The Islanders will play their entire home schedule next season, along with any playoff games this season, at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman announced Saturday afternoon.
“This was about giving the fans the experience they wanted, because the attendance here is materially greater than it is in Brooklyn, and for the players, to really give them the opportunity to focus on a routine that will enhance their game experience,” Bettman said at the Coliseum before the Islanders’ game against the Boston Bruins.
Bettman’s approval of a proposal that Cuomo and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran had lobbied for brings the Islanders back to Long Island full-time five years after they left the old, pre-renovated Coliseum for Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“Getting the Islanders back and getting them back early is really a boost in the arm for all of Long Island,” Cuomo said.
“The Islanders are not just a sports team,” he said. “The Islanders are a point of identification for Long Island. They’re a point of pride for Long Island. They’re a rallying cry for Long Island.”
Brian Martin, 44, of North Merrick, said he’s “excited” about the Islanders’ full-time return to the Coliseum.
“They’re a Long Island team,” he said as he walked toward his seat with his son Jack, 10, before the game. “They’ve been here forever. Brooklyn was a weird fit.”
Martin, a season-ticket holder, hated the “horrendous ride” to Brooklyn for games at Barclays.
“I live five minutes from here,” he said.
Mike Puhi lives in Manhattan but said he much prefers making the long trip to Uniondale rather than going to games in Brooklyn.
“In Brooklyn, it seems like it’s all business people all the time,” said Puhi, 30, who grew up in Ridgewood, Queens. “Here, it’s by the fans, for the fans and with the fans.”
“Brooklyn seems more commercial,” said Puhi’s girlfriend, Kaylah Braun, 30, of Manhattan.
In addition, Puhi said, crowds are more raucous at the Coliseum.
“We play better here,” he said.
The Islanders played at the Coliseum from the team’s founding in 1972 until they moved to Brooklyn in 2015. They have split the last two seasons between the Coliseum and Brooklyn. This year, the Islanders are playing 28 games at the Coliseum and 13 at Barclays.
The announcement means the team’s last game at Barclays will be on March 22 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Bettman said some Islanders players had talked with him about playing all of their games at the Coliseum rather than splitting the home schedule.
“I know it had to be difficult on them, and challenging, to be playing some games in Brooklyn and some games here,” he said. “Even getting to Brooklyn, since they all live on Long Island, made game day even more challenging.”
The Islanders are scheduled to move into the 17,113-seat Belmont Park arena currently under construction in October 2021.
Cuomo negotiated a deal that allowed the team to play part of this season and last season at the Coliseum after a 2018 renovation costing nearly $10 million — paid for by the state and the Islanders — that brought the arena up to NHL standards.
Bettman said Saturday that those renovations were critical. Even so, in January Bettman said he had concerns that playoff games in particular at the 13,900-seat Coliseum would be problematic because of the low seating capacity and the facilities available.
He said that some temporary media, food and restroom improvements might be made if the Islanders go deep into the playoffs.