As 18,000 fans poured into the new UBS Arena at Belmont Park on Saturday night, they had few complaints about traffic and parking getting into the building.
Shortly before the puck dropped for the first Islanders hockey game in the arena in Elmont, traffic was delayed by about 15 minutes on the Long Island Expressway and Cross Island Parkway.
Fans were streaming into the entrances of the new arena when the doors opened at 5 p.m., after lines wrapped around the building.
Ticket takers checked vaccination cards before fans ran through the front doors.
Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky was greeting fans outside and inspecting parking lots while posing for pictures with fans.
Fans in line shouted, "Thank you, Jon."
"I told fans I would not be inside, I’d be outside with them. I’m happy with seeing the experience they’re having. The organized flow is very impressive to me. We’re ready for 18,000 fans," Ledecky said. "I think everything is ready to go and this will be a great test of all the practice everyone had."
But Ledecky acknowledged everything was not up and running on opening night. The parking garage across from Hempstead Turnpike will not be completed until next year. Westbound Long Island Rail Road riders still had to switch at Queens Village and those taking trains from Penn Station had to change at Jamaica.
Trains are only running to the new Elmont station and Belmont Park on event days, with the LIRR planning westbound trains and full service by the end of next year.
"We said not everything is going to be perfect at the beginning. We have to learn but I want the feedback," Ledecky said. "I’m not going to be happy until the fans are happy."
Most fans Saturday arrived several hours early to gaze at the new arena. Fans in the Emerald Lot behind the Belmont Park racetrack were given free parking for opening night.
Will Chiarucci, 31, said he was surprised by the free parking and took the shuttle to be dropped off at the arena.
"This is amazing. After what the franchise has been through the past 30 to 40 years, we finally have a new home; we’re not homeless anymore. UBS is home and I can’t wait to see us rock the new barn," he said.
Shuttles from the parking lot ran after 4:30 p.m., while other fans didn’t mind the 15-minute walk. Other fans walked through the underpass from the southern lot across from Hempstead Turnpike.
Bob Guthoff, 81, and Nicholas Canny, 16, both of Lynbrook, arrived and walked to the arena. They said the entrances off Hempstead Turnpike were slightly confusing and they didn’t see any shuttles.
"It’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make because this is a dream come true," Canny said.
While many fans expressed nostalgia for the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, they were grateful to arrive at a new venue. UBS Arena was only a 10-minute drive from Lynbrook, Canny said.
Canny held a sign that said, "We rocked the barn, now let’s shake the stables."
"Nassau was like a church and this is almost like the Vatican," he said.
The arena’s accessible parking for disabled fans drew mixed reactions.
Charles Razenson of Hicksville, who filed a human rights complaint against the arena, said there were not enough accessible parking spaces after he was first directed to the closest Diamond Lot and was told he could be towed.
Mike and Heidi Scholnick of East Meadow said their parking from the southern lot was moved to the closer lots after they spoke with Islanders staff last week, when they said Heidi Scholnick was in a wheelchair.
"They’ve been very accommodating," Mike Scholnick said. "It’s the first night, so it’s a little bit crazy, but nothing that would be a different experience for a regular person."
Although tailgating was prohibited, several fans gathered outside their cars in the parking lot. They said they missed the community of the tailgating parties at the Nassau Coliseum.