Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
The first chord was struck by native Long Islander Paul Cartier, on the Lowrey organ on loan from Nassau Coliseum. Two hours before the puck dropped at Barclays Center, he had a song ready on the electronic screen above the keyboards: "This Could Be the Start of Something Big."
It sure was the start of something different: Hockey Night in Brooklyn, when "shoot that puck, score that goal, eh" met "Fuhgeddaboudit."
It was quirky, with the scoreboard off center because of the basketball-oriented building's configuration. It also was a tad sad, because it was a tangible sign that the Islanders really are leaving Long Island the year after next. More than anything, it was pretty darned exciting.
Fans wearing jerseys that said everything from "Bossy" to "Tavares" exited packed trains and stopped on the promenade to take pictures of each other in front of the big scoreboard and yes, the four Stanley Cup banners, also on loan from the Coliseum. A man with a "Potvin 5" jersey ran around with a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read "Brooklyn Sweet Home."
"If you build it, the fans will come," said Anna Momot, who was taking an iPhone photo of her husband, Ivan, just after they came in from Atlantic Avenue. The Momots, Islanders diehards from the East Village who recently moved to Garfield, N.J., instantly loved Barclays Center. "It's a nice change from the Coliseum," Anna said, adding, "I like the young team."
Harold Kriegsman of Plainview, a Brooklyn native and season-ticket holder since 2000, said, "I'm going to come because the team is on the upswing.''
"Pretty cool," said Amy Zaum of West Hempstead, a season-ticket holder for the past 11 years, on her first glimpse. "I'm hoping they can put the scoreboard on something that moves so it's not off-center.
"It's very sad. I'm still hoping there is a different outcome," she said, referring to the Coliseum. Realizing that is not likely, she promised she will come to Brooklyn. "Absolutely."
The ice looked nice, with the big Islanders logo in the middle. Cartier said the sound system emitted a theater organ ambience. But it did seem odd to see black curtains behind one of the goals. In the asymmetrical rink setup, there was no room for ice-level seats at one end. Some seats upstairs had obstructed views. The scoreboard was perched over one of the blue lines.
"I'm a coach, not an architect, but I think it will be fine for hockey," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said before the preseason game. "It's got two benches. It doesn't matter where the clock is. If they get 15,000 people in here, it looks like it will be a great venue."
Between now and 2015, there will be many nights to wax nostalgic about Nassau Coliseum and to grow angry that team owner Charles Wang and elected officials could not work something out. Saturday night, though, was not for that. Saturday night was for electricity and hope.
This observer has witnessed it before, having been at the Islanders' first game on Long Island, a 1972 preseason game against the Rangers. Glen Sather of the visitors scored the first goal (as did Jacob Josefson of the Devils Saturday night).
Back then, there was not one luxury suite, there were gaps in the stands at ice level and the scoreboard was the rickety one that the co-tenant Nets had brought with them from Long Island Arena in Commack. None of those limitations prevented the Islanders from developing quite a legacy and a following.
It remains to be seen if the loyal fans will consistently traipse to Barclays Center (despite the fact that it is in the same land mass; the Revolutionary War Battle of Long Island was in Brooklyn). It remains to be heard if the new digs ever will be as loud as the Coliseum is at playoff time.
Saturday night answered one question: Will the people who love the Islanders abandon them?