The quest begins for Brooklyn’s Islanders
Franchise Can Start to Call Barclays Center Home on Friday Night
You might notice a well-conditioned twenty-something athlete or two coming up the stairs from the Long Island Railroad platform at the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station in Downtown Brooklyn on Friday afternoon.
Perhaps as many as 23 of them.
The New York Islanders, riding the rails from Uniondale, N.Y., to their new home at Barclays Center, will officially begin their 25-year lease agreement with the state-of-the-art arena by hosting the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks here on Friday night, the first of 41 scheduled regular-season contests on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
“It’s very convenient,” team captain and two-time Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares said of the ride in from the team’s practice facility on Long Island.
While the venue may have changed for this once-storied franchise, which captured four consecutive Stanley Cups during the halcyon days of the 1980s at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the goal remains the same as Season One commences in earnest once the puck drops at center ice shortly after 7:30 p.m.
“Every team, every year says they want to win the Stanley Cup,” said New York defenseman Johnny Boychuk, one of the few Islanders who is above the age of 30.
“We have a great team, we just have to prove it,” he added.
The Islanders proved they were poised to take a big step up last season, winning 47 games, their most since 1983-84, when they made their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearance, only to lose in five games to a budding dynasty from Edmonton that featured players like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
But New York sank out of contention for the Metropolitan Division crown down the stretch in 2014-15, finishing third in the standings before losing a heartbreaking Game 7 in Washington in the opening round of the playoffs.
That left the Islanders without a playoff series win since 1993, a drought they are eager to end during this historic first season in our fair borough.
“You could really feel the disappointment throughout our group over the summer,” Tavares told the Associated Press. “It definitely adds to pushing ourselves to get back [to the playoffs]. We realize how hard it is just to get where we got last year.”
Leaving the comforts of their long-time home on Long Island may also present a challenge to the Islanders in the early going at Barclays. New York did play a total of five preseason contests on Brooklyn ice over the past three seasons, including three this past preseason leading up to Friday’s opener.
“The more you skate out there the more comfortable you get with your surroundings, the lighting and the boards,” Tavares intimated.
The ice and arena will be significantly less familiar to the Blackhawks (0-1), who lost their regular-season opener to the Rangers, 3-2, on Wednesday night after raising their third Stanley Cup banner in six years at Chicago’s United Center.
However, the Isles may have to kick off the Brooklyn era without starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been sidelined by an undisclosed injury (get used to those Brooklynites) in advance of Friday’s contest.
“We’ll see how he feels [Friday] and then tie it all together,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said of Halak, who established a new franchise standard with 38 wins between the pipes last season.
The Islanders will carry three goaltenders into their opener, with newly claimed Jean-Francois Berube backing up Thomas Greiss if Halak is unable to go.
The rest of the team’s roster is not much different than the one that flirted with 50 wins and a division title last season, as general manager Garth Snow and Capuano believe they have the right stuff in the locker room to seriously contend for a fifth banner, and perhaps the first-ever earned here in Brooklyn by an NHL franchise.
“We didn’t make a lot of changes this offseason because we have faith and trust in the guys we have,” Capuano said. “Now it’s time to show what we’ve got.”
Isle Have Another: Berube, 24, led the American Hockey League with 37 wins last season and was in net when the Manchester Monarchs captured the circuit’s Calder Cup Championship. He was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday as insurance in case Halak misses significant time to start the season. A fourth-round pick (95th overall) by the Kings in 2009, Berube has yet to make his NHL debut. … The Islanders unveiled their official roster for Friday night this week: Goaltenders – Berube, Greiss and Halak. Defenseman – Boychuk Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Ryan Pulock, Brian Straitand Marek Zidlicky. Forwards – Josh Bailey, Steve Bernier, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin, Anders Lee, Matt Martin, Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome and Tavares. Only one players, defenseman Thomas Hickey, will begin the campaign on injured reserve. … On Thursday night, Leddy and Nelson are expected to light the Empire State Building in blue and orange to commemorate the Isles’ arrival in the Big Apple. … Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of legendary “Piano Man” Billy Joel, will sing the national anthem prior to Friday’s puck-dropping. … Fans that are unable to attend the game in Brooklyn can watch on MSG Network, or listen to the Islanders Radio Network on WNYE 91.5 FM, WHRU 88.7 FM and WRCN 103.9 FM.
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