By JUSTIN DEMARCO
Leave it to the New York Islanders to find a way to make headlines during a lockout.
Waking up on a gloomy Wednesday morning in New York City, I figured the worst news I would hear would be in regard to scattered showers. Then I looked at my phone buzzing and blinking red on the kitchen table and saw text messages from friends and family saying, “Botta just reported that Isles press conf at Barclays Center today will announce move to Brooklyn in 2015,” “Isles to Brooklyn?” “NY Islanders moving to Brooklyn (Barclays Arena) 2015″ and “Are we still all Islanders?”
As some of you may know, this 2012-13 campaign was going to be the first time in fifteen years that my mom and I were not purchasing season tickets to watch our beloved team play at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. There were many reasons for our decision, but the main factor was that we were told our seats were no longer available to us.
Some of my friends assumed that the Brooklyn Islanders would be a best case scenario for me, especially since I live in Manhattan and can use public transportation to make it to the games, something that wasn’t possible in Uniondale.
However, I can’t help but feel sorry for myself and fellow Islanders fans who only know the Coliseum as the home of the Islanders and who loved to hate on the building knowing that it wasn’t the actual structure that kept us coming back, but the people inside who wore the blue and orange proudly.
I’m going to miss the ticket taker who I won’t mention since he used to let me in for free when I first attended games in elementary school when my friend JJ’s grandpa, Dan, would hand him old tickets from previous games that the ticket taker would pretend to rip and throw in the box.
And Phil, who greeted my mom and me — always for the first time it seemed — at the top of the 200s section by Gate 16 as we made our way down to our seats in section 109. Jimmy made sure to clear whatever fans were sitting there during the warm-ups and Tony sat with his back to the glass during the game and made us feel safe since he wore the yellow security vest.
When the Islanders would score, I’d high-five my mom or whatever friend I went to the game with and then our neighbors in the section. Janet would give me a kiss, Warren a hug and Grace and Dan – the people who got me hooked on hockey and the Islanders by taking me to games and Booster Club meetings as a kid – waved down to us in celebration.
Then there was the over the top fan with golden hair who pretended to know all of the players and referees and used to taunt little kids who were Rangers fans and tell them that they were “sewer rats” and “trash” in between periods and before the games, even though he was the one who smelled like he was hanging out with Master Splinter. Actually, yeah, I definitely won’t miss that…
Going to an Islanders game was an experience. One that I definitely will miss when Charles Wang moves the team to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the start of the 2015-16 season.
Born and raised on Long Island, Brooklyn doesn’t have the same appeal to me. I went to visit my buddy in Park Slope a couple of weekends ago and it took me about an hour on the subway to reach the Barclays Center stop from my apartment on the Upper East Side. It’s not a torturous commute, but it certainly isn’t fun, especially when you see the characters riding the subway with you.
As anyone who has grown up or driven on Long Island knows, the standard answer to how far away any destination may be is usually “twenty minutes,” even if it’s more like an hour. So, depending how far away you were from the Coliseum it was always “twenty minutes,” not an hour, which we know it will definitely be, at least, to reach the Barclays Center. I don’t even want to get into the trek for Isles fans living in Suffolk County.
I also can’t imagine how the die-hard Islanders fans who watched the team win four Stanley Cups in person are going to feel about the team moving. When my cousin moved to Brooklyn, my grandpa almost broke down in tears and said that he worked so hard to move out of there and he couldn’t imagine why she would move to Brooklyn.
Sure, times have changed quite a bit, but the perception is definitely still there for some baby-boomers and others in their late 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. I doubt many of them will be taking mass transit, which means they would have to drive. And if you were scared of old-timers driving to the game on the Northern State Parkway or Hempstead Turnpike, I can tell you that the Belt Parkway isn’t going to be a picnic. For those fans who still refer to the Coliseum as “the old barn,” the team might as well be in Kansas City, Seattle or some Canadian town.
In response to my friends who said that the Barclays Center is an awesome upgrade to the Coliseum as a structure, just because the exterior is different and new doesn’t mean that the interior (so to speak) and the inner workings of how the organization runs will change. Charles Wang said that he is still and will remain the owner of the New York Islanders.
So, my question for them, if your ex-girlfriend got a boob job would you call her up and try and get back together? Don’t answer that…
My friend, Matt, asked me point blank via text: “Who do you blame for this?”
I want to vilify Charles Wang for the way he has handled the Islanders organization since he has taken over. I want to berate SMG, Nassau County, and its public officials for the way they have all handled and maintained Nassau Coliseum and the Islanders. Most of all, I need to blame the residents (myself included) who weren’t able to get the referendum vote for a new Coliseum on Long Island passed.
In the end, if there were a majority of people who wanted the Islanders to remain on Long Island, the Isles would still be located in Uniondale come 2015.
Now, come 2015, Nassau County will be left with no professional sports teams and not much to be excited about during the winter, as actor and Islanders fan Kevin Connolly pointed out via Twitter. At least in the summer we still have our beaches.
— Kevin Connolly (@mrkevinconnolly) October 24, 2012
I’ll admit that Charles Wang did New York a service by keeping the Islanders on Long Island, albeit outside of Nassau County, but still don’t see him as a “hero” the way real estate developer and minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Bruce Ratner, made him out to be during this afternoon’s press conference.
My only sliver of hope going into the press conference was that Nassau County would create a new proposal and reclaim the Islanders some way, some how. That vanished when Charles Wang said that the deal with the Barclays Center was for 25 years and ironclad.
Looking at the New York Islanders crest next to the Barclays Center logo during the press conference didn’t sit well with me. And it probably never will, but hey, who knows, hopefully there’s some little kid in Brooklyn who will be as lucky as I was on Long Island to be taken to games and grow up learning about what pride and passion really means.
For that, I’m grateful for what the Islanders have given me on Long Island and hope the tradition continues, even if it’s in Brooklyn and I’m not as big a part of it.