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Some Islanders fans give new Brooklyn digs the Bronx cheer

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Sitting on the train on his way to work, New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk was sipping his coffee when a fellow passenger approached him.

Boychuk figured this would be the first of many encounters as part of his new game-day routine: using public transportation from Long Island to Barclays Center, the new home for Islanders hockey.

"Are you Daniel Murphy?" the passenger asked, mistaking Boychuk for the New York Mets infielder.

"Who?" Boychuk jokingly answered back.

"I get that a lot," he said later.

Since the Islanders left their longtime home -- the Nassau Coliseum -- last spring and officially moved into Barclays Friday night when they hosted the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, Boychuk and his teammates have been adjusting to their new routines. The entire team still lives on the island, and most avoid driving into the city because of traffic, and instead take the 50-minute train ride in.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano doesn't want any distractions, so his philosophy about the move is simple.

"Don't even talk about it," Capuano said.

Distraction?

"No, it's not," he said. "We knew the time was going to come eventually, but we don't talk about it anymore. It's a routine we have to go through as professionals. A lot of teams and players do it, and coaching staffs do it. So, we're here and now we play."

Normally, players go home after a morning skate for a pregame nap and meal, but the Islanders use a team hotel in Brooklyn. Most players actually like it because it allows them, similar to a road game, to focus only on hockey.

Friday's game was sold out and the members of the Blue and Orange Army were out in full force. The players hope it stays that way.

"We have some loyal fans from the island and it's a pretty easy commute for them, and hopefully we'll have some new fans in Brooklyn," Boychuk said.

Recently, Boychuk received a tour of the building and saw how different it is compared to other hockey arenas in the league.

"This was for a basketball team and not a hockey team when they designed it and built it, but so far it's been good to us and it'll be a fun place to play," he said.

When the doors opened, and fans began to file into the arena, it was evident the level of curiosity was pretty high.

Long Island native and lifelong Islanders fan James Beatty had mixed feelings about his team's new home.

"I hate the move," Beatty said. "I'm from Long Beach on Long Island and I was 20 minutes from the Coliseum. I was spoiled and I loved it. The place was great. People call it a dump, but it was home for us. [Barclays] doesn't have the same feel."

Islanders legend and Hall of Famer Mike Bossy, who participated in the pregame ceremonies, had a message for those fans who are bitter about the move.

"New sometimes is difficult to adjust to, but I think they're going to enjoy it here and the team is good," said Bossy, who worked for the MSG Network last season.

Because the arena was built for basketball and the Brooklyn Nets, the hockey sight lines are a bit different from the other rinks in the league. Some of what should be the best seats in the house have obstructed views, including the lower bowl, where it's hard to see into the corners. A few rows behind one net can be described as the best seats in hockey -- or the worst. In the first couple of rows you're over the glass, but a few seats back you can't see the net or the corners below. Lifelong Brooklyn native David Chimes spent $75 to sit in the Islanders' end directly behind the net. Normally that would be prime real estate at a hockey game, but from his third-row seat he could see only three-quarters of the ice. Everything from the top of the circles to the end boards was obstructed and he was forced to stand and lean over the railing when the play came closest to him.

"It's a little frustrating, but for one day I had to do it," Chimes said. "I'm not going to complain on this historic night, but I wouldn't market these seats."

"It's been OK so far, but looking at some of the seating, it's not good," said Beatty. "Where I'm sitting [section 210], I'm OK, but if I were a fan coming here, I would definitely look into your seats before you buy them."

The ice surface is not centered in the arena and the video board is off center too. Barclays Center capacity for Brooklyn Nets games is 17,732. Overall, the arena holds 19,000, but for hockey it becomes the second-smallest rink in the league with a capacity of 15,795. Only Winnipeg's MTS Centre is smaller with 15,004 for Jets games.

"I'm used to the Coliseum. I'm used to seeing everything. Our limited view was you couldn't see the scoreboard," Beatty said. "You could see the whole ice but you couldn't see the scoreboard. I love the place and I wish we were still there. I'm here now and I've got to do what I've got to do. Hopefully we'll be back at the Coliseum in three years."

Many fans took the train into Brooklyn and they found it accommodating.

"Actually, that was the greatest point so far tonight," Beatty said. "There were a lot of fans on the train. It was packed and 'Let's go, Islanders' chants was going on. That was fun. So far, I'm having a good time. I've got good seats and we'll see."

