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Islanders practice rink upgrade may reap huge dividends

Multimillion-dollar renovation of facility could play major role in helping to re-sign players, attract free agents

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Garth Snow remembers what it was like playing for the New York Islanders when he signed with them as a free agent goaltender on July 1, 2001.

Their home rink, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, was already past its expiration date, yet the Islanders would call it home for another 14 years. Their practice rink in Syosset, New York, did not have anything close to the amenities other NHL practice facilities had.

"Time flies," Snow, the Islanders' general manager, said Tuesday. "Sixteen years later, you go from a visiting player walking from the Marriott [hotel] to the Coliseum, and then signing here as a player, being in the Coliseum and really not having any kind of a lounge at the Coliseum. The weight room was really nothing to speak of. But we're very fortunate. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: Check out the #Isles newly renovated dressing room at @NHIceCenter! ������ pic.twitter.com/RX4xEvtU0k

"The great part is a lot of our players being in the situation we were at the Coliseum to what we have now, there's an appreciation. They realize what it's like not to be in a facility like this, and we have some pretty grounded players. They're quality human beings and they enjoy it and appreciate it."

Snow was talking about Northwell Health Ice Center, which became the Islanders' practice facility prior to the start of last season. It has since had a multimillion-dollar renovation that Islanders brass firmly believes has made it among the best in the League.

Among the upgrades are a team lounge with seven televisions, a kitchen with a private chef, a nutrition station, a medical treatment area with a Cryo Chamber, a wet area with a hot tub, cold tub, treadmill pool and sauna, a fitness center and a video theatre with 23 seats, enough for the entire roster to watch game film.

Prior to those upgrades, Snow said it was difficult to compete for unrestricted free agents each July 1. He believes that will no longer be the case.

"A facility like this sells itself," said Snow, who has been Islanders GM since August 2006. "Obviously, word of mouth in the small world of hockey, it happens fairly quickly. I know our players are very appreciative of the efforts that have been put forth by ownership and the staff to create this environment. I think it's awesome for [the media] to experience it as well. It's a treat."

Video: Chatting about the Islanders' new practice facilities

Islanders coach Doug Weight remembers walking through the doors at the old practice facility for the first time after signing as a free agent on July 2, 2008. Nine years later, he's thrilled to see the organization competing against the NHL's elite on and off the ice.

"They have everything possible," Weight said. "The attitude that we had when we were eating our rubber eggs in Syosset was it was us versus the world. We had that personality and persona about our team, and we need to keep it. ... You've got to keep that workmanlike attitude when you go through those doors, that battle level, and it's something we're going to have to focus on all year."

The next step off the ice for the Islanders is to win their bid to build an arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, located on the border of Nassau County and Queens. The Islanders submitted their proposal in September and are waiting for New York State to make a decision, which could still be several months away. The Islanders moved to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the start of the 2015-16 season and are committed to play there through next season.

"We want to be best in class," Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. "We want to go after the best free agents in the League. We're not your father's Islanders anymore. We're in the 21st Century and we're trying to do the best we can. That's a really important part of recruiting. Today in free agency, any player can go anywhere they want. It's part of the recruitment process to provide the best facility you can."

Whether the decision on Belmont affects center John Tavares' decision to re-sign with the Islanders remains to be seen, but approval to build a new arena could enhance their chances. Tavares is in the final season of a six-year, $33 million contract with an average annual value of $5.5 million, and he can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. He leads the Islanders with 15 points (11 goals, four assists) in 12 games.

"We want him to retire an Islander," Snow said of Tavares. "The conversations I've had with John and [agent] Pat Brisson will remain private. But I know John feels very strongly about this team and this organization. We feel the same back."

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