NEW YORK -- It will be another two years until the New York Islanders officially leave the long, storied history of Long Island behind for their new home in Brooklyn, but Saturday was the first taste of what is to come in an exciting new era for the organization.
Just like the surprise playoff experience last spring managed to bring a level of excitement long lost for the beleaguered organization, so did the team’s debut in its future home -- the state-of-the-art Barclays Center.
A 3-0 loss to the Devils derailed some of the novelty that came with the first NHL game in Brooklyn, but there was a buzz about the building from the 14,689 in attendance Saturday night.
Aesthetically, it seemed appropriate to have sleek, shiny, modern new digs for a young, talented Islanders team that seems to be on the precipice of making the next big step.
“The atmosphere was great and it was a lot of fun to play in this building, so that part was good,” said 2013 Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares, recently named the team’s new captain.
Though Tavares was a big reason the old, decrepit Nassau Coliseum was rocking last spring -- when rabid fans packed the old barn for the team’s first playoff appearance in six years -- he knows they have been eagerly awaiting a new facility.
“Hopefully fans can take away something from tonight and being part of it,” he said.
Among fans, the experienced was varied. Though the configurations of the arena -- originally outfitted to host basketball -- offer a more intimate appeal, the venue was not designed with hockey in mind (it holds a capacity of 15,813). Because of that, there were sections of seating with obstructed views and challenging site lines.
“It’s a hockey rink crammed into a concert hall,” said Chris Elwood, 32, of Babylon.
Elwood came with his daughter and a group of her Lady Islanders 12-and-under hockey team (which played on the ice earlier that day) and had trouble seeing the action when the puck was behind the net closest to the West End area.
Seth Polan had a similar complaint, though he was seated much closer to the ice in section 009, row 14, seat 8. The 44-year-old Polan said he and his buddies had a tough time seeing the right corner of the ice, though that was partly because they had such "prime seats."
After one period of play, he wasn’t ready to weigh in just yet.
"It's too early," said the Holbrook resident.
Polan's friend Richard Seeger, who came to the game in a vintage Team USA Ken Morrow jersey, was already sold after 20 minutes of play.
“The seats are shallower, which is cool because you get to see more of the player,” said Seeger, 44, of Massapequa. “It’s great. I love it. No complaints.”
Besides the expected gripes about the sight lines and obstructed views, there was some additional grumbling from smokers, who couldn’t find a place to light up their cigarettes -- the arena is smoke-free, as is the surrounding campus -- but overall, fans were pleased with the new facility in terms of aesthetics, ambiance and convenience.
Jennifer DeCarli, 40, came to the game with her boyfriend Frank Palozzolo. Though Palozzolo hails from Long Island, he has since moved to Park Slope, making the Islanders’ future move extra appealing -- “It’s only a 20-minute walk home!” -- for the couple.
“He’s so excited,” she said.
The Islanders seemed so too, even if the excitement was dampened by the loss.
Still, Barclays Center isn’t their home quite yet. Until then, the Islanders feel they have work to do.
“We have two more years at Nassau and there’s big history there,” said gritty forward Matt Martin, an Islander fan favorite. “They won four Stanley Cups there in that arena. It’s a franchise that’s been around for a long time and it would be great for fans to see us win another Stanley Cup there before we go to Brooklyn.”