BROOKLYN -- The New York Islanders and their fans made themselves at home Saturday night.
Their new home. Well, almost.
Nine days after they opened training camp by skating on the Barclays Center ice for the first time, the Islanders were back in the $1 billion arena, which they will call home two years from now.
Their four Stanley Cup banners were hanging from the rafters, albeit temporarily. Their organ was here. Roger Luce, their public address announcer, was here. Their owner, Charles Wang, was here and dropped the ceremonial puck alongside Bruce Ratner, the visionary behind Barclays Center and the man responsible for bringing major-league sports back to Brooklyn (the NBA's Nets moved in one year ago).
A crowd of 14,689 witnessed the first NHL game to be held in this borough and created a boisterous atmosphere. This wasn't your average preseason game.
"Preseason, you don't see a crowd like that," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "The music, the atmosphere … when the guys came on the ice, you could tell. It had that feeling, just like we ended off at the Coliseum last year against Pittsburgh (in the Stanley Cup Playoffs). It was everything we expected coming here, first-class.
"Hopefully people enjoyed the game. They hadn't seen a game here. Everybody had a chance to come into the building. It was a great night."
For Islanders fans, it was a chance to test out their new digs, if only for one night. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the only place the Islanders have called home since the franchise's inception in 1972, will continue to host the team until the conclusion of the 2014-15 season.
Unfortunately for those fans, they were forced to get back on the Long Island Rail Road and head east with a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Some stellar play from Devils goaltender Cory Schneider (26 saves) and some sloppy play from the "home" team, particular on the power play (New York went 0-for-5) was too much to overcome.
The answer to the trivia question "Who was the first Islanders player to score at Barclays Center?" will have to wait a bit longer.
Instead, it was New Jersey forward Jacob Josefson who scored the first goal in this building. Josefson was able to poke a loose puck past Evgeni Nabokov 10:14 into the game after the Islanders goaltender was unable to control Anton Volchenkov's shot from the point.
Patrik Elias doubled New Jersey's lead at 4:49 of the second period. After a pretty feed from Josefson, Elias rocketed a wrist shot from the left circle past Nabokov to make it 2-0. Steve Bernier completed the scoring with a power-play goal 2:31 into the third period.
What transpired Saturday was obviously just the beginning of Islanders hockey in Brooklyn. In some ways, though, it was the culmination of the trials and tribulations Wang experienced over the past decade. After years of trying to secure a new Coliseum in Nassau County and being unable to, Wang accepted Ratner's invitation to bring the team 25 miles west to Brooklyn. The New York Islanders will remain exactly that.
"Charles tried to do something in the area that couldn't get done," Capuano said. "He kept the team in New York. We're excited about it. For our guys to come to that first practice and then leading up to this game, knowing that we were going to be sold out and have a great crowd, it was a great atmosphere.
"Nobody knew where this team was going when the lease [with Nassau County] was up in 2015, and now we know."
If Saturday was any indication, Islanders fans from New York City and Long Island will trek to Brooklyn two years from now, when the team becomes a full-time tenant. The roar the Islanders received when they took the ice was proof of that.
"It was loud when we got out there," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "It was good to see all the support, a full building. Obviously, we appreciate it. It was nice to be welcomed in this place with open arms, like everyone did."
For now, Brooklyn will go back into waiting mode. The Islanders will play the next two seasons at the Coliseum, a building out-of-date by today's standards but one loaded with history. The Islanders, who won an NHL record 19 consecutive playoff series between 1980 and 1984, clinched three of their four straight Stanley Cup championships on Coliseum ice.
With two years to go in Uniondale, they'd like to give it a going-away present.
"We're excited about the new facility, but at the same time we have a couple of years still in Nassau," left wing Matt Martin said. "It would be great to win a Cup there after all the memories. It would be nice to treat our fans to a Stanley Cup win before we come here to Brooklyn."
Led by Tavares, the Islanders boast a talented, young core that is primed to build off what they accomplished last season, when they ended a six-year playoff drought and gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a run for their money before falling in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in six games.
New York is looking to build off that this season and beyond, perhaps adding a key free agent or two in the next two summers before moving to an arena that has every amenity one can imagine.
"When the time comes," Capuano said, "we'll be excited to be here."
Judging by the atmosphere Saturday night, Brooklyn is excited they're coming.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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