The Islanders upcoming move to Barclays Center is still two seasons away, but it seemed a lot closer Thursday, as the team hit the ice at their future home in Brooklyn to drop the puck on training camp.
After meeting as a team at the Garden City Train Station, players, coaches and media took the Long Island Railroad to Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal before making the one block walk to the new arena.
“You walk off the train and come around the corner and you see the Barclays sign right in front,” said Islanders forward Matt Martin. “It’s got that rust finish that I thought was pretty cool. It’s definitely a different atmosphere. There’s a lot more going on. You walk in the building and it’s open right away - you can see the ice and see the scoreboard.”
After a welcome message from Bruce Ratner, Barclays Center Majority Owner and Developer, and Brett Yormark, Brooklyn Nets CEO, the team hit the ice for its first practice.
While having the Islanders skate at Barclays Center may have provided a glimpse into the future, Long Island’s team also made sure to bring the past along as well. The 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983 Stanley Cup Championship banners hung from the rafters, and Yormark assured media members during a building tour that orange and blue would remain the Islanders primary colors.
Perhaps no one had been waiting eagerly for Thursday’s practice more than Islanders owner Charles Wang.
“When we came out there and saw the beautiful white ice and the big logo and everything, the heart went ‘ba-boom, ba-boom,’” Wang said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Wang added that while all parties involved are anticipating the move west, the plan is still to move after the Nassau Coliseum lease expires following the 2014-15 season.
“There’s been no discussion (about moving sooner), because our plan is to honor the commitment of the lease,” Wang said. “I think we’ve always wanted to get here as soon as possible. But again, we’re going to honor that lease.”
Though many players have been skating together informally at Iceworks for the last week, Thursday was the first time they came together as a full group with a coaching staff. The team had two on-ice sessions that were generally split between veterans (Group A) and prospects (Group B); even so, Capuano made it clear that prospects would have an opportunity to make the club.
“I think we’ve always been an organization that gives opportunity,” Capuano said. “They’re friends in that room right now, but they’re competing for jobs. We’ll just have to see how these guys play during the preseason games. They’re not going to make the team in the first three days here. We’ve always felt that if there’s somebody who’s going to help us win, then they’re probably going to be on this hockey team.”
With state-of-the-art amenities all around the building for both the team and the fans, some of the players struggled to get their bearings on the event level of the arena as they navigated to the practice court for an off-ice workout. But that’s just a minor inconvenience for the players; one they’ll quickly get past.
After practice, Islanders forward Matt Moulson was all smiles from the visiting NBA locker room, which the team was using as their makeshift dressing room for the day.
“It’s a state of the art facility, with a really cool setup,” Moulson said. “I’d never been here before. This is going to be pretty good for a hockey game, with a few minor tweaks here and there to make sure the seating is just right. The setup and atmosphere is going to make for a real energetic crowd.”
While Thursday’s skate will be the team’s only practice at Barclays Center, the Islanders will be back in Brooklyn on Saturday, Sept. 21, when they take on the New Jersey Devils at the first NHL game in the borough.
Notes: The Islanders broke training camp with 51 players, including 27 forwards,19 defensemen and five goaltenders. 2013 draftees Ryan Pulock and Alan Quine, as well as summer acquisitions Cal Clutterbuck, Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard skated with the team for the first time.
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