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Islanders enjoy taste of Brooklyn, focus on present

by Dan Rosen

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- As the team bus rolled out of the Nassau Coliseum parking lot and headed west on the Long Island Expressway toward Brooklyn, New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic stared out the window and thought about the changes coming.

"Getting here, you're trying to figure out the plan of how you're going to fight the traffic to get in," Hamonic said. "Probably the train is one of the best options. I'm sure with more time it's going to feel at home."

Barclays Center started to feel a little more like home to the Islanders on Friday than it did a year ago. It was their second preseason game in as many Septembers in their future home, but this one felt different.

Barclays Center started to feel a little more like home to the New York Islanders on Friday than it did a year ago, but the focus remains on giving Nassau Coliseum a proper sendoff. (Photo: Getty Images)

New York's four Stanley Cup championship banners from Nassau Coliseum were hanging in the rafters and the players were more familiar about where to go in the arena and how to get to the ice even though their dressing room and team facilities won't be built until the spring.

They heard the goal horn for the first time, twice in the first 11:33 of the first period in fact, after getting shut out last season. They got a win against the New Jersey Devils, 3-2 in a shootout in front of a crowd of 11,823.

"Even looking back to last year it was a neat experience just because of everything that was going on around here, but we're 12 months away from starting the real thing here," Hamonic said. "I don't know if it was in our head, but it did feel a little more like home."

Except Barclays Center is not the Islanders home, at least not yet. It will be in a year, but a year is enough time to define the direction the Islanders are headed, whether they're steaming toward a grand opening in Brooklyn with a contending team or putt-putting to a slow death in Nassau County with yet another disappointing season.

"For a lot of us, we understand the importance of this year and the disappointment of last year," Islanders captain John Tavares said.

So as much as this season is about preparing for the move to Brooklyn, hyping it by using slogans such as "Tradition has a new home," selling their current fans on taking the train to the game and selling tickets to new fans in Brooklyn, to the Islanders the move and hype about Barclays Center ended Friday night.

"Back to business," Tavares said. "Back to the Coliseum."

The employees in the Islanders business office might be selling Barclays Center as a modern, chic, state-of-the-art new home for a storied hockey franchise, but the players are pitching the present, winning, and a return to glory in their old barn to give it a proper sendoff.

To them, the move to Barclays Center doesn't represent a fresh start as much as it does a chance at a last hurrah in Nassau Coliseum. To the Islanders, this season is about to giving the people that have been coming the building on Hempstead Turnpike over the past 44 years a reason a reason to scream their orange and blue painted heads off once inside.


"We know the history. The fans know the history. There are so many great things that happened in that old Coliseum," Hamonic said. "I couldn't believe how loud it was a couple of years ago when we played Pittsburgh [in the Stanley Cup Playoffs]. It was a crazy atmosphere. Our fans deserve it."

The only way for the Islanders to shake the cobwebs from the rafters at the Coliseum is to make sure the building's dim lights shine during the playoffs. Tavares said the Islanders should be able to make it happen. They're finally built to do it.

"We've been here for a long time and there has been a lot of talk about when we get older and when guys develop," he said. "Well I think that time is here."

There's a lot of that type of thinking going on around the Islanders.

One team official was saying Friday night that in his nine seasons with the Islanders he could not remember a training camp like this one, where jobs are up for grabs and there appears to be more supply than demand.

"[General manager] Garth [Snow] did a great job and now it's up to us to play," Hamonic said. "We have the personnel in this camp."

The Islanders are particularly loaded at center with Tavares, Mikhail Grabovski, Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey and Casey Cizikas all capable of playing the position.

Grabovski was signed to be the No. 2 center, but coach Jack Capuano has used him on the left wing with Nelson in the middle and Nikolay Kulemin on the right. If that line continues to play well and sticks, Strome will either have to play left wing or start the season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

The latter would have been ridiculous to consider just a few years ago, when the Islanders had so few quality veteran scorers that instead of sending players like Bailey back to junior for the 2008-09 season they used him for 15 and a half minutes per game.

They don't have to do those things now. Strome has to win his spot in training camp like any other 21-year-old player.

"Obviously we made some big additions this summer, a lot of people are talking about where a lot of us are in our careers, where we've come from and the depth we have in the organization now, so certainly it's a big year," Tavares said. "We have a lot to prove."

Before they move.


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