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Islanders ready to open UBS Arena, turn around sluggish start

islanders UBS arena
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
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The Islanders will finally play at home Saturday night when they open UBS Arena against the Flames. It will have been 150 days since their fans saw them in person — Stanley Cup Semifinals Game 6 versus Tampa Bay — and the day the franchise has been waiting for couldn’t arrive at a better time.

 

As work continued on the Islanders’ new rink, the team faced a 13-game road trip to begin the 2021-22 NHL season. The players didn’t need to worry about hotel life the entire time as they were able to return home to get some needed days off through the first six weeks of the schedule.

 

While Saturday will be a new beginning in their 17,250-seat, $1.1 billion arena, the home-ice advantage will take some time to develop.

 

“It really won’t be our home rink for a while,” said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. “Calgary will have been in that rink pretty well as long as we have. It’s like a neutral-site game for the first month. But we’re thrilled that we’re getting into a new rink. It’s great for the fans and it’s great for the franchise.”

 

The Islanders held their first practice at UBS Arena on Thursday and had the same experience anyone would when going inside a building for the first time. Finding their way to team-specific areas like the dressing room and offices required directions after a few wrong turns. 

 

 

But finally being in the new rink — their new home — after years at Nassau Coliseum and a short stint at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center could re-energize a team sorely needing a boost after losing four in a row.

 

“It was cool,” Trotz said of Thursday’s practice. “The best I can describe it to anybody is it felt like the Winter Classic, those NHL [Stadium] Series games. It’s got a different feel. There’s a little pep in the step.”

 

“We haven’t had a chance to play a home game yet this year and you know how much we feed off our crowd and how much of an impact they have on our games at home,” said captain Anders Lee. “We’ve seen it in the playoffs, the regular season, so now we get to be back in front of them and after that it’s a brand-new building that this franchise has been looking forward to for a really long time.”

 

A 5-6-2 start has landed the Islanders at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.

 

After winning five of seven games in the middle of their season-opening road trip, the four losses before coming home is not what Trotz wanted to see.

 

But coming home with 14 of their next 20 games at UBS Arena and only 28 out of their final 69 regular season games on the road could help them regain form to build off back-to-back seasons making the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

“What I found is it’s been harder to sustain momentum because you don’t have a crowd behind you,” Trotz said. “We haven’t had, really, a rhythm. We’ve played some games and then they send us home for a few days and then we’d go back on the road. Then we had a big break. It’s probably set some of our players out of sorts.

 

“I’ve had harder times in terms of schedules with number of games. But I think it’s just more the rhythm than anything.”

Missing Bailey

Josh Bailey has played the third-most games in franchise history and is currently the longest-tenured Islander after being selected ninth overall in the 2008 NHL Draft. Earlier this season he passed Bobby Nystrom to move into 10th all-time in points with the team.

 

He’s a franchise staple, but unfortunately he will not be a part of Saturday’s celebrations. Bailey remains in Florida in COVID-19 protocol after testing positive before Tuesday’s loss to the Panthers. While he is asymptomatic, he will remain in a hotel until he’s cleared to reunite with the team.

 

“It sucks. I feel for him,” Lee said of Bailey’s absence. “If there’s anyone that deserves to open us this building, it’s Josh. It’ll be tough not to have him with us and I know he’s going to make his mark on this building when he gets a chance when comes out of [quarantine]. We can’t wait to have him back.”

islanders ubs arena Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The day is finally arrives

The Lighthouse Project. Willets Point. Replacing the Coliseum. Barclays Center. Back to the Coliseum.

 

The last 20 years have been a ride for Islanders fans, and the journey towards a permanent home of their own has come with plenty of ups and downs. But those worries vanished once new ownership took over under Jon Ledecky and Scott Mallkin and groundbreaking on UBS Arena began in September 2019.

 

Now to go along with a new home the franchise has taken steps to make the on-ice product a consistent winner. The Islanders have been part of the postseason three years in a row. The last time they did that was 2002-2004.

