There is plenty that has been, could be and will be said about Barclays Center as a hockey rink. Call it what you will, and many of us have taken our turns in calling it various things. But more than anything, like it or not, the Islanders really do call it home.
As much of a pain it was and maybe still is to get to Brooklyn, there is no denying that the team plays well in the place. The Islanders amassed 55 points on their new (and sometimes choppy) home ice last season, their best total in 12 years. They made memories at Barclays in the playoffs, breaking a 23-year drought by clinching a playoff series — in overtime, no less. They got themselves a vital win Sunday night in the home opener, beating the Ducks, 3-2, in overtime.
So how do you explain it? Simple. As different as the setting, the building, the configuration, the acoustics and the ambiance are from Nassau Coliseum, it is the same folks in the seats, the same voices roaring.
It was no secret why one of the Panthers said during the first round of the playoffs last season that the Islanders have the loudest arena in the league. In the words of Josh Bailey, who scored the winner 54 seconds into the extra period Sunday night, “It’s still home. It’s still the same people who come to support us. I think that’s the key.”
You get the sense that fans would follow this team to the ends of the Earth, and that some of them believe they already have. Players realize it is not easy for their fans to drive to the train station, wait on the Jamaica platform, grab another train and do it all over again in reverse once the game is over. They appreciate the sacrifice and the noise. “The same people who came to the Coliseum come here and keep cheering for us. And we feed off of it,” Bailey said.
An amazing part of this vibe is that many, if not most, of those people were not yet alive when Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith and Bob Nystrom were starring on the ice and winning Stanley Cups. These fans have not experienced a whole lot of success from their team, but they still come and yell their heads off.
Sunday night was a sellout. Granted, some seats were empty, but the place was filled with sound from the moment Trottier, Smith and Nystrom took part in the ceremonial puck drop until Bailey beat John Gibson with a shot inside the left post.
“The people in this building love us and give us their full support,” said Cal Clutterbuck, who set up the goal by John Tavares that made the score 2-0 in the third period. “You’re always comfortable at home.”
Maybe, maybe not. Just how comfortable the Islanders ever will get in this arrangement is an open question. They live and practice on Long Island — ironically, across the street from the Coliseum — and they effectively commute to home games.
We never will know if that had anything to do with Frans Nielsen leaving for somewhat comparable money in Detroit, searching for what he called “a new challenge.”
Fact is, the Islanders have learned to deal with it. “Knowing all the nuances of the rink, being out there on the ice and I think just the daily routine, getting up in the morning, being at home, sleep in your bed, the time you leave for the rink, all that stuff is pretty normal,” Tavares said. “It’s like we’re playing at the Coliseum. It’s not always perfect, but we get great support from our fans. We want to play good hockey and be tough to play against here.”
Who knows if they ever will be able to move? It doesn’t seem likely. For now, the Islanders and their fans insist there is no place like home, wherever that may be.