With Isles in KC, big game is Lighthouse hearing

New York Islanders defender Dustin Kohn (56) knocks New York Islanders defender Dustin Kohn (56) knocks Los Angeles Kings' Joe Piskula (43) to the ice as they battle for the puck along the boards in the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Kansas City, Mo. (September 22, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Although the puck dropped at 8 o'clock CDT last night at the Sprint Center, the most pressing action for the Islanders organization was not on the ice against the Kings. It was back home on Long Island, where a zoning hearing was held to help determine the fate of the Lighthouse project.

The big battle was being waged 1,115 miles away, where Islanders owner Charles Wang duked it out with local politicians over the fate of the massive development plan that would give the Islanders a sorely overdue new arena.

"I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said this day wasn't significant," general manager Garth Snow said. "It is."

There was more excitement at the hearing than at the game, where a crowd of only 9,792 in the 18,000-seat arena saw the Islanders lose, 4-2.

Wang originally planned to travel with the team from its training camp in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The game had been regarded as a litmus test for the Islanders' potential hold in the market if the team cannot get an arena built and decides to relocate.

But Wang did not get to visit the Sprint Center, a modern, immaculate new arena practically begging for an NHL team to call it home. Instead of taking the grand tour, Wang met with Town of Hempstead officials for a conveniently scheduled, and contentious, zoning hearing at Hofstra University.

The coincidental timing of the meeting only heightened the interest level among Islanders fans concerned about the team's future location.

"This is something we've done in the past, play games in alternate sites,'' Snow said. "But I understand there's a buzz about this game because of the situation back home, where ironically, there is a zoning hearing going on while we play in Kansas City. I recognize the significance, especially for our fans."

Snow said yesterday was "huge" for an organization desperately longing for a facility to replace the archaic Nassau Coliseum.

"From a hockey perspective, we need a new facility," he said. "You see a city like Kansas City that has shown its commitment by putting in a new facility and it's a no-brainer to do something [like that] on Long Island. We want the Lighthouse to get approved, and we're hoping this will be one step closer to making that come to fruition.''

Snow, coach Scott Gordon, several players and staff members toured the Sprint Center after the morning skate and were dazzled by the accommodations, a massive upgrade over their home digs. "I think everyone would like to have a place like this," forward Jon Sim said. "But we definitely love Long Island. That's home."

The need for a new arena is irrefutable - even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said as much - but Sim and others within the organization want to keep the team on Long Island.

"The Islanders have such a great tradition there," Sim said. "It would be hard to get up and leave."

Gordon called the Sprint Center "absolutely beautiful" and said he wouldn't mind having a home locker room that resembled the visitor's locker room where his team dressed. But Gordon, along with everyone else hoping for positive news from the hearing, knows that all he can do is wait until a decision is made.

"Something's going to happen eventually, whether it's today or Oct. 3," Gordon said. "We'll see."

Notes & quotes: A puck hit G Dwayne Roloson in the neck during warm-ups. X-rays were negative, but he didn't play as a precaution. Nathan Lawson replaced him . . . Trent Hunter strained a pectoral muscle and is day-to-day.

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