After a busy off-season, the Islanders will slap on the skates and get back on the ice for one of their last home openers at Nassau Coliseum Saturday before they skate off to Brooklyn in 2015 and bid farewell to the arena they’ve called home for four decades.
This weekend’s game against the reigning Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils will mark the beginning of the end for a franchise in transition and one that’s in the awkward position of celebrating a future in Brooklyn that’s two years away while still trying to convince fans to come out to the coliseum for its 65 remaining homes games—barring any other strike-shortened seasons, of course.
So begins the Islanders 48-game truncated season delayed by a 119-day lockout that featured squabbling between millionaires (players) and billionaires (owners).
NHL fans, unfortunately, are used to the business side of the league, as are Islanders fans who have witnessed the team battle it out with politicians and other local officials year-after-year while team owner Charles Wang tried unsuccessfully to secure a new arena that would guarantee the Islanders remain in Nassau County.
In October, Wang decided he had enough of being strung along for the past decade and announced his intentions to move the Islanders to Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center, where the team will join the arena’s anchor tenant, the Brooklyn Nets.
“We tried very hard to keep the Islanders in their original home in Nassau County,” Wang told a sea of reporters on Oct. 24 of last year while announcing the move. “Unfortunately we were unable to achieve that dream.”
Wang’s last stand came two years ago when he and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano spearheaded a $400 million taxpayer-funded proposal to rebuild the aging arena and re-energize the surrounding area. Taxpayers overwhelmingly voted down the referendum, forcing Wang to consider other options, which some Islanders fans feared included moving the team out of the state.
After five-straight losing seasons and plenty of unknowns over the years, frustrated Islanders fans finally get to put past turmoil aside for a moment to celebrate the team on the ice.
The puck will drop Saturday at 7 p.m. and the Islanders will host the Tampa Bay Lightning two days later, setting up a sprint to the finish that fans can only hope carries them into May and the NHL playoffs.