No matter the Islanders' playoff fate, UBS Arena has proven to be a definite winner
The Islanders came to work on Friday not knowing whether they would be back at UBS Arena this season.
Beat the Hurricanes in Game 6 of the teams’ first-round playoff series, and they would earn an opportunity to win Game 7 on Sunday and get at least two more home games — against the Devils or Rangers — in Round 2.
Lose to the Hurricanes, and it would not be until autumn that they would be back in Elmont, after a long offseason of introspection up and down the franchise.
But one thing was certain as the Islanders neared the end of their second season at UBS: Their arena is a winner.
This is no small thing, and an even bigger thing than it is for most teams with new facilities.
The 21st Century wave of new arena/stadium construction in the New York area began with the Devils’ Prudential Center in 2007 and ended with UBS in 2021.
But for the Islanders as much as any team in New York or beyond, getting an arena to call their own resonated far beyond the building itself.
This was a defining moment after years in the fading Nassau Coliseum and a detour to a basketball gym in Brooklyn.
There were growing pains last season, for sure, in the aftermath of a mad rush to the construction finish line.
That included unfinished touches and logistical quirks inside the building but even more issues outside, where parking was inadequate and the local train station went in only one direction. (Seriously, that actually was a thing.)
UBS still is not the easiest place to get to our away from, but at least by now the game plan is in place and the logistics mostly make sense, including a two-way train station with a regular schedule in Elmont.
Inside the arena, the place indisputably is a gem. The difference 16 years of sports facilities evolution make is evident to those who have visited the Rock in Newark for three Rangers road games this month.
That place no longer looks new, and many of its design touches already seem old- fashioned compared to a 2020s palace such as UBS.
(Reality check: The Prudential Center opened the same year as the iPhone debuted.)
Of course, pretty buildings only go so far in drawing paying customers if the teams that play in them do not win.
PNC Park in Pittsburgh is universally regarded as one of the nicest in baseball, and the Pirates generally rank 14th in attendance in the 15-team National League.
And the Islanders attendance base traditionally has not been as steady as the Rangers’, who manage to sell out Madison Square Garden even when losing.
So there will be pressure on ownership to keep the team competitive if it wants to keep the building humming over the next several years.
That will not be easy with an aging team whose Stanley Cup window appeared to be closing whether or not it won Game 6.
Overpriced beer tastes a lot better after an important spring victory on a bustling terrace overlooking Belmont Park than it does after a loss to Columbus on a Tuesday in January.
The hope, of course, is to use the building itself to help lure free agents and give the Islanders the kind of big-time feel that the Rangers always have enjoyed as a default brand.
It couldn’t hurt. The Islanders now can show off a practice facility and a home arena that both are NHL-caliber.
As Game 6 began and raucous fans tried to will the Islanders to a Game 7 in Raleigh, it was impossible not to recall the Coliseum’s grand finale, when Anthony Beauvillier scored an overtime goal to beat the Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2021.
That team then went to Tampa and lost, but the echoes remain.
UBS still was waiting for a moment anything close to that on Friday night, but the Islanders at least now have a place that should be ready, willing and able to host its own memories over the next quarter-century or more.
Hockey players come and go. The fans remain, and they deserve a proper home.