So, here we are, on the cusp of a new era in Islanders hockey. Things are different for sure. We have a new arena, new fanfare surrounding the team, new events surrounding the Islanders, and most of all a whole new audience for the team to reach.
For 43 years we knew what to expect. We\’re not stupid. We know that when a team has the lowest payroll in the league, the chances of it going fa are slim. But, we also know when we have the right GM, the right prospects, and the right players for a long, successful run at the top.
With all that considered, the Islanders have a different mission this year; try to make Barclays and its surrounding area their new hockey home. Try to get a new group of fans in the team\’s new location, but also hold on to the diehards who need all the convincing in the world that this is going to work out.
It\’s hard, we get it. All this history and memories at the Nassau Coliseum can\’t just be pushed aside. Here\’s the thing though, Barclays and the Islanders get it too. They are going to do whatever they possibly can to marry the old with the new; even if fans aren\’t crazy about the way they do it (combining banners etc.) But, the team on the ice has to do their part. It\’s vital that the Isles continue their winning ways if they hope to garner the respect of a new segment of the NY population.
The Islanders exceeded all expectations last season, despite limping to the finish. But, their fifth place finish surprised a lot of people. This was the Islanders. They are supposed to be NHL version of the Jets. Sure, they were good a long time ago, but since then they have been outshined by their local rival. The Isles and Garth Snow are out to change those perceptions. It\’s their new lot in life so to speak. Eat. Breathe. Sleep. Islanders success. The mission for Cup number five may have taken a slight westward turn, but that doesn\’t change the ultimate goal.
However, it\’s important to realize that last year\’s success doesn\’t amount to a hill of beans (what is a hill of beans anyway?) if they cannot build on it. Last time the Islanders had this much excitement surrounding them was 1993. They made it all the way to the Conference Finals, but could not repeat the success the next year. We won\’t talk about the 1994 playoffs. This time it\’s built to be different. They have a young core, and are not afraid to spend to stay competitive. They are growing at the right time, and are at the perfect point to woo a new audience.
It\’s also very important to remember that the Islanders have to strike a balance between the old and the new. Fans have had several months to mourn the Nassau Coliseum. It\’s not the ideal situation for most fans. Many would have preferred the Lighthouse Project to be built, and to borrow from an old Islanders slogan, a \”New Ice Age\” occuring on Long Island. Unfortunately that didn\’t happen, so we have arrived at today; a new era in Islanders history.
Don\’t think for a second that this is easy on the players. It\’s a very strange situation for them. Most of them live on Long Island, and are experiencing this for the first time just like us. But, if the team is to build on its successes, it not only needs good coaching, performance and good preparation on the ice, it needs help from the fans. When the Islanders kick off the season tonight, they will be playing in a new arena for the first time in their history. In that arena, in a new part of New York, there may be many new fans experiencing Islanders hockey for the first time. If not tonight, then definitely on Monday when the Islanders play a Columbus Day Matinee in Brooklyn.
The advertisements are in the subway, on buses, and all over NYC. The marketing push is on. There is going to be a new audience of fans who have no idea what this team is, or what it represents. It\’s up to the Islanders to perform and show them the Islanders are the best game in town. When the team was on Long Island, the team was very local. There was definitely a hometown feel to the team. They were the ISLANDers. They belonged to Long Island, not NYC. Now, the little brother role has been eviscerated and they look to take on a new identity as THE New York team, not the OTHER New York team. Lke it or not, the Islanders are a NYC team now.
Unlike their basketball cousins (more like their cousins once removed after they both played in the same arena, and then the Nets moved…anyway…) the Islanders will not, and have not forgotten about their roots. Nor should they. But, it\’s ok to like the new home without forgetting where you came from. If the Islanders are going to be playing well into June, they need to show up for the fans, and the fans must show up for them. This team will be ever-present in the community. They will continue to be Long Island, while embracing Brooklyn as well. It\’s imperative that fans join them and keep it exciting for the team, and the legion of new fans and viewers who are watching the team for the time.
For their part, players and people surrounding the team are saying the right things. Jiggs McDonald, who will be on the call tonight told me, \”I\’m looking forward to an exciting start to this new era of Islanders history.\” Nick Leddy told the Chicago Sun-Times,\”Today, one of the guys checking our tickets [on the LIRR] said good luck to us all, so that’s pretty cool.\”
Is it different? For sure. Is it better? Depends on who you ask. One thing is for sure; winning cures all ills. Fans will quickly forget about this bad seat or this changed or that changed if the team is winning. You also have the new fans who live in the area who can be attracted to a positive vibe surrounding the team. The Islanders want to make this team the story of NYC. But in order to outshine their rivals to the west they need three S\’s (no not those three S\’s stop it); Success, Support, and Standing Room Only.
There may be no sleep \’til Brooklyn, but the Islanders have arrived in Brooklyn, and it\’s \”Time to Rock the Barc!\”