Brooklyn Boro

Islanders go from the old barn to hipster heaven

Islanders Fans, Old and New, Ready to Embrace NHL Franchise

September 24, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
John Bourne (left) and Jake Berlin show off their Islander colors in advance of Monday night’s preseason opener at the Barclays Center, where Brooklyn’s new NHL franchise will officially kick off its inaugural season here on Oct. 9. Eagle photos by John Torenli
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Black and White is the new Orange and Blue if you happen to be digging the New York Islanders’ alternate third jersey.

But can a hipster haven like Downtown Brooklyn and its surrounding areas become home base for an NHL franchise making its first foray into our fair borough?

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

“It’s hard to imagine,” admitted Jake Berlin, a hardcore Islanders fan who took the No. 4 train from the shadows of Madison Square Garden to Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center for Monday night’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Hipsters and hockey don’t always go together.”

“But the alliteration alone makes me want it to,” added John Bourne, Berlin’s fellow Manhattanite, who was decked out in a sharp orange blazer for New York’s eventual 3-2 exhibition triumph over Philadelphia.

The two were among a sparse but enthusiastic crowd that attended Monday’s initial dress rehearsal for the historic Oct. 9 regular-season opener at Barclays against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Though the Islanders drew well in their final season on Long Island, averaging 15,334 fans at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum during the 2014-15 campaign, a figure doubtlessly boosted by fans wishing to bid a fond farewell to the “Old Barn” as well as the team’s outstanding and inspiring play throughout the season, they wallowed near or at the bottom of the NHL’s yearly attendance figures for the better part of the previous decade.

“We miss the Nassau Coliseum, the Old Barn, but we’re excited to see our first game at the Barclays,” said John Rice, who came in with his girlfriend, who was attending her first-ever Islander game, from the Island via the L.I.R.R. on Monday evening just ahead of rush hour.

League commissioner Gary Bettman, current Islanders owner Charles Wang, a Brooklyn Tech alum, and the owners and operators of the Barclays Centers are banking on Downtown’s hipsters, foodies, fashionistas and hardcore hockey enthusiasts embracing the franchise in the same manner Downtown has adopted the recently relocated Brooklyn Nets, who have averaged just over 17,000 fans per game during their first three seasons here.

“I think everybody’s very excited about [the Islanders’] future in Brooklyn,” Bettman, who will be on hand at the state-of-the-art arena on Opening Night, said back in July.

“It’ll be different but it’s a nice place to go and the Nassau Coliseum was and is past its due date and so the Islanders needed a new facility. Was [Barclays] built especially for hockey? No, but it’ll be great.”

While openly questioning the quality of the ice surface during their previous two visits to the Barclays Center – for one-off preseason games against the New Jersey Devils prior to the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons — the Islanders had no qualms before or after Monday’s contest, declaring their new facilities and arena ready for action come Oct. 9.

“The facility is beautiful,” Islanders left wing and on-ice tough guy Matt Martin said upon arriving at the Barclays Center prior to Monday’s game. “We all had pretty high expectations, but it still blew them away.

“It’s a good place for us to call home and be able to hang out and have some fun,” Martin added. “A lot of guys worked very hard to make this happen.”

None harder than Brett Yormark, the Barclays Center’s CEO, who on Tuesday revealed the Islanders’ partnerships for their inaugural campaign.

Those regional and local business alliances include: NYCB, BlueRock Energy, Justworks, Modell’s Sporting Goods, GEICO, Professional Physical Therapy, MillerCoors, Viber, American Express, NY Lottery, P.C. Richard & Son, TGI, Bob’s Discount Furniture, Baked in Brooklyn, Honda, Northshore LIJ, Maimonides Medical Center, Haworth, ctms, MSC, Industrial Supply Co., Lifestyle Sports Group, NAM, Imperial Bag & Paper Co., LLC, Pepsi, Las Vegas Tourism, OK Petroleum, and Ridgewood Savings Bank.

These alliances are in addition to previously announced Islander partnerships with JetBlue, PIX11, DraftOps, Infor, and Barracuda Networks.

All of the partners will be members of the Barclays Center Business Alliance, and several of the partners also have alliances with Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets.

“We are proud that the New York Islanders will debut in Brooklyn with an outstanding family of corporate partners,” noted Yormark. “It’s clear that the business community recognizes the excitement of the team’s move and the opportunity of reaching a dynamic new fan base in the borough and beyond.”

That dynamic new fan base, like it or not, will include plenty of Ranger fans from Brooklyn, who have either found it more difficult to get a good seat at the Garden or simply love the fact that there is an NHL franchise right here in their home borough.

Even if it’s the very team they’ve grown up hating.

“Being a Rangers fan my whole life, I’m torn about the Islanders moving to Brooklyn,” said Bay Ridge resident Costa Michalakis.

“On the one hand, I’m happy that there’s going to be a place so close to home to go and watch hockey, the greatest live sport, but on the other [hand], now I’m going to have to deal with a whole new breed/generation of knuckleheads yelling, ‘Dynasty!’ and holding up four fingers in my face right in my backyard.”

Those “knuckleheads” should help the Islanders better their attendance figures from a season ago as the Barclays can hold up to 16,000 per game for hockey, a 1,000-plus drop-off from what the Nets can bring in, which is mainly due to the fact that the ice surface takes up much more room on the floor of the arena than an NBA court.

The allure of a new franchise on its own should boost Brooklyn into the top half of the NHL’s home attendance leaders this coming season – they finished 25th out of 30 teams a year ago.

Add to that the fact that the team appears to be coming into full bloom just in time for its arrival after reaching the playoffs in two of the previous three seasons with a talented group of developing young players, spearheaded by team captain John Tavares, who scored the opening goal in Monday night’s game and assisted on another.

“I think this team is starting to jell around a great young core,” said Berlin, who also attended the Islanders’ first-ever game in Brooklyn here against the Devils in September 2013.

“They bolstered the defense. I thought they could have won a [playoff] series last year. This team has all the makings. … I think some [Islander fans from Long Island] aren’t going to make the trip, but that will be made up by people from here [in Brooklyn and] in the city.”

Of course the ultimate determining factor in any team’s ability to draw out a loyal fan base comes from its ability to win, and win big.

Chasing their first postseason series win since way back in 1993, the Islanders know it’s time to deliver the goods.

“Getting out of the first round is a motivating factor and we believe we had a team that could go all the way and we’re lucky we have basically the same group coming back,” Tavares said.

Win and they will come, be it in full-on hipster attire, the new black-and-white Brooklyn-based color scheme or the traditional orange-and-blue.

Hipsters and hockey may not quite go together just yet, but it won’t be long before it becomes hip to love hockey right here in Downtown Brooklyn.

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