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Islanders' traditions right at home in Brooklyn

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The venue might be different and state of the art, but the New York Islanders aren't kidding when they say tradition has a new home.

Everything that once brightened up Nassau Coliseum -- the energetic fans, the lively chants, and, yes, even the goal horn -- made the move to Brooklyn with the Islanders.

That much was obvious Friday when the Islanders played their first regular-season game at Barclays Center, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The people who grew up Islanders fans, in one arena, partying in the parking lot and loving their 43-year-old building like it was an old friend, streamed off the subways and Long Island Rail Road and began treating their new home with the same reverence and respect.

"The atmosphere was great," said Islanders captain John Tavares, who scored the first goal for the home team in its new building 5:22 into the second period. "Our fans were into it, behind us like they always are. Certainly they brought that tradition over from the Coliseum.

"Everything was really similar, as much as it could be."

Old met new outside Barclays Center hours before the puck drop as fans streamed out of the train station wearing sweaters from every generation of Islanders hockey, from Bryan Trottier to Tavares, Mike Bossy to Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome to Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies to Matt Martin, Billy Smith to Jaroslav Halak, even with a mixture of Pierre Turgeon, Miroslav Satan and Doug Weight tossed in.

They made their presence felt during and after warmups, loudly chanting "Let's go Islanders!"

The opening video montage was perfect for the moment, paying homage to Nassau Coliseum and the history the Islanders created there while mixing that with Brooklyn and images of the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island and, eventually, Barclays Center.

The fans cheered loudly when they saw the Coliseum in the video. They chanted its name too. They won't let it go quietly, won't let it be forgotten. They shouldn't.

Nassau Coliseum was home for 43 years. It was where Islanders' hockey was born and where all the great memories in franchise history were created.

But Barclays Center is home now, and the fans proved they are ready to embrace it after a long goodbye to their old friend in Uniondale, N.Y.

"It's a beautiful place, and obviously it's a little different than the Coliseum, but the fans were into it, and if we can have that every game, I don't want to say the Coliseum will be missed, but the one thing about the Coliseum that was so special is how loud it is and they did a good job of turning this rink into that," Islanders forward Matt Martin said. "Everyone is talking about, 'Does this feel like home?' If the fans are like that every night, it definitely will."

Following the pregame video, the lights dimmed and the Islanders came onto the ice in unison with Coldplay's "Fix You" playing. They formed a circle around the center-ice logo, the one depicting Long Island, the one that has never changed and never should.

Long Island native Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of Billy Joel, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." Trottier, Bossy, Nystrom and Smith joined the ownership group led by Charles Wang on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop between Tavares and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

Finally, after the pomp and circumstance, the Brooklyn era officially began with so many sounds from the Coliseum days, including the organ, the public address announcer, the chants, and eventually, the goal horn.

"It's a good thing for the Islanders," said Mike Filaski of Bethpage, N.Y. "It's not the Coliseum, but it's the next best thing. It'll be good to attract more free agents. We all just have to get used to it, but when 'Johnny T' scored, you heard this place erupt.

"They have to win. That's all that matters. If they win, this place makes it."

That's all Tavares and the Islanders are trying to do for their fans, who are now a commuting crowd instead of a tailgating crowd.

"I don't think you ever want to change what the Islanders are, what they represent, what they've done and certainly what we're trying to do," Tavares said. "I know our fans are passionate about that, the organization is that way, and the guys in here understand that as well. I've been around a lot of former players and you understand that. The people here have embraced that well."

Like anything else that's new, it'll take some getting used to, this commute to the games, this modern building.

"It feels new and it's going to take time to get used to it, but I love the fact that the fan base is here, still chanting," said Eric Haruthunian, a 37-year-old Farmingdale, N.Y. native who has been coming to Islanders games since he was a boy. "I'm going to liken it to a new pair of jeans: You like them, but you've gotta break them in. It's a good vibe."

It felt like the same vibe, only in a different venue.


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