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Hockey in Brooklyn

by Pete Weber / Nashville Predators

The National Hockey League really is in Brooklyn now – with the move of the New York Islanders from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

The NHL was in Brooklyn, but by name only, in the 1941-42 season. The New York Americans played that year under that moniker, but never moved from Madison Square Garden, as there was no suitable facility in the borough to house the team.

In 1925, the Americans had become the second team to call the United States home, following the Boston Bruins. Their box office success prompted Madison Square Garden to get a team of their own – the Rangers – the following season.

The Americans suspended play after that one season playing under the Brooklyn name, ostensibly to return at the conclusion of World War II. The League, however, decided not to reinstate the franchise and folded it instead. Thus, the inaccurate phrase “The Original Six” came to life and lasted through the 1966-67 season, after which came the various waves of expansion.

In reality, the NHL came from the National Hockey Association, beginning NHL play in 1917-18 with four teams: the Montreal Wanderers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Arenas. In its history prior to the 1940s, there were also teams in Quebec, Hamilton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and St. Louis, so “Original Six,” really should be “Surviving Six.”

That’s the “hockey part” of the story. The other involves the location of the Barclays Center, where the Predators play Thursday night. Its address is 620 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn – at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush. It is built above a platform over the Atlantic Terminal of the Long Island Railroad. This brings us to the “baseball part” of my story.

The Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. But was Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley truly the villain here? Shortly after taking over control of the Dodgers in 1950, O’Malley realized that Ebbets Field was about to outlive its usefulness. Ebbets Field had roughly 700 parking spaces around it, and with the exodus of so many Dodger fans from the borough to Long Island and other suburban locales, O’Malley recognized that public transportation would be the key.

At the time, Robert Moses was effectively New York emperor of all land development. Never elected to a public office, Moses nevertheless was behind numerous public authorities, which put him in charge of bridges, parks, highways and many urban renewal projects.

Moses and O’Malley were constantly on opposite sides of various arguments. In 1955 (ironically, the year that marked the only World Series championship in Brooklyn Dodgers history), Moses rejected O’Malley’s offer to build a $6 million, domed stadium at the very sight where the Barclays Center now sits. The only land that Moses was willing to give O’Malley was in Flushing Meadow, where Shea Stadium was built, adjacent to the Mets’ current home, Citi Field.

As a result of that spat, New York was without National League baseball from 1958-61 (as the Giants left the even more decrepit Polo Grounds, joining the Dodgers on the West Coast), and Brooklyn’s downtown development was delayed by almost 60 years.

In hindsight, O’Malley’s heirs are probably grateful – and that’s the rest of the story of Brooklyn and major league sports.

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