Over the last four-plus decades, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum has seen the New York Islanders go through their fair share of ups and downs. From their inception as an expansion franchise, through their dynasty and dark days, the Coliseum has stood as a proud symbol to native Long Islanders and fans of the team. Once dubbed “Fort Never Lose” during the early 1980s, the Nassau Coliseum is still held near and dear to Islanders fans’ hearts.
Although the 2015-2016 hockey season is still two years away, many Islanders fans probably aren’t anxious to see their team make the move from Nassau to Kings County. However, with the wheels already in motion, Islanders fans will surely want to get acquainted with the Barclays Center sooner rather than later. With a seating capacity of 15,813 (approximately 421 less seats than the Nassau Coliseum), the Barclays Center won’t have to compete tooth and nail with the MTS Centre as a hockey facility that can barely hold 15,000 spectators. Of course, there will still be some kinks in the arena that need to be worked out before the Islanders make their move to Brooklyn a permanent one, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the team will be moving into a state-of-the-art arena with its prospects looking as bright as ever.
Hockey At The Barclays Center
Upon entering the Barclays Center for the first NHL game in Brooklyn, the contrast between the Islanders’ new venue and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was stark to say the least. While the championship banners were transported and hung proudly, the rest of the arena took a bit of time to get used to – from the horseshoe-shaped seating configuration to the fact that L&B Spumoni Gardens was serving its signature Red Sicilian slices inside the venue.
After soaking up all of the native Brooklyn venues available inside of the arena, it came time to drop the puck, and the experience was definitely one that was worthwhile. Even though the Islanders dropped their first NHL contest in Brooklyn 3-0, there were many things to take away from the event. As some expected, sightlines were indeed limited in certain areas along the wall and behind the opposition’s goal, but sitting in the 120s provided (in my opinion) the same viewing experience that one could get by sitting in the early 200s at Nassau Coliseum.
With visibility and sightlines scouted from some areas, focus eventually shifted to the off-center scoreboard, and there was only one thing that I could take away after looking at it – it WON’T affect anyone’s viewing experience at the Barclays Center unless they are a real stickler for detail. Acoustics didn’t seem to be a problem either, and the missing chunk of seats behind the home team’s goal was not an eye-sore or distracting hindrance of any sort.
While my experience at the Barclays Center was only one in several thousand, it was interesting to see how players such as Andrew MacDonald and Frans Nielsen regarded the arena in comparison to the Nassau Coliseum when The Hockey Writers caught up with them.
“It was awesome to get out there and feel the atmosphere,” Nielsen said. “It’s a new arena, so it’s really nice, it was just fun to get out there. You can’t really compare it, the last I remember about Nassau Coliseum was the playoffs and how loud it was in there, but I’m sure this one [Barclays Center] will be just as loud.”
MacDonald echoed some of the same sentiment as Nielsen, and compared/contrasted the two arenas when he said, “Well, obviously the Coliseum has been our home for a while, you know it’s the old barn and we’ve embraced it. Obviously the playoff experience last year was amazing, and we’re striving to get back to that. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a brand new building [Barclays Center] which is beautiful and brand new. They’re two different feelings, and there’s so much history in the old building and I think guys are going to miss it, but at the same time this is the move we’re making and it [Barclays] is going to be the home of the Islanders, so it’s exciting.”
The Nassau Coliseum will always be remembered by Islanders fans with nostalgia, and the team’s move will require fans to make some adjustments for the sake of their team. Ignoring the opportunities that the Barclays Center has to offer for the simple fact that one cannot accept a change of scenery is understandable on some fronts, but to dismiss the potential reciprocal relationship between the New York Islanders and their new arena would also be a folly.
Aside from affording the New York Islanders a bunch of new marketing opportunities, the Isles’ move to Brooklyn will also coincide with the team’s continued maturation. Young players such as Griffin Reinhart, Matt Donovan, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson are just several prospects vying for a shot at a roster spot with the Islanders during this preseason, but New York’s system is stocked with a number of promising youngsters that will be challenging for NHL playing time over the next few years.
