They came from Bay Shore and Merrick, and out from Center Moriches. They took their cars or boarded the railroad for the exodus to Brooklyn. All the while, the refrain was the same: There’s no place like home.
But there’s no Dorothy here: No matter how many times fans wish for a return to Hempstead Turnpike, the Islanders are in Flatbush to stay this postseason.
The first round — a raucous affair at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum — has been replaced by the spacey confines of Barclays Center for the second-round series against the Hurricanes.
And the reaction from those fans — that solidly Long Island base — ranged from acceptance to downright annoyance.
“Horrible, despicable,” said Marc Tand of Merrick, a season-ticket holder since the dynasty days. “We might not even get the same fan base. This building wasn’t built for hockey. It’s going to take the home-field advantage of that closeness of the Coliseum and just take it away.”
Before Friday, the Islanders hadn’t played a game at Barclays since Feb. 16, and because the players live on Long Island, the team opted to stay in a hotel before Game 1 — already giving it a bit of a road game feel. For fans who traveled hours to get to the arena on time, the feeling was similar.
Phil Javetski — holding a cardboard sign that said, “Stanley Cup, Why Not Us?” — said nothing is like the Coliseum. Still, “it’s going to be just as nuts,” said Javetski, of Center Moriches, shortly after leading a rambunctious “Let’s Go Islanders’’ chant with mascot Sparky by his side. “We’re all excited. I can’t even talk anymore. I’ve been screaming for an hour already . . . It is what it is. We’re in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing.”
Justin Galbraith was inclined to agree. The Babylon resident went to first-round games at the Coliseum and in Pittsburgh. “There’s only one word,” he said. “Insanity.
It was overwhelming, just crazy. That’s our place. I think it’s going to be the same, though, I really do. I think the energy is going to be here.”
But there are logistical issues that make Barclays less than suited for hockey, said Loree Tand, Marc’s wife. Going from the Coliseum to Brooklyn is “terrible,” she added.
“I can’t stand this place,” she said. “You can’t see from half the seats, the ice is terrible . . . [At the Coliseum], it was like the old days, the Cup days. Nothing, nothing [can make Barclays like that]. Bring it back to the Coliseum.”
Marc Tand said he heard of fans trying to sell their tickets because making it to Brooklyn was too much of an inconvenience. “If you live in Nassau and you have kids, are you going to bring your child here at 7 p.m. when they have school? No, you’re not going to do it. The basic Long Islander in Nassau, 10, 15, 20 minutes tops [after going to the Coliseum], you’re home.’’
And even the fans who accept their Barclays fate agree that nothing compares to the old barn. Thomas Stelfox, a Bay Shore resident who drove in and picked up a friend on the way, said the commute is the most difficult thing.
“All the Islanders fans are on the Island. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
His son, Gavin, 14, made it out to the Coliseum during the first round and said, “It was really crazy. Everybody was happy to be back, so happy to be back there.”
As he spoke, the other fans gathered near the glass in Section 19 started their chants. They’d all gotten there more than an hour before puck drop so they could get a front-row seat for warmups.
“Everybody loves going to the Coliseum,” Gavin said as the “Let’s Go Islanders” chant started up around him — gleeful and loud, even though the ice still was empty. “But I still think it’s going to be ridiculous here.”