After the Islanders' 3-2 overtime loss, captain John Tavares said playing in the new arena still felt like home.

"The atmosphere was great. Our fans were behind us and into it like they always are and they certainly brought that tradition over from the Coliseum," said Tavares, who scored the first goal in the new building.

"It's no secret it's a new time for the franchise. It's certainly a little different and it'll take some getting used to. It's new but you never want to change what the Islanders are, what they represent, what they've done and certainly what they're trying to do. I know our fans are passionate about that."

It's also a new experience for visiting teams.

"It will be fun to break in a new building," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

Nassau Coliseum was dated, but many players admit it was still a fun building to play in no matter which team you played for.

"There's a lot of history there with all the teams in the '80s that won the Stanley Cup," said the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane. "Everyone in that crowd loves hockey and are big Islanders fans. That was a fun place to go in and play, just like an old barn. It's sad to see those places go. Even one of my favorite rinks today to go and play is Joe Louis Arena, just because of the history and how old it is. Sometimes those rinks are fun to go into but I'm sure that place will be missed."

The new slogan is "Tradition's New Home."

The Islanders and Barclays Center are trying to maintain many of the traditions from the 43-year history at Nassau Coliseum. The organ and organist, Paul Cartier, will play every game at Barclays. The original Stanley Cup banners were moved and hang from the rafters. Banners of the retired Islanders legends, including players, former coach Al Arbour and "The Architect" Bill Torrey, along with division and conference championship banners, were hung before Friday's pregame ceremonies.

Oh, and after much debate and the trashing of a subway car-inspired horn, the goal horn made the move too.

As a 12-year-old kid in 1972, Cartier, a native of Long Island, went to the first-ever Islanders game, and his sounds have been entertaining fans since he began playing at the Coliseum as a teenager.

"This team is my team," he said. "I grew up with the team there, so it's a little tough to swallow, but it's a new building and that's what we've been looking for. It's going to take a little getting used to.

"They've worked very hard at trying to bring the Coliseum here, and now it's just a matter of getting the fans to embrace it."

It didn't take long for the players to find a favorite local restaurant to have lunch.

Directly behind Barclays Center is a great little Italian place on Dean Street called Broccolino. Giuseppe Piazzolla is the owner and he's thrilled with having the Islanders as his new neighbors.

"It's exciting," Piazzolla said. "It means a lot to me that they come and enjoy my food. It's not about the money. Sometimes you do something because you like to do it. Sometimes having the players come in here is great. It makes me proud what I'm doing and it means I'm doing a good job and people like it, which is the most important thing to me."

Piazzolla opened his restaurant at the same time the arena was completed in 2012. The neighborhood is thriving and continues to grow with new construction.

"If you look at the calendar now, almost every day there's an event," Piazzolla said. "Of course it's going to help businesses and new business is going to come up, for sure. The area will benefit because it's going to bring more people and it will mean more business for everybody. I believe the Islanders are going to help a lot."

The pregame ceremony was outstanding.

There was a strong video presentation that both honored the Nassau Coliseum and featured Brooklyn officially welcoming the Islanders to town. Chants of "Let's go, Islanders" began when the team took the ice.

In a classy move, the entire team stood around the logo at center ice and the Islanders raised their sticks to salute the fans. The video presentation also honored Arbour and had a moment of silence for the legendary coach who passed away in August.

The rousing pregame ceremony was also highlighted by the national anthem sung by Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of legendary singer/songwriter Billy Joel. A lifelong resident of Long Island, Joel played 31 shows at Nassau Coliseum, including the final show on Aug. 4, 2015. It was only fitting that his daughter helped the Islanders open their new home in Brooklyn.

"It was cool," Bossy said. "The building is beautiful. The atmosphere and excitement was at a high and it's nice to see the team in cool digs."

During the first intermission, Islanders owner Charles Wang was signing autographs for fans in between his various commitments. Wang is happy with the transition to the new building.

"I think it's very nice," Wang said. "The fans have a great new home and you can see the excitement is there and everything is here; that's what we dreamed would happen in Nassau County, but it didn't happen and we're here. We're in New York."

His message to the fans is a clear one.

"Embrace the team," he said. "We have a great team. Let's not forget that and let's make sure that the players, all the fans are supportive of something that's so unbelievable."