With a new crop of players developing for the Islanders, the team will have a chance to offer its fans an opportunity to see top-flight talent develop before their eyes. Not only will the younger players in the New York’s pipeline be developing as the years pass, the Islanders as a whole will be maturing as players such as John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Travis Hamonic, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and the rest of the team’s core will have played through a variety of hardships as one big unit.
When THW asked Frans Nielsen about the team’s growth and playoff push during the ’12-’13 NHL season, he was very candid about expectations for this upcoming season and future years.
“I think it was a pretty big step that we took last year,” Nielsen said. “It’s not easy to win in this league, and we finally figured out how to show up consistently and do what it takes to win every night. We lost in the first round [of the playoffs], but there were six games there, and I think it’s going to be really helpful for us next time we stand there and hopefully already this year, so I think it was a very good learning year for us last year.”
Andrew MacDonald reinforced much of what Nielsen mentioned, and added that the team is aware of what is at stake this season when he said, “It’s a goal of our’s every year to win the Stanley Cup, and you can’t do that until you make the playoffs. Obviously it was a big step to make the playoffs, but with that being said, it’s a totally new year, and we know that things are only going to be harder from here on out and there’s certainly no time to take the foot off the gas at this point. It was a great experience last year, but at the same time we have to refocus on this year and the task again ahead of us during a full 82 game season.”
Players such as Nielsen and MacDonald have been through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs as members of the Islanders’ rebuild, and by the time that the 2015-2016 NHL season rolls around there will undoubtedly be some new faces that will want to continue carrying the mantle for the Isles. One of those players might be Matt Donovan, who shared some of his thoughts on assistant coach Doug Weight when he spoke to THW.
“I think he knows how I can play, and hasn’t tried to change anything that I’m doing” said Donovan of Weight. “He just lets me go out there and do my thing, so he has given me a lot of freedom, and it’s good to have that freedom to just play the way that I’ve been playing. He obviously knows how I played last year in Bridgeport, and I think he expects the same thing here.”
When asked about transitioning to the NHL level after spending time in the AHL, Donovan reflected on the differences between the style of play in both leagues and fighting for a roster spot when he stated, “I guess the pace of the game is obviously a little quicker, and guys are a little bigger and stronger. I think I’ve proved myself in the AHL and hopefully I can play in one of the spots on D that’s open right now, so I’m just trying to work as hard as I can and claim one of those spots.”
While the New York Islanders are still a developing product in some aspects, the team certainly has dedicated front office personnel, coaches, and players that are willing to do whatever is necessary to better the franchise. Even though the Islanders took a step toward their ultimate goal last season by making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the ’06-’07 NHL season, the team is not about to settle with just making a playoff appearance.
Brooklyn Is THE Borough
The players inside of the New York Islanders’ locker-room undoubtedly understand what it will take to replicate and further their success in future seasons, and if one thing is for certain, then it is the fact that the borough of Brooklyn will be housing a mature, hard-working, and dedicated sports team by the time that Fall 2015 rolls around.
The Nassau Coliseum will forever be remembered Islanders fans, but a new chapter of the team’s future must eventually be written – regardless of how hard it might be on the franchise’s diehard fanbase. Despite the fact that many people instantaneously think of Manhattan when the five boroughs are mentioned, the Islanders and their fans will find that the Brooklyn area can provide a wide array of amenities, luxury, and entertainment.
Not only will the New York Islanders bring a storied history and tradition with them when they move into the Barclays Center, they will provide Brooklyn with yet another professional sports franchise to rally around. Many Islanders fans might not like or be comfortable with such a change, especially since some have grown up inside the Coliseum, but time can certainly heal wounds and mend fences, and Islanders fans have proven time and again that they do not stop supporting their team with a simple snap of the finger.