A very good year for Brooklyn sports
2013 highlighted by new arrivals and championships
A record third consecutive Northeast Conference title for LIU-Brooklyn, the second city football championship in three seasons for Lincoln High School, the Nets’ first playoff appearance since 2007 and the first-ever NHL game played in our fair borough were just some of the highlights of a landmark year in Brooklyn sports.
The Eagle will take a quick peek back at some of the more compelling sports-related stories of the past year, including Paulie Malignaggi’s “Battle for Brooklyn” bout against Zab Judah, the Cyclones’ 13th campaign on Coney Island and the Terriers’ run to a long-awaited NEC soccer title in their brand-new digs at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Dawn of a New Ice Age: The Islanders arrived in Downtown Brooklyn via the Long Island Rail Road for their practice on what will be their home ice come 2015 – if not sooner.
Though the playing surface was rough in sports and the soon-to-be-expanded seating arrangements left something to be desired, the Islanders were impressed by the still-under-construction locker room and workout facilities.
A crowd of 14,689 stuffed the Barclays Center on Sept. 21 for the Isles’ exhibition matchup with the New Jersey Devils, marking the first-ever NHL game here in Brooklyn.
Though they suffered a 3-0 loss to the visiting Devils, the Isles were enthused after their first visit to their future home.
“It was great,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “The crowd was really into it. We just couldn’t get that first [goal] to get them into it. Too bad we couldn’t get the win tonight. … When the time comes, we’ll be happy to be here. Normally in preseason you don’t see a crowd like that. I just wish we could have played better.”
Three is a Magic Number: The LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds lost former Northeast Conference Player of the Year Julian Boyd to a torn ACL, but still managed to pull out their record third consecutive Northeast Conference title.
Point guard Jason Brickman led the nation in assists, Jamal Olasewere was named NEC Player of the Year and C.J. Garner picked up NEC Tournament MVP honors after the Blackbirds beat Mount St. Mary’s in the league’s title game before a crowd of 1,700 at the WRAC.
“I’m very emotional right now because of what we went through,” first-year Blackbirds coach Jack Perri admitted, citing an ugly September skirmish that resulted in suspensions for four of his key players before the season even began and the loss of Boyd to injury prior to the start of conference play as potential roadblocks to the Blackbirds’ ultimate goal.
“(It was a) totally different book than the last two years, totally different story,” added Perri, who had been former coach Jim Ferry’s top assistant and recruiter for the LIU squads that captured the previous two NEC titles. “Everything went right the last two years and this year they had to show their true colors. For me to be able to be the leader of that group, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Also, the LIU women’s volleyball squad capped a decade of dominance with their eighth NEC championship in the past 10 years.
No Seventh Heaven for Nets: After winning 49 games, including a franchise-record 23 on the road, during their inaugural campaign in our fair borough, the Nets hoped to make a playoff run toward their first-ever NBA title in 2013.
But a feisty Chicago Bulls team, spearheaded by Poly Prep alum Joakim Noah, foiled Brooklyn’s postseason plans with a stunning 99-93 Game 7 victory at Barclays Center in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
“I think we have a great group of the guys in the locker room. I just think, like I said, we talked about the word inconsistency all year. I think we just need to find a way to be more consistent, especially mentally,” Nets point guard Deron Williams said. ”I think that’s what got us in this series, is just the toughness, the mental breakdowns.”
The devastating loss resulted in the firing of interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo, the hiring of future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd and the draft-day blockbuster deal that brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Nets.
Armed with the league’s highest payroll at upwards of $180 million, the new-look Nets finished 2013 with an ugly 10-21 mark, making them of one of the NBA’s, not to mention our borough’s, biggest disappointments.
Lincoln Rules Again and Again: Though defending Public School Athletic League champion Erasmus Hall was looked at as the preseason favorite, coach Shawn O’Connor’s Lincoln Railsplitters returned to Yankee Stadium and won their second city title in three years.
“It’s amazing. It tops off the cherry on the Sundae,” said Lincoln star Thomas Holley after helping the ‘Splitters edge Tottenville, 28-27, last month. “I just won a city championship with my brothers and that’s the best feeling ever.”
The Lincoln basketball team, led by junior Isaiah Whitehead, captured the PSAL boys’ title as well.
Bringing Coney Back: Though the Cyclones fell just short in their bid to reach the New York-Penn League playoffs, they went a long way toward helping the revitalize the area severely damaged by the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Brooklyn led the NY-Penn in attendance for the 13th straight year after a $1 million renovation to MCU Park, which saw its clubhouses and dugouts destroyed by the devastating storm.
A brand new artificial playing surface was broken in by LJ Mazzilli, an All-Star second baseman for the Cyclones and the son of legendary Mets outfielder Lee Mazzilli.
Fourth-year skipper Rich Donnelly was moved by the efforts of Brooklynites, and the Cyclones’ organization, to Bring Coney Back during the 76-game grind of a regular season.
“When that happened, I felt like it was my family,” said the 66-year-old baseball sage, wiping tears from his reddened eyes while recalling the impact of Sandy on Coney Island in October 2012.
“All we do is play baseball. I saw what happened. I saw the devastation to people that I know. We have people at the office here that still don’t have their homes. Our job is to provide some entertainment for those people who have been through hell. If we do that, irregardless of wins and losses, that’s our goal for this team.”
He’s a ‘Magic Man’: Considered to be well past his prime, former two-time world champion Paulie Malignaggi easily out-pointed five-time world titleholder and fellow borough native Zab Judah at the Barclays Center in December.
“This is an emotional win for me,” admitted Malignaggi after improving to 33-5 with the unanimous decision victory. “It definitely allows me to continue boxing. If I had lost, I don’t know that I would have wanted to continue. But this big win puts me in the right spot to fight in this division for lots of money…lots.”
Free Kick to History: Junior defender Andy Cormack converted a free kick in overtime as the St. Francis men’s soccer club captured its first NEC title since 1998 with a 3-2 triumph over Bryant in November.
The Terriers also opened their field at Brooklyn Bridge Park by going 4-0-1 at home.
“It’s been a long time [since we won the NEC Championship] and we had some tough times,” admitted Tom Giovotto, who finally accomplished his primary goal of leading the Terriers back to the NCAAs in his seventh season as head coach at the Remsen Street school. “We made a good run a couple of years back. It’s just been great, the alumni, the fan support. We have a lot of support behind us.”
The St. Francis men’s water polo team also qualified for the NCAA’s Final Four for the second straight year.