Much of the Islanders’ marketing strategy since arriving at the Barclays Center has centered around the notion of introducing the team to Brooklyn at large as the new franchise in town.
Sunday, their neighborly greetings took them to the farthest reaches of the borough, as center Ryan Strome made an appearance at a skills clinic all the way out in Bergen Beach.
With the dull roar of passing cars on the Belt Parkway as background noise, Strome coached children from the surrounding area and Long Island through stickhandling drills. In all, about 120 children attended the event.
“Growing up in Toronto, there’s a lot of opportunity [to learn the sport],” Strome said. “Being here, back in the community, I think the Islanders do a good job of setting this up for the kids and giving them that opportunity that a lot of kids might not have.”
Given the relative paucity of spaces to skate on ice in Brooklyn, a bit of creativity is necessary when it comes to teaching the fundamentals of hockey. Sunday’s clinic — which took place on a rink normally used for roller hockey — utilized floorball equipment, which consists of lightweight fiberglass sticks and a Wiffle-style ball instead of a puck.
Sunday’s event was part of an eight-week partnership between the Islanders and Brooklyn-based nonprofit Millennium Development to install floorball as an after-school activity in seven elementary and middle schools in the southern area of the borough, including Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park and Canarsie.
“What’s good about this program too — and floorball — is that it reaches kids from all nationalities, from all backgrounds,” said Paul Curiale, executive director of Millennium Development. “They don’t have to have hockey experience, none whatsoever.”
“The program that we’re running, it focuses on getting individuals active in a hockey atmosphere,” added Daniel Palm of Generation Floorball, the equipment supplier of the program and clinic. “Some of these kids, in the foreseeable future, they’re probably not gonna have access to traditional ice hockey.”
The Islanders, for their part, see an opportunity to build plenty of goodwill in a previously untapped area of the borough. A half-hour into the clinic, the team had already run out of its supply of giveaway alternate jerseys with “Brooklyn” on the nameplate.
That fact wasn’t lost on the children who participated. One of the first questions launched at Strome during a brief Q & A session was “How come the jerseys don’t have your name on it?”
“Moving to a little bit of a new area, I think when you look last year at Long Island, a lot of areas would come to watch the games from out that way . . . they were invested in the team,” Strome said. “I think we’re trying to do the same thing now in Brooklyn and different communities and stuff.
“This is certainly a great way to do it.”
In the long run, community efforts like Sunday’s could help build up the goodwill the Islanders need to take control of Brooklyn’s hockey loyalties.
For now, though, the borough remains divided, as evidenced by the scattered children saying “Lets go Rangers” instead of “Lets go Islanders” during the post-clinic photo.