Ice gets last-minute preparation before Islanders practice at MetLife Stadium...

Ice gets last-minute preparation before Islanders practice at MetLife Stadium on Thursday. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Kyle Palmieri was standing in the Giants' locker room on Thursday, a memorable enough moment for a local guy who rooted for that team as a kid.

Then a reporter who said he was not from around here asked the Islanders forward for a primer on the local geography and Palmieri’s history in it.

It’s a long story, but he was happy to tell it. Let’s see . . .

Born in Smithtown, early years in East Moriches, mostly growing up in Montvale, New Jersey, trains to Hoboken en route to high school in Jersey City, with Giants Stadium visible in the distance, later playing for the Devils and Islanders.

Or, to put this weekend’s Stadium Series games another way: “It’s just cool to be a part of,” he said. “It’s an awesome experience for everybody.”

Palmieri’s life story merely is the tidiest illustration of a larger point:

Having the Devils and Flyers play on Saturday night, then the Rangers and Islanders on Sunday, before a total of about 140,000 fans, is a proper celebration of a hockey region that deserves it and that the rest of the hockey world does not give enough credit.

(Yes, I’m looking at you, Canada, New England and the upper Midwest.)

Where else in North America can one find four major professional teams in the same league within a radius of 120 miles or so, each complete with its own rich history, and delicious rivalries in every direction?

No. 1 on the list, of course, is Islanders-Rangers, and Sunday’s matchup comes with a subplot.

The teams played all of their games against each other early last season and will play all of them late this season. Net result: They have not met since Dec. 22, 2022.

That is not OK in the big picture, but strictly for the purposes of Sunday’s event, it does add to the spectacle.

“To me, it’s the best rivalry in the sport,” the Islanders’ Matt Martin said. “We’ve done it in front of 20,000 and 17,000 people. We’ve never done it in front of close to 80. So I imagine it’s going to be a pretty special feeling.”

Another guy who knows a bit about the area and the rivalry, Rangers defenseman Adam Fox, who grew up in Jericho, said, “I think it’ll be a cool experience. To do it here, close to home for me, is obviously pretty special.”

Fox, who became a Jets fan during their late Giants Stadium days, said of facing the Islanders, “It’s fun. It’s always a good time playing them, and obviously the fans getting into it adds a little extra adrenaline for us.”

The added beauty of these games is that they are at a football stadium, which not only is larger than baseball parks but is a more symmetrical fit for a rink.

When these teams played outdoor games at Citizens Bank Park, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field over the past 12 years, there were strange angles and plenty of bad seats. At MetLife, you might be far away, but you will know where you are.

The place looked spiffy for this week’s practices and family skates, and it appears the weekend weather will be favorable for outdoor hockey.

Outside the stadium, some parking lots have been taken over for an elaborate fan festival that will run from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Players were impressed. Martin said his father-in-law, Boomer Esiason, an avid Rangers fan and former NFL quarterback, visited on Wednesday night and talked to him about how interesting the experience likely will be.

“He’s played in front of some pretty big crowds,” Martin said. “This will be the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of. Pretty crazy thing to walk out there and really see how big this place really is.

“I’ve been here for Jets and Giants games. You never realize how big it is until you’re standing on the field, or on the ice.”

There is one important, not-so-ideal aspect of this party.

It is one thing when the NHL does its Winter Classic thing on Jan. 1, when the game counts but it still is early enough in the season to sell the vibe of a mostly for fun, holiday afternoon festival.

Feb. 18 has a far different feel, especially for the Islanders, who are in dire need of every point they can get as the regular season winds down.

Sure, having funky ice, potentially windy conditions, abnormal depth perception and whatnot is the same for both teams. But it feels odd playing a game of this magnitude under such circumstances.

Still, we’ll take it. Seventy thousand Rangers and Islanders fans sitting among one another, having not had the chance in 14 months? Yup.

“It’s always fun,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “There’s always extra juice. There’s always extra energy. The fans on both sides bring it.

“I don’t think it’s going to be any different here at MetLife. It’s going to be a fun one.”


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