Maybe Nassau Coliseum isn't really on wheels. Maybe that white, circular barn of a building the Islanders call home actually does stay put in the middle of what seems to be nowhere. Situated in what the post office calls Uniondale, it is surrounded by highways, all apparently going in the same direction.

Cynics, frequently misguided ones from New Jersey, insist the building is rolled to different locations constantly, because it always appears on a different part of the horizon along the Meadowbrook Parkway.

But don't expect the Islanders to confirm that.

"On wheels?" said Bob Bourne with a laugh. "Is it really hard to find?" Not for Bourne, who's been an Islander 10 years. "I never thought of it like that. I never had a problem. The highways are really very simple out here."

Out here. About 25 miles from Manhattan, beyond the shadow of Madison Square Garden's Rangers, the Islanders play big-time hockey. They have brought the Stanley Cup to Nassau Coliseum three times, and hope to repeat that feat Tuesday night when their final series resumes here against Edmonton, with the Islanders up, 3-0.

They are officially called the New York Islanders, but like their logo, with the map of Long Island crossing the tail of the "Y," they belong to suburbia.

When they first won the Stanley Cup in May 1980, there were murmurs about a ticker tape parade down Broadway, in the manner of astronauts or returned hostages. After all, this was the first New York hockey team to win the Stanley Cup since 1940.

Instead, the Islanders held a triumphant march along Hempstead Turnpike, which starts as a highway and winds into a street seemingly lined with every store in the Nassau County Yellow Pages.

"It wasn't the ticker tape style they'd have in New York," said Mike Bossy. "But it suits us fine. We finish the parade out here in Eisenhower Park, and we draw quite a handsome crowd of people, considering where it is."

Bossy, like his teammates, will venture into "the city" a few times a season. "I'm not the theater type," he said. "We may go shopping once in awhile, but really, there's enough out here, too."

Out here, in Islanders territory, are shopping malls with the big stores, and more movie theaters than Edmonton, Alberta, could ever accommodate.

"Long Island is like a Canadian City, eh?" said Islanders Coach Al Arbour. "Good sports programs for the kids (Arbour's daughters play soccer) and plenty to do. It's not that big an adjustment for a kid from a small Canadian city, or from a farm."

Bourne is a farm boy, from Saskatoon. "Back there, I'd go to the bank or the store, and it would take two minutes," he said. "Here, you drive, and drive and drive." Bourne doesn't seek out Manhattan's restuarants or parties, but drives into the city when his son Jeffrey, born with a spinal defect, visits a doctor or hospital. "I hate the bridges, the tunnel," he said. "It's almost an hour each way." He shook his head. He would rather stay out on the island.

"When I first heard I was coming to New York, I became very concerned about all the crime you hear about," said Bob Nystrom. "I thought, what kind of place am I coming to? But I had such an easy time adjusting. You can go to the beach every day here. This isn't New York as everybody thinks of it. I still have trouble convincing people how beautiful it is here."

Nystrom met his wife Michele when he was doing a hockey clinic at a local mall. "I spotted her in the crowd and when she started to leave, I told a kid to take over while I went after her." He remains on Long Island year round, as do at least half his teammates. "This is home. I can't think of living anywhere else," he said.

Most of the Islanders live on Long Island's north shore, clustering in leafy suburbia among neighbors who know them more as neighbors than heroes. Consequently, according to Bourne, every Islander feels a part of a community and works with at least one charity.

"It's because you feel this need to give something back to people you're close to," said Bossy. "In return for what we've been able to get."

What the Islanders get is loyalty that borders on, but isn't quite, fanaticism. Not in the sense of some of the Rangers' followers, who express themselves via obscenities painted on bedsheets.

Islanders fans offer simple name banners to each and every player and deck themselves out as Stanley Cups and anticipate, even expect, a Stanley Cup every spring. They eagerly turn up at practices, hoping somehow to insure another cup.

Sometimes, on nongame days, the Islanders skate at a tiny, darkened rink in Cantiague Park, a few miles from the Coliseum. There is a guard and a woman at a desk, busy with a crochet hook. "You're here to see practice?" she asks. "You pay here."

Yes, loyalty carries a price tag, even at practice.

But that scarcely bothers the faithful. They show up, clad in "I Love the Sutter Brothers" sweatshirts and lugging broken sticks to be autographed. Babies toddle around wearing Islanders' bibs. "Bring Fourth the Cup" is smeared with strained apple sauce.

Making his way from the dressing room, out across the floor to the ice, Denis Potvin is stopped to pose for a picture. So is Billy Smith. So is Bryan Trottier. They oblige, with smiles.

"The fans here, they feel very close to us, like they can come up and touch us, and talk to us," said Nystrom.

And they do just that, although one topic puzzles Bourne. "Whenever I talk to fans here, all they want to talk about is one thing," he said. "How we can beat the Rangers."