I wanted to love the Barclays Center when I went to my first Islanders game there two years ago. I grew up in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum - twice, actually. The first time was as a child from Hicksville, with the sweetly-gruff security man Mr. Buonagura popping the door open for me and his son Paul on Saturday nights so we could take seats just before the press table in the last row of the old barn. The second time was for the first two decades of adulthood, where I learned a lot about life through some extraordinary times as an Islanders employee.
So when I walked into the Barc for my first game, I didn't want to be that guy who thought everything new was bad.
It didn't last long.
My heart sunk when I saw first-hand the legendary obstructed views for hockey, the merch store that was branded all Nets, the blahness of the entire joint. The game started and the small crowd was not engaged, Cappy's Islanders crapped the bed and almost everyone left early for mass transit. To top it all off, my bag of Barclays caramel corn had a large screw in it. (For a second there, I thought Snowy was taking our silly little tiff a bit too far). Okay, it was just a bad night. No big deal.
Before the game two nights ago against the Oilers, I'd been back to the Barc a few other times. It was all just perfectly okay. It's the last place I'd choose to see an NHL game if travel and cost was not an option, but hey, it's the Islanders. It was fine enough.
But on Tuesday, and going forward, my view is no longer obstructed by petty things. With optimism in the air about an Islanders arena in Elmont, we can now see the Barc as a novelty. It's just another wacky period of time from the franchise that brought you Turgeon-for-Jerk Muller, the fisherman jersey, the mascot who made little kids cry in fear, Spano's 30-for-30-to life, the day Mike traded all the goalies, Ricky's 15-year contract, and so, so…soooo much more.
Everything felt different Tuesday. I cherished "The Change at Jamaica," seeing all the fans dressed in the two dozen jerseys the Isles have worn in the last quarter century. The buzz was exciting. It reminded me of when my dad would have my brother (Rangers) and I (Islanders) take the train to meet him at Penn Station to see the Blueshirts. Look, nothing beats taking your own car and parking yards away from the Coliseum entrance for $7 or at NCC or crashing the press lot for free. But there is something to be said for the communal experience of drinking beer out of a can in a paper bag while debating with strangers on the train if Calvin de Haan is a $5 million or NHL minimum D-man, or when Nikolay Kulemin will put together two strong 12-minute games in a row.
Our good seats were $25 each on the secondary market, an awesome bargain to see John Tavares versus Connor McDavid - especially compared to the 8-ounce beers for $14.50.
On game day, you could get in for as low as $8. There were plenty of full-view seats unoccupied, surprising considering it was the magnificent McDavid's only visit to Brooklyn until the Stanley Cup Final.
As my friend and I walked around, the Barc no longer felt like a gray prison where the Islanders would be sentenced to spend the rest of their days because of Mangano and Murray and the other do-nothings. One way or another - and we don't want to think about the other way - Barclays Center will eventually be an amusing, nostalgic footnote. I'm already looking forward to the final Islanders game ever in Brooklyn when they bring back the royalty. (PA announcer Roger Luce: "Islander fans, welcome back…Taylor Beck"!)
So while we pray for a better place, make the best of the Barc. Enjoy how the Islanders dominate the visitors, who really must hate the road trip to Brooklyn and substandard ice. Give a gentle pat to the hood of the SUV. Take advantage of those StubHub prices, often cheaper than going to the movies.
As for the train ride, it may be optional if the Islanders get to Elmont. Despite the OT loss to the Oilers, the ride home was fun. The packed train mostly took the point in stride, marveled at Barzal and tipped their hat to McJesus. I've heard your horror stories about the commute and being stranded at Jamaica late at night, and that really sucks. You keep coming back and that's what makes you incredible fans, a credit to the Country.
I've been fortunate. After driving 15 minutes back and forth to the Coliseum all my life, that beautiful Babylon post-game train has me in Rockville Centre at 10:30. As close as I am to Belmont, I'm not so sure about the Cross Island at rush hour before a weeknight game.
As Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin make their case for Al Arbour Arena at Northwell Health Field, I hope people try to make it out to the Barc in bigger numbers. The Barclays Center may be a nutty NHL arena, but it's our nutty arena for a few years. After a while, time alters perception. Yeah, I saw all of you in the fisherman jerseys and hoodies the other night.
Hey, remember when the Islanders played a few seasons in that basketball arena in Brooklyn?
Yeah, it was odd, but looking back it was pretty cool.
Today's Tweeted Question
@PatrickVerona, @FBartone19 and others asked versions of, "The team is clearly pretty good. What do they need in order to make the leap to competing for the Cup vs just playing to make the playoffs"?
The Islanders are playing okay, they're healthy and they have some decent players scratched every night or knocking on the door in Bridgeport. There's no reason to do anything now, and I suspect Garth Snow - like most of his colleagues - will not look seriously at bulking-up trades until after the New Year, and more likely close to the deadline.
Although the Travis Hamonic trade needed to be done, he has yet to be really missed and Snow got a terrific haul for him, for the Islanders to do more than just make the playoffs, they could use a no-doubt-about-it top-4 D-man.
Too early to tell about the forwards. Decisions will be made based on health and whether a youngster like Anthony Beauvillier can be counted on by Doug Weight every night, or if the coach is okay with a Jason Chimera playing 12 minutes a night deep into the spring.
The good news here is, the Islanders can take some time making decisions, and Snow has the resources to add a very good player or two.
Love Mathew Barzal's game. He should be an Islander for a long time and a major contributor when the team takes the next step. He was a smart draft pick by Garth Snow and staff and the right decision was made to give him more time under Steve Konowalchuk in Seattle last season. These last two home games, he was the best player on the ice. However…
Has the bar for analysis dropped so low over the last decade that we're supposed to give praise for declining to meet Colorado's ransom of Barzal-plus-plus-plus in a trade for Matt Duchene? While Duchene was a worthy trade target, did I miss a whole bunch of columns and tweets from anyone suggesting trading Barzal-plus-plus-plus for him was a grand idea?
Celebrate Barzal for what he is, what he can be as an Islander. But really now, we're hailing rejected rumored trade offers? It is true that some of the best moves are the ones you don't make, but eventually you are judged by how many real victories you claim.
And finally, if you thought I was kidding about the caramel corn…