After many years and many tries at opening a new arena, plus a grueling 13-game road trip and amid a COVID-19 outbreak that’s sidelined three players so far, the Islanders are finally at their new home, the UBS Arena.
17250 supporters will descend on the Belmont Park building Saturday night. There will be wide concourses, good viewlines and outdoor terraces. They’ll also find bars, restaurants and great halls. It will be as tall and as impressive as Nassau Coliseum. The building is designed to recreate the old noises with modern amenities. It will be all theirs.
It’s likely a strange feeling for the Islanders and their fans, because it seemed for so long like the day would never come. But now it’s here.
“I think it’s fair to say that this franchise has never been in better shape,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters at the UBS Arena ribbon-cutting Friday. “Their future has never been brighter.”
The new digs won’t be perfect, not yet. Only the eastbound platform at the new LIRR station near the arena is open. There will be some kinks in the parking situation. On Wednesday’s tour, some parts of the building had dried paint. It was still in preparation.
However, there’s a final point.
“If you’re an Islanders fan going through the desert for 30 years without a glass of water … ” said Oak View Group CEO Tim Leweike. This sentence is complete. You don’t have to finish the sentence.
On Saturday, 7 p.m. against the Flames will see the puck drop. The years of worrying and waiting for something like UBS Arena to happen will all fade into the night. It will all be over.
The team had nothing but positive things to share when it first hit the ice on Thursday. Lou Lamoriello was gracious in praises of the building, even though Friday’s press conference focused almost entirely on COVID-19.
“I thought it was extremely positive and upbeat, excitement because none of them have really seen the facility and it was done intentionally so the first time they would go in, it would be complete,” Lamoriello said. “I think they felt very good about it. I saw some of the comments that the players made after and I thought there was great excitement about it.”
The last week of the road trip became an unforgiving disaster with the Isles having to drag themselves around the country, suffering four consecutive losses, and finally getting back home after a five-week journey.
“Yeah, I think there’s an anticipation,” coach Barry Trotz said last Sunday, before the final leg of the trip. “Hey, we said we’ll get to this point.”
Trotz lamented the points that the Islanders had left behind, such as losing third periods leads or going into overtime. In those games the crowd was against them.
“Usually at home, we lock that down and we get our matches, but we haven’t had that,” Trotz said. “We haven’t had home ice, we haven’t had any of that, that the other team is, so we just have to grind through it.”
With only a handful of games remaining in the league, the Islanders will be returning home 5-6. The Islanders are battered and bruised without Anders Lee as their captain, who has been confirmed positive for COVID-19. They are also without defenseman Ryan Pulock due to lower-body njury and are waiting for their latest test results to be sure than an outbreak that’s affected three players thus far doesn’t get worse. These obstacles could lead to a poor first week in the new facility, which would be a serious problem for the team who wants the Cup celebration to take place in June.
All those problems can be forgotten for just a second on Saturday. The Islanders are finally at home.