Isles to make history Saturday with borough's first-ever NHL game
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kyle Okposo is relishing the opportunity to get better acquainted with his future NHL "home", and its fans, on Saturday night.
"It's going to be our home in a couple of years and we want to get acclimated with it," the right winger said in advance of this weekend's historic first-ever NHL game at the Barclays Center, an exhibition clash between the soon-to-be Brooklyn Islanders and visiting New Jersey Devils.
"We haven't really thought about [the move because] it's two years away and we're focused on this season," added Okposo, who accumulated 24 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, which saw the Islanders reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"There's some animosity with fans on [Long Island] that we're leaving. We want them to know we're going to be right down the road. People [we met in Brooklyn] seemed pretty excited [during last Thursday's training camp workout at Barclays]. It was pretty neat."
Once the puck drops at approximately 7 p.m. Saturday night, yet another new era of pro sports will begin in our fair borough, just about 11 1/2 months following the Nets' official arrival in Downtown Brooklyn.
"It will still almost feel like a neutral site because the Coliseum is still [the arena] for all our home games for a couple of more years," team captain John Tavares (pictured above) noted. "That is where everything is kind of situated right now. We don't have a locker room here or anything set up, but it will be nice to play, for sure. We are really looking forward to the game."
The current Barclays tenants put together their first playoff season since 2007 as well last year before falling in seven tough games to the Chicago Bulls in the opening round.
The Islanders, who still have to play this season and presumably the 2014-15 campaign at their old digs in Uniondale, N.Y., were, to a man, blown away by the arena they'll be playing in full-time approximately 48 months from now.
"Everything is just brand new," gushed defenseman Travis Hamonic after trying out the ice at Barclays last week. "A lot championships were won in [the Nassau Coliseum]. But on the flip side, whenever you have a chance to move into a brand new facility, it's exciting. I think it's really nice that we're able to find a new location without alienating our fan base.
"It's like we're playing for a bigger purpose with the organization," added the 23-year-old Manitoba native. "I'm really excited to play in this building full-time and call Brooklyn home."
With more than 11,000 of the 15,000 seats available already sold, the Islanders are hoping to fill the building Saturday night with a walk-up crowd that can easily make the 40-minute-plus trip into Downtown via the Long Island Rail Road. The team took the trip last Thursday morning in advance of its morning and afternoon workouts at the arena.
“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, with a really cool setup,” Isles forward Matt 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.”
"The surroundings here are unreal. Everything is first class," added Hamonic.
Continued rumblings that the Isles could arrive here in time for the 2014-15 campaign, a move that is only possible if they get out of their current lease at the Coliseum a year early, were quickly quelled by team owner and Brooklyn Tech High School graduate Charles Wang.
“There’s been no discussion (about moving sooner), because our plan is to honor the commitment of the lease,” Wang said following last week’s afternoon workout on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. “I think we’ve always wanted to get here as soon as possible. But again, we’re going to honor that lease.”
According to Barclays CEO Brett Yormark, more than 25 percent of the tickets sold for Saturday's game have gone to Brooklynites.
Expect that number to take an up-tick in the hours leading up to the contest as the community prepares to get its first taste of "The Coolest Game on Ice".
"I'm very excited about the number from Brooklyn," Yormark said. "It means hockey has a bit of a foundation here in the borough and they're excited about the ultimate arrival of the Islanders
"Hopefully it's a bit of foreshadowing of what is to come," he added. "I'm really bullish on hockey in Brooklyn, as most people are."
Though the game won't be televised, it will be streamed live on Newyorkislanders.com. Those still wishing to purchase a ducat to the event can call 1-800-882-ISLES ext. 2.
Around the Rink: The Islanders will have their four Stanley Cup Championship banners from the 1979-80, '80-'81, '81-'82 and '82-'82 seasons hanging from the rafters of Barclays Center for Saturday night's exhibition game. ... The Islanders are still seeking their first preseason win Saturday after dropping both ends of a split-squad doubleheader to Calgary, 5-3 and 4-2, on Tuesday. They will visit the Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Thursday before Saturday's Barclays Center opener. ... F Cal Clutterbuck, who inked a four-year, $11 million deal with the Islanders this summer, isn't expected to play against the Devils in Brooklyn after being cut by a skate in one of the games against the Flames.