A Bittersweet, But Great Beginning at Barclays

Despite being an Islanders fan for about the past 14 years, I am an original Brooklyn-ite. Like many people my age that reside on Long Island, I moved with my family from Brooklyn when I was young. At the age of 8, in the middle of the third grade, my family decided to leave Mill Basin for Nassau County.

I can’t say I was a hockey fan at the time. In fact, I didn’t follow sports at all. Aside from being enrolled into the typical Little League baseball and soccer games that most kids went through, sports didn’t matter to me. And hockey? It wasn’t even something I really thought about unless I was hanging out with my friend who lived on East 53rd street that happened to be a Rangers fan.

It wasn’t until I moved to Long Island that I was swept up with hockey culture. Many of my classmates were in house leagues together and we would constantly play floor hockey in the hallways of our school building during indoor recess.

Before I knew it, I was buying hockey cards on a weekly basis from the local card store just a few blocks from my house. I still have those rookie Mats Sundin cards, as well as what felt like the never ending Adam Oates card that seemed like it came in every pack.

Hockey was embedded in the roots of most of the families that lived on Long Island. It was the late 90’s, and at the time, the Islanders were…well…pretty bad. But it didn’t matter. As kids, my friends and I just took awe in the fact that Zdeno Chara was as tall as a skyscraper, or that Ziggy Palffy not only had the coolest name, but was one of the best hockey players in New York at the time.

No longer having the Islanders on Long Island is a crime against the people who have been living and breathing this culture at any point over these last 43 years.

But here I am now 27 years old, and I’ve found myself living in Brooklyn again. My career has brought me to work in New York City, which encouraged me to eventually move off of Long Island. Coincidentally, the New York Islanders are going to be just about a half hour away from me by subway, only a bit farther from when they were at Nassau Coliseum and I was in the same county.

The other day I was walking through Park Slope and was just outside the Barclays Center. As anyone who’s been there already, the arena looks great from the outside and is just as advertised; a towering building in the middle of a major intersection and alongside multiple public transportation routes.

Just around the corner are several bars and restaurants that will prove to be excellent post-game bars and restaurants for Isles fans, as opposed to the minimal options of Hooters or Chipotle. There are a few outdoor spots as well, which will be great during the beginning and end of the season when the weather is warmer as well. And the best part is that current Long Islanders can enjoy these places as well since the LIRR is right there at Atlantic Terminal.

Despite the joke of the New York Islanders becoming the “Brooklyn Hipsters,” there really wasn’t anything that stuck out as “hip.” Your average everyday people were out and about, and not many, if any at all, were wearing skinny jeans and tight plaid shirts. Not that it would be a bad thing if people were, but it’s not exactly the demographic that many Long Islanders are probably expecting.

I’m not saying that the Islanders moving away from Nassau Coliseum is a good thing. Like everyone else, those last few games at the Coliseum were tough to watch since I knew that the end of one of the best eras of my life was quickly approaching.

Despite the convenience that I will have this year for attending games, I still believe that the Madhouse off the Meadowbrook is this team’s true home. And to take it a step further, I may have been born and currently live in Brooklyn, but Long Island will always be my home with Nassau Coliseum being my second.

But like the team’s recent rise in the standings over the past year, there is reason for optimism. And although the commute may not be favorable to many, there is plenty to enjoy in the area that surrounds the Barclays Center, and I for one can’t wait for the puck to drop.

It’s not Nassau, but it’s something else. Although it may be difficult at first, Islanders fans should be grateful with what they are getting as we head into next season, both on and off the ice.

Is it October yet?

-Rob McGowan

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