For the New York Islanders, Friday represented the start of new age. For Barclays Center, Friday represented the start of an ice age.
The Islanders played the first regular-season game at Barclays Center on Friday, a 3-2 OT loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The night marked the end of a three-year process to bring the Islanders to Brooklyn and also the start of a new journey for the team.
All of the tangible parts of the new arena were in place prior to Friday’s opener, from the Islanders massive new locker room to MSG’s TV studio, to the Islanders banners hanging in the rafters. The Islanders knew what the building would look like when the puck dropped, but one question remained: what would it sound like?
“You hope we can get that same atmosphere we had last season, that same energy in the building,” Matt Martin said one day before the game. “A lot of that is going to be up to us to provide that.”
In hindsight, to have even asked the question seems ridiculous; subdued isn’t in the Brooklyn or Long Island lexicon. The crowd brought their lungs, getting rowdy even before the first faceoff. They cheered for the opening video, a digital journey from Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center and chanted “Ar-Bour!” in a tribute to the legendary coach who passed away in August.
They embraced the Islanders as they took the ice and you could tell it had been a long five months apart.
“It was a great atmosphere,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “You don’t really know what it’s going to feel like until you get out there, but I thought the fans were into it, it was loud. Obviously a different atmosphere than the Coliseum, but I think the guys were looking forward to this game and dropping the puck tonight.”
Still, any lingering doubts, heard from the whispers between fans on the concourse were put to bed in the second period. Tavares did what he does best, stickhandling his way from the side of the net out front, before burying a goal – his own rebound – from inside eight feet. The crowd roared, the horn blared and then Islanders fans instinctively reached for the sky and yelled Yes! Yes! Yes!
No, this didn’t happen on Hempstead Turnpike, but it sounded like it did.
“It was pretty close,” Martin said. “This was a very loud place to play and our fans did a great job of staying in it tonight and helping us push through that game.”
There is a lot to like about the new building, especially from the player’s standpoint. Their locker room is massive, with everything they could possibly want or need available to them.
“It’s a world-class facility,” Travis Hamonic said. “It’s got to be one of the nicest rinks in the league in our quarters downstairs, the dressing room, weight room and everything else.”
The amenities for the fans are lot nicer as well. The concourses – now there is more than one – are bigger, the bathroom lines are smaller and there are more food and drink options. The obvious downside for some fans is a longer commute, but Greg and Michelle Hayden – Islanders fans from Sayville – said, it’s better than Kansas City.
The Islanders feel that way too. John Tavares doesn’t remembers the day the Islanders move to Brooklyn was announced. The where and when are a little fuzzy (he was playing in Switzerland during the 2012-13 lockout), but the feeling of relief is vivid. He wanted to stay on Long Island and by only moving 30 miles west, he has.
“When it was announced it was a lot of change, but you finally knew where you were going to be in a couple of years,” Tavares said. “It was just nice to know where you are going to be. We all love playing for the Islanders and we were all happy things were able to work out and we were able to stay where we are.”
Of course, playing for the Islanders is special because they get to play in front of Islanders fans. They thrive off the passion in the stands, one of the factors Capuano and company said led them to a 25-14-2 record at home last season. Now, the Islanders and fans have expectations of one another, regardless of the change in venue.
“It was pretty loud, but I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Johnny Boychuk said. “[Friday’s OT loss] not the outcome that we wanted, but they came out and cheered us on proudly. It’ll be a good atmosphere.”
Friday was just the start.