Islanders Hall of Famer Bobby Nystrom, along with other team...

Islanders Hall of Famer Bobby Nystrom, along with other team Hall of Famers, drops the ceremonial first puck between Cal Clutterbuck #15 and Blake Coleman #20 of the Calgary Flames at UBS Arena on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 in Elmont. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Islanders fans finally got their turn on Saturday night.

For a decade and a half, they had watched new or rebuilt sports palaces rise across the region, from Newark to Queens to the Bronx to East Rutherford to Brooklyn to, yes, midtown Manhattan.

But it never, ever was about them, fans of a team that has been looking for a modern home to call its own for as long as many of those fans have been alive.

Now they not only can say they have one but can argue — and probably will — that they have the best one of all:

UBS Arena, the $1.1 billion facility that opened with the Islanders hosting the Flames before a crowd that spent much of the night oohing-and-aahing its way through wide concourses and architectural flourishes.

"I’ve been waiting for this since the early ’80s; it’s unbelievable," Mike Galligan of Deer Park said as he watched the third period from his seat in front of the Tailgate Bar. "I can’t believe I’m here tonight."

Galligan, who was wearing a Gord Dineen jersey and said he is in his late 60s, has had season tickets in his family since 1974. But this was a night for every generation.

The fact that the Flames won, 5-2, with the Islanders missing five regular skaters because of COVID-19 protocols naturally was a downer of a subplot. But the bigger, brighter picture was impossible to ignore.

"It’s huge," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "We have a home now."

Some things carried over from the old place. Nicole Raviv sang the national anthems, reviving the impromptu tradition from last year’s playoffs of having the crowd sing most of the American anthem on its own.

Eight members of the Islanders Hall of Fame participated in the ceremonial puck drop and fans chanted the name of the absent Mike Bossy, who is battling lung cancer.

Passionate Islanders fans packed the seats for the first hockey game at UBS Arena at Belmont Park. Newsday's Steve Langford reports from Elmont. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost, Mark LaMonica and Kevin P. Coughlin/Steve Pfost, Mark LaMonica and Kevin P. Coughlin

"These fans deserve a home like this," Brock Nelson said after scoring both Islanders goals. "It’s an incredible building. The atmosphere was electric."

It was one of the biggest moments in Long Island sports this millennium. But this being the Islanders, the story naturally came with a huge dose of adversity.

They were without captain Anders Lee and their longest-serving player, Josh Bailey, as well as their best two defensemen, Adam Pelech because of COVID-19 and Ryan Pulock because of a lower-body injury.

Coach Barry Trotz said he was "really disappointed" for the players who earned the right to be part of the big night but could not participate.

To review: The Islanders and their partners managed to build a state-of-the-art arena during a pandemic yet were unable to escape its effects on one of the most important nights in the franchise’s history.

It was a cruel twist for a team that methodically built a consistent winner under Lou Lamoriello and Trotz, timed in part to coincide with the new building — where there were many tickets, suites and sponsorships to sell.

The emergency call-ups made it a highly competitive game, but it was not enough. The Islanders have lost five in a row.

Again, those are short-term concerns. Looking ahead, UBS Arena figures to look a lot better to free agents than Nassau Coliseum or Barclays Center, more so now that the team has a permanent home address.

The building remains a work in progress. There will be glitches, missing details and whatnot for weeks.

But the arena already is a long way from where Nassau Coliseum was on its opening night, when the Nets hosted the Pittsburgh Condors in an ABA game on Feb. 11, 1972.

Only 7,892 turned out to see the Nets win, 129-121, behind Rick Barry’s 45 points, but it was not for lack of interest. About half of the $28 million arena’s planned 15,500 seats had not yet been installed.

That October, the Islanders played their first game at the Coliseum, attracting a far-less-than-capacity crowd of 12,221 as the Atlanta Flames won, 3-2.

The Flames moved to Calgary in 1980. The Islanders made their move Saturday, a mere eight-mile hike west of Nassau Coliseum and a long overdue leap into a new era.

"It’s the mecca," Galligan said. "This is it, man. We’ve been waiting for this so long. It’s unbelievable."

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