NEWARK - The Islanders can pencil in at least one VIP guest for their home opener against the Blackhawks at Barclays Center on Oct. 9.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday he plans to be in the house for the team's first regular-season game in Brooklyn, after years at the center of the team's long, winding road out of Nassau County.
"I'm generally in places where something special is happening," Bettman said after appearing on a panel with former Islander and Ranger Pat LaFontaine and former Ranger Mike Richter at Beyond Sport United, a conference at the Prudential Center designed to promote and discuss social consciousness in sports. "Whether it's hoisting the Stanley Cup banner, whether it's the first game in a new building, that's what I do."
When it was suggested to Bettman that the game should be extra enticing because it will be against the reigning Stanley Cup champion, he laughed and said, "You think that was an accident?"
Bettman said that when he used to attend Islanders games during the week, he would leave his midtown Manhattan office at 5 p.m. and perhaps make it for the opening faceoff.
"The three or four times I've been down to the Barclays Center, from my desk, it's 22 minutes," he said.
Bettman added, "I think everybody's very excited about their future in Brooklyn . . . It'll be different but it's a nice place to go and the Nassau Coliseum was and is past its due date and so the Islanders needed a new facility. Was [Barclays] built especially for hockey? No, but it'll be great."
Responding to a question about ice-making capabilities there, he said, "To the extent that there are any adjustments that need to be made, Dan Craig, who's our ice guru, will be on call."
LaFontaine, who lives in Cold Spring Harbor, said that while he is glad the Islanders are staying in the metropolitan area, he laments what will be lost in Uniondale.
"It's heartbreaking," he said, "to know what they've achieved in that building and that place has become a very iconic place and the fact the team last year was able to revive that feeling again, I think made it more difficult.
"I'm glad they're not too far away, but I think the residual effects are going to be felt. You realize what a team and a franchise have done to put Long Island on the map . . . The history, it's hard, it's painful to see."
On another matter, Bettman said the NHL will review two applications for expansion teams, which the league said Tuesday had come from Las Vegas and Quebec City.
"The purpose of the first stage was to distinguish between what was reality and what was not and so we'll now go through the process of evaluating those applications and the board will have to focus on whether or not it wants to expand, and if so whether either or both of these applications make sense," he said.
"We've been getting lots of expressions of interest over the last couple of years. There's been so much speculation and debate and the answer was we'll go through a process and decide what we're going to do or not do."
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