Brooklyn gets first taste of Islanders hockey Saturday

New Islanders captain John Tavares follows through on a shot during the team's first preseason practice at the Barclays Center. The team will call the arena home at the start of the 2015-16 season. (Sept. 12, 2013)

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

It has been 11 months since the Islanders announced they will move to Brooklyn in 2015, but to this point that has been a mostly abstract concept rendered in words and fans' collective imagination.

That will change Saturday night when the team hosts the Devils in a preseason contest that marks the NHL's first visit to the borough.

But the real drama will not take place on the ice, where the teams will play a meaningless game. Most eyes around the NHL will be focused on the audience, and the first test of how the league might go over in downtown Trendyville.

All signs so far point to pretty darn good, according to Barclays Center (and Brooklyn Nets) CEO Brett Yormark, who said yesterday that ticket sales have been "terrific," with about 11,000 of the 15,813 seats sold and more expected during the week. The game will not be televised, but it will be streamed on NewYorkIslanders.com and BarclaysCenter.com.

"I think it's incredible," said Yormark, who said there has been "very little advertising" behind the event beyond free publicity from media day last week, some Long Island Rail Road ads and the arena's own website and marquee.

Twenty-five percent of the ticket buyers so far have been from Brooklyn, 18.9 percent from Nassau County and 13 percent from Suffolk.

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"I'm very excited about the number from Brooklyn," Yormark said. "It means hockey has a bit of a foundation here in the borough and they're excited about the ultimate arrival of the Islanders . . . Hopefully it's a bit of foreshadowing of what is to come. I'm really bullish on hockey in Brooklyn, as most people are."

Actually, many people are wary, and a full season will be a far better test than an exhibition that presumably will attract many who are merely curious and/or interested in being part of a historic moment.

But it's a start. There are 11 different ticket prices -- averaging just over $60, according to Yormark -- ranging from $19.85 to $307.30, including fees. As of Monday, the least expensive still available on the arena website was $81.10, but there were less costly options on the secondary market.

"We spread [the prices] around pretty well," Yormark said. "Anyone that wanted to see the Islanders had the wherewithal to do so."

While Saturday's game certainly is a milestone, it is but one step on a long road to the fall of 2015 -- assuming the Islanders do not get out of their Nassau Coliseum lease a year early.

Yormark said he and his team, who are managing most of the Islanders' business affairs, have been using the lessons they learned from the Nets' multiyear transition from New Jersey to Brooklyn in planning the Islanders' move.

The next two seasons will involve building the brand in Brooklyn with, among other things, more community outreach and some cross-promotion with the Nets, including perhaps partial plans that include both teams' games.

"One of the benefits of the Nets' move to Brooklyn was the delay gave us a chance to build anticipation, seed the brand and get people acclimated," Yormark said.

While the Islanders know it will be a challenge getting fans from Suffolk to make the trek to Brooklyn, it is a more realistic goal than it was to expect New Jersey Nets fans to cross two rivers to get there.

"I'm a firm believer that if Islanders fans like the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum now, given some of the challenges that inherently exist out there," Yormark said, "they're going to love this team in Brooklyn."

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The first date is Saturday night.

 

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