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New, old important as Islanders open in Brooklyn

by Brian Compton

NEW YORK -- Tradition has a new home.

That's the slogan Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark and his staff are using in regard to where the New York Islanders will play their home games after 43 years at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, starting with the season-opener Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, CSN-CH, MSG+).

A capacity crowd is expected for the Islanders' first regular-season game at Barclays Center, a state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2012. Yormark admitted he's trying to expand the fan base in Brooklyn, but he's more than pleased that 30 percent of ticket buyers reside in Nassau County or Suffolk County on Long Island. In their final season at the Coliseum, the Islanders won 47 games and had 101 points. They're primed to contend again in the Metropolitan Division this season.

"I'm thrilled with the fact that many Long Islanders are going to make their way to Brooklyn," Yormark said. "The number continuously increases. I think collectively between what [Islanders general manager] Garth [Snow] has done from a product perspective and obviously the Barclays Center, the market, the experience here, I think working in tandem, we've given people a reason to follow this team to Brooklyn.

"When I first embarked on this venture, I said, 'I'm not sure how many people from Long Island are going to come here.' I just wasn't sure. At the time the product wasn't great, we were just getting started. Obviously the product has turned. The team has an incredibly bright future. People understand the Barclays Center, so they know it's a great place to see an event. The experience here is terrific."

Just as it will be a new experience for Islanders fans, the commute to work for the players drastically has changed. Instead of the 10-15 minute drive to the Coliseum for morning skates and games, several of the players will use the Long Island Rail Road to get to Barclays Center. They will stay in hotels for pregame naps, head back to the arena for the game and then take a car service home.

"It's kind of fun, really," Islanders forward Matt Martin said. "You've got eight guys sitting on the train, talking. It's consistent too; you don't have to worry about any traffic. As long as the trains are running we'll be all right."

The Islanders played three preseason games at Barclays Center to help ease the adjustment into their new home. Ten of their first 15 regular-season games will be in Brooklyn, so it shouldn't take long to get acclimated.

"The more you're there the more it's going to become normal and natural," captain John Tavares said. "Things become so routine, habits become so easy. The more you're there the easier it gets. Doing it three times [during the preseason], you definitely get a sense of what the day's like and then certainly preparing for the game.

"I think we all found it pretty easy taking the train in and being in Brooklyn for the whole day and just taking it easy after being at the rink in the morning. It should work out well."

"It's travel arrangements for guys going in, meeting times are a little bit different, pregame skates; obviously we were close last year and a lot of them were optional," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "What are we going to do this year with travel of an hour in? Guys will have day rooms now. I think guys are really starting to get acclimated now and it won't be any kind of a distraction for us."

Yormark has tried to walk the fine line of implementing Brooklyn while preserving and respecting the Islanders' history. Their banners will hang from the rafters of Barclays Center and the Islanders will continue to wear their traditional home and away sweaters. A new third jersey was unveiled last month that is black and white, much like the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, who also play at Barclays Center.

The New York Islanders start a new era with their move to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center. While some routines will change, they want to preserve as much of their tradition as possible. (Photo: Getty Images)

Last week a goal horn was introduced, much to the dismay of a large portion of the fan base. Following an outcry on social media, Yormark and his staff pulled the plug and will use the horn fans heard at the Coliseum during the past 15 years.

"I don't think I was as sensitive to it," Yormark said when asked if he underestimated the passion of the Islanders' fan base. "I'm learning, like everyone else. What I did last year, I went out to [the Coliseum] three times a month and I hosted season-ticket holder forums. I wanted to hear from the fans, what they were thinking. Some of the things, if not many of them that we decided to do, was based on what we heard, whether it was maintaining some of the traditions, or enhance Long Island Rail Road service, a weekend plan for partial [tickets] … many of these things came to us from season-ticket holders. I think that was probably my biggest mistake, was not learning first and thinking, 'Boy, maybe I can kind of try and overly Brooklyn-ize the team.' That was my thought because the difference between the Islanders' move and the Nets' was the Nets was a blank canvas.

"Fans were very outspoken about not changing the primary jersey, home and away. Not that we had thought about it, but I'm sure at some point in time it crossed our minds. Do you change it? What do you do with it? After hearing from all the fans, we decided we can't touch that. That's sacred ground."

The Islanders will wear the third jersey 12 times during the season, beginning with a game against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 3 at Barclays Center. But when the season opens Friday, it will be all about the tradition Yormark is hoping will make the trip about 30 miles west of the Coliseum.

"There will be a lot of surprises, I think," Yormark said of the opener. "Ninety percent of what we're doing on opening night you'll see here every night. It's not like we're just building for opening night. We want this to be a dramatic evening out for everyone that comes here, 44 nights a year. We're excited.

"We've learned a lot the last two years; we really have. Hockey fans seem to be a little different than NBA fans. They're very engaged, they're avid, they're hardcore. When we say or do things that they don't like, they let me know about it. But it's been a great experience."

Now it's up to the players to create an environment that will be difficult for the opposition. The Islanders went 25-14-2 at the Coliseum last season, and they'll need a similar home record at Barclays Center in order to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I think we've got to make it a tough place to play," Tavares said. "Obviously our fans do a great job of playing in a great atmosphere. They're loud and they're behind us and they give us an extra boost. For us, that was a big part of our success last year, our play within the division and our play on home ice. That'll be crucial again for us this year."


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