It's not often that a 15-foot pile of dirt is the life of the party, but that was the case on Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park.
Islanders season ticket members lined up to shovel a little piece of history - scooping the excavated ground of the Isles future arena into commemorative glass jars. It's less about the physical brown dirt and more about what it symbolizes, the first tangible piece of the Islanders permanent home.
"The big thing about getting the dirt is that a couple of years down the line [I'll be] looking at that arena and thinking, huh I've got the dirt from that thing. I was there," said Jon DeStefano.
Jon was one of over 2,000 season ticket members in attendance on Saturday. It was a celebration of all things Belmont, the fans' first chance to get up close to the dig site. All season ticket members in attendance were given gift bags, appropriately outfitted with Islanders hard hats, stickers and the commemorative jars. Throw in free food, drinks, chances to win prizes and alumni appearances from Bob Nystrom, Denis Potvin, John Tonelli, Butch Goring, Patrick Flatley and Ed Westfall and it was a proper party.
"It's so much fun, it's so exciting that this is finally up and running," said Joanne Mela. "It's amazing. I'll always remember that we were here."
Despite all the trappings, the main attraction was the excavation site. Construction crews were busy at work on Saturday, further digging the hole for the foundation. Islanders flags were draped over dump trucks and the obstructions were moved to give fans a clear view of the site. It's still just a hole, but to the fans - and alumni - who've waited decades, seeing a hole makes it feel even more real.
"It's absolutely awesome, it's finally real," said John Rostern, an Islanders fan since 1972, who was at the party with his son Eric. "To see this happen and to think that we're finally pretty sure we're not going to lose these guys. It's just awesome. It's the best thing that could have happened to me."
Monday's groundbreaking with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo put to bed any lingering I'll believe it when I see it skepticism, so Saturday was just about the party. Rostern still has a vile of the Coliseum ice from 2015, so adding some Belmont dirt to the collection feels like the next step.
"It's symbolic," he said. "It's a new beginning."
And according to DeStefano, who said he can already picture Mathew Barzal OT winners at the new arena, there's only one way to feel about it.
"Just a lot of hype. That's the only word to describe it," he said.
Sneaking a peek over the construction site, Mela smiled.
"We finally have a home," she said. "A real home."
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Video: Belmont Park Arena Groundbreaking