Islanders alumni thrilled new arena reminiscent of Coliseum
There were 57 of them in all, covering parts of five decades and ranging from Hall of Famers such as Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies to Petr Mika, who played in only three NHL games, all with the Islanders, in 2000.
But there was a universal vibe around the participants in the Islanders’ Alumni Weekend before Saturday night’s game against the Devils: Happy to be included and happy with the direction of the franchise in general, the current team in particular and plans for a certain new arena near Belmont Park most of all.
“I think it’s amazing, and I think that’s exactly what this franchise needs,” Gillies said of the new arena, some details of which were shared with the alumni at a luncheon in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon.
One tidbit: The Islanders’ “campus,” including the dressing room, medical facilities and such, will cover 23,000 square feet.
More importantly, they were told the seating bowl itself will be intimate, and reminiscent of a certain arena where the team used to play — and soon will again on an interim basis.
“They want that small group and want to do it like the Coliseum, with the noise, the passion of the people,” said Richie Hansen, who grew up and still lives in Northport and played 18 games as an Islander in the late ’70s. “They want to bring that back. How could you not like it as a player?”
Former goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch compared Barclays Center, where the alumni were honored at the first intermission Saturday, to a temporary rental while waiting for one’s dream house to be completed.
“I’ll say this diplomatically: What’s the alternative? Playing here? Really?” he said. “Are you getting any warm fuzzies or anything playing here? C’mon. You’re not.
“You are finally getting back into a solid place. I think that’s what I’m thinking of: A place that I can lay my head down for the last time.”
If it sounds as if the alumni are serving the role of Islanders boosters, that is part of the point.
Co-owner Jon Ledecky said 530 men have played at least one game with the Islanders, and all are invited to the alumni weekends. More than 150 players and family members came this year, about double last year’s inaugural event.
“It’s a brotherhood, and this brotherhood, I think, captures the imagination not only of the alumni but of the current players,” Ledecky said. “They see there’s a tradition here. In a world where you’re competing on so many different levels for the best talent, free agents, it’s all part of the plan.”
Many former Islanders follow the current ones and were curious to see how they would do without John Tavares but with new leadership in the form of general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz. So far, so good.
“They’re playing with a lot more structure; they’re way more disciplined,” Gillies said. “They’re playing with more enthusiasm . . . I’ve got a hunch that Barry has told them, ‘Everybody is going to treat you like underdogs all year. Let’s prove it.’ It’s kind of like the Vegas [Golden Knights] syndrome. Everybody thinks you’re all castaways now.”
Said Ed Westfall, the Islanders’ first captain, “They’re exciting, they’re fast, and really they’re cohesive. I love the way they move up and down the ice.”
So it went. Again: Getting and keeping the older guys involved, after many felt neglected for years before the current ownership group took over, can only help. Hey, you never know.
After last year’s event, to which Mika brought 10 family members, he wrote Ledecky a note gushing about the experience.
Said Ledecky, “So he’s over in the Czech Republic now when he is home] talking about the Islanders: ‘What a great organization!’'' ''