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Islanders fans watch their team in action at

Islanders fans watch their team in action at their new home, UBS Arena, on Saturday, in Elmont. The Isles lost to the Flames, 5-2. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Fans of the New York Islanders never gave up hope.

Neither did those rooting for Long Island.

Together, they spent more than two decades chasing dream after dream, plan after plan. Hockey fans knew as much about zoning and construction costs and community benefits as they did about power plays and hat tricks. Residents fighting for the region learned a lot about arena and parking garage costs, ice-cooling systems and locker rooms.

Too often, it seemed both the team and the Island were destined to lose.

But now, despite an opening weekend of back-to-back losses on the ice, the Islanders and the Island are celebrating a once-unimaginable victory. In the glorious UBS Arena at Belmont Park, the team found its home and the region found an economic centerpiece — even if it's on Nassau County's edge.

It's been a long time coming — long enough that many involved in past ideas and renderings weren't present last week as a ribbon was cut and an arena opened. That included past county executives like the late Thomas Gulotta, Tom Suozzi and Ed Mangano, each of whom tried unsuccessfully to push forward. Other elected officials who had stood in the way, including Hempstead Town's Kate Murray and Anthony Santino and former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, weren't there, either.

Sadly, former Islanders owner Charles Wang died before he could see his vision become reality — the festivities included poignant and well-deserved nods to his efforts.

I have covered the ups and downs of the Islanders' search for a permanent home, and the Island's search for a sports and entertainment hub, for more than 13 years. I've seen cheers and tears, watched news conferences in the cold, rallies in the heat, and a vote in the hail. Through it all, an unusual resolve stayed with fans and ownership alike, despite the "no's."

There's a moment frozen in my memory that epitomizes the saga of the Islanders' search for a home. It was a date in September, 12 years ago. New York Islanders fans, decked out in blue and orange, were gathered in a large venue in Nassau County, holding signs and cheering.

But their team was in Kansas City, Missouri, playing a preseason game at a new arena looking for an anchor tenant.

The fans were sitting in a Hofstra University auditorium for a Hempstead Town board hearing. Instead of "Let's Go Islanders!" they chanted "Just Build It!" or "Build It Now!"

They were following the latest dream — that large-scale development known as the Lighthouse Project — and the latest dreamer, then-owner Wang.

But it soon became clear that town officials, including Murray and Santino, weren't willing to dream. I left the room briefly to call an editor, saying only: "I think Lighthouse is dead."

And yes, those plans, like others before and after, would die.

But the dream lived. Over the years, I had my doubts. But last week proved me wrong. With a flick to the past, the team and the Island moved forward, to a future of "yes, yes, yes," as outgoing County Executive Laura Curran said. It's a phrase that wasn't even part of the team lexicon when these battles began.

There's more to come, for the team, for Belmont Park, for the surrounding communities, for the region. But last week's ceremonies and this week's home games aren't just a dream. It's all real.

After all this time, the team and its fans deserve it.

And the Island deserves it, too.

What a win, indeed.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.

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