 

A new era begins for the Islanders franchise on Saturday, and while the festivities will be memorable, turning around their sluggish start is where their focus will be concentrated.

 

“Hopefully it gives us some energy right now,” Trotz said. “I don’t think you can go in our room and anybody feels really great about anything, other than we got this road trip done. We’re hoping that we can get that energy [and] we’ll hopefully get our own game. We can only fix that, the fans can’t. 

 

“We’ve got too many pieces missing right now in terms of our game that we can have any success. … It’s on us. We can’t fix it unless we’re all committed to it. That’s everybody, it’s not one or two guys. It’s everybody.”

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New York Islanders, relieved fans thrilled to open team's 'beautiful building' against Calgary Flames

 
 
 
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7:59 PM ET
  • ESPN News Services

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders' long wait to open their new arena is finally over. The wins will have to come later.

Nearly four years after winning the bid to build a new home next to Belmont Park, the Islanders opened the doors to UBS Arena on Saturday night.

 

The Calgary Flames were the Islanders' first home opponent this season after the team spent the first 6½ weeks of the season playing 13 road games.

 

"It's a beautiful building," said Lonny Lehman, a first-time season-ticket holder from East Meadow, New York, a short drive from the Coliseum. "[Looking forward to] just having a home again. ...

 

It's been a long time coming. Our politicians failed us. Fortunately, our new owners kept us here and they're going to have a nice following."

 

The $1.1 billion building is the culmination of a campaign started more than a decade ago by previous Islanders owner Charles Wang. First came the proposed Lighthouse Project in 2007 that was part of a redevelopment plan but went nowhere.

 

Then, Nassau County voters rejected an attempt to secure public financing for a new arena four years later, and the unpopular move to Brooklyn in 2015 eventually saw the team splitting home games between Barclays Center and the Coliseum.

 

Now, the new arena is here and the years of uncertainty over the team's future are over.

 

The team, itself, this season? Well, that might be a different story.

 

The Islanders, who advanced to the NHL semifinals last season, returned home in last place in the Metropolitan Division, and Calgary greeted them rudely in New York. Andrew Mangiapane scored two power-play goals as the Flames cruised to a 5-2 victory.

 

Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Johnny Gaudreau also scored and Noah Hanifin had two assists to help Calgary extend its point streak to five games (3-0-2). Jacob Markstrom stopped 34 shots for the road team. Brock Nelson scored twice for the short-handed Islanders, who were missing seven players and lost their fifth straight. Semyon Varlamov had 26 saves.

 

Away from the on-ice product, fans were abuzz in and around the complex. Lehman also praised Islanders owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, saying: "They're fantastic. I wish they owned the [NFL's New York] Jets."

 

Tickets for the home opener were sold out months in advance, and there was a waitlist for season tickets. Sellers were listing tickets for the first game from $230 for the cheapest seats in the corner to more than $800 on StubHub.com a few hours before the puck dropped.

 

UBS Arena has a capacity of 17,250 -- larger than the 13,917 at the renovated Coliseum and 15,795 at Barclays Center.

 

"This is awesome," Jason Saltsberg said. "This is definitely much more luxurious than the Coliseum was. Everything has been trending in the right direction. As soon as they announced the arena, the team seemed to turn the corner and it's all happening at once and it's fantastic."

 

The Islanders went 5-6-2 on their season-opening stretch of road games, including four straight losses. Twenty-five of their next 36 games will be at home, and they don't play more than two consecutive games on the road until a four-game trip from Jan. 4 to 11.

 

"Hopefully they can bring the Cup home," said Holly Baratta, who bought season tickets for the last season of the Coliseum, but didn't get to use them because of limited seating due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The players got a chance to practice on the ice at the new rink Thursday and were impressed.

 

"It absolutely blew me away," the Islanders' Mathew Barzal said. "I walked right in, saw the gym, saw the eating area and I couldn't wait to see more. The entire facility and the rink and how it was set up was so high-end. ... We're a really lucky group."

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