He even had the honor of playing at the games when the Isles won two of the team’s four Stanley Cup victories.

The familiar sound of Cartier’s organ will greet fans at the Islanders’ first game of the 2015-2016 season against the Chicago Blackhawks at Barclays Center on Oct. 9.