Thursday, March 7, 2013

Islanders and Rangers Face-Off for Real for a Change

This has got to be the first time in years than the New York Islanders and New York Rangers will face off with equal amounts to lose and gain at the same time on both sides.

The Rangers have been near the top of the NHL for the last few years and the Islanders have been near the bottom of the NHL for a good while. Sure Islander Ranger tilts always have a little bit of rivalry juice in them but that juice has run largely dry the last few seasons. The problem was Islander-Ranger games have been for the most part meaningless. Beating the Rangers used to be the only thing Islander fans had to look forward to at this point of the regular season. Now? Things are a bit different.

No it is not a make or break game for either team but make no mistake about it: Whoever walks out of Nassau Coliseum with two points tonight is going to feel pretty good about themselves in the morning. The Islanders are one game under .500 for the season and two points out of a playoff spot. The Rangers are looking to keep their recent winning streak alive and advance higher in the standings where they are used to being.

Both teams are fighting against wild inconsistencies this season and both teams at times have looked like contenders only to turn around the next game and look like pretenders.

Tonight's game could go a long way to restoring this rivalry to the heights it once enjoyed. Both sides fan bases used to look at every Islander-Ranger game as a playoff game and a game that had to be won. You could sense a true dislike in the players of each team when they played. Goal celebrations had that extra fist pump, body checks had extra bang behind them. Fights seemed more intense. The crowd hung on every pass, check and shot. The rivalry used to garner national attention as one of the best not just in hockey but in all of sports. Now they can't even get on a "Wednesday Rivalry" game on NBC Sports. The game when I checked this morning, still had tickets available, something that would be unheard of back in the day.

The reasons for the lack of interest are obvious. The Islanders have not been very good at all and the Rangers have had their rivalries with the Devils and Flyers amped up because of the playoff battles they have had. Meaningful hockey is the key to it all. The Islanders have been a floundering franchise looking to gain a little swagger by beating its rich successful rivals to the west. Have the Islanders returned to playing meaningful hockey again? Tonight's game will go a long way in answering that question.

I miss the days of this rivalry when the game was just not another game. When it was an event. When players from both teams would talk about playing each other like it was special and not like now when it seems like it is just another game. When the Islanders move to Brooklyn it will bring automatically a renewed interest to the rivalry but maybe the Islanders and Rangers can lay some of that groundwork to reestablishing this rivalry as one of the best in sports tonight at Nassau Coliseum.

Friday, March 1, 2013

New York Islanders: Impressions on The Barclay's Center

In attending last nights latest Islander loss in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs it suddenly dawned on me while I was sitting in Nassau Coliseum that the place is all used up. Its finished. Its time has passed. Granted a winning franchise would make the place feel differently but the Islanders have not done any of that with any consistency at any point in the last 20 years.

Some people will say that winning will solve all of the problems and make the place happening again. Guess what? It wont. The New York Yankees drew horribly in the early 1990's until they started winning world series again. The thing is no one in their right mind will ever compare the old Yankee Stadium to the Nassau Coliseum. Yankee Stadium, with all of its issues as an outdated facility had character. It was a venue that lived and breathed sports history in spite of its status as an outdated venue.

Despite the Islanders success in the early 80's Nassau Coliseum has never had that aspect of being a mecca of sports. It has never been a place steeped in hockey history. It was never maintained or presented as a top flight venue. It was always just adequate enough to house the Islanders. The shortsightedness of John O. Pickett, the Islander owner who signed the Islanders to the worst lease agreement in professional sports back when the Islanders were one of the premier teams in the NHL. That lease is finally coming to an end in 2015.

I received tickets to a Brooklyn Nets game and attended the game with my two boys on February 22. From the moment we arrived in Brooklyn until the moment we left the event the arena, the concessions, the amenities everything lived and breathed first class. Make no mistake this venue is a place that NBA players have to be looking forward to coming into and playing the sport they love instead of that look of pity visiting hockey teams give when they have to play a game at Nassau Coliseum. Not even one year into their move to Brooklyn, the Nets are an attraction. They are something unique and are treated and looked at as a first class organization. Top flight NBA players are coming to the Nets as a destination they want to play and the Nets are a power in the NBA as opposed to being a joke.

The value of having a marquee destination to play cannot be understated. The problem for the Islanders is they have to wait to move to Brooklyn's beautiful Barclay's Center and play out their prison sentence in Nassau Coliseum for two more years after this season. Something has to be done about this. The Islanders need to be paroled. They need to relocate to their new shining jewel of an arena sooner than later. Why? Because all they are doing in Nassau Coliseum is all they have done for the last 20 years, and that is tread water waiting for the rescue ship to come in and bring them to greener pastures.

In traveling to Brooklyn for the first time to take in the Nets game I made sure to be observant of everything I possibly could. So much has been said about how traveling to the Barclay's Center was going to be more difficult, more expensive and more time consuming. Depending on where you are traveling from this may or may not be true. Islander fans in Suffolk County and out east would be better served taking the LIRR to the arena (Atlantic Terminal is literally across the street from the front door of the arena) but that does not mean that driving is impossible. I decided to drive and park in one of the lots available near the arena. I bought my parking pass online for 20 dollars drove to the arena and found the lot with no problems at all. The total travel time was 50 minutes from Popeye's in Westbury to walking into the doors of the Barclay's Center. Yes it was that easy. 40 minutes of driving time and an 8 minute walk to the doors.

People will say oh I can be at the Coliseum in 10 minutes. The reason getting into the Coliseum is so easy these days is because the attendance is in the proverbial crapper. I'm not sure how many people remember what it was like getting in and out of the Coliseum when people flocked to Islander games in the early 80's. To be short, it was horrendous. If you factor everything into the mix getting to and from the Barclay's Center will take you longer than Nassau Coliseum but not nearly to the levels you would think.

Walking through those doors at Barclay's Center you are met with friendly, smiling greeters welcoming you to the Barclay's Center. I have been to a lot of venues, and I have never been met with this kind of greeting. It was warm and inviting and a great experience. The concessions and the amenities available are simply top of the line and not so especially expensive as say Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium. We had infinite choices for refreshments, food, shopping for Nets gear, tickets or anything you could possibly imagine. One very nice touch was that at every concession stand they offered famous Brooklyn eateries specialties.

Then we arrived at our seats. We were sitting in the section of the seats that will be annexed for the extended room needed for the hockey playing surface at one of the ends of the arena. To put it mildly, the sight lines are spectacular. The seating is roomy and comfortable. The atmosphere in the arena is exciting and new. The sound system is spectacular. The scoreboard is amazing. The video boards throughout the arena are HD clear as crystal. The arena announcer is a professional and he presents the announcements in a way that gets you excited to be there. The presentation of the game was absolutely amazing. The way the floor was lit was not destroyed with light but perfect. My sons who are 13 and eight, were amazed at the presentation of the game itself and the full house crowds reactions to the action. I have taken them to many Islander games and I cannot remember them being so impressed with the show the home team put on from the product on the court to the public address announcements to the way the game itself was presented.

Things like this cannot happen at Nassau Coliseum. After sitting in the Barclay's Center and then sitting in Nassau Coliseum essentially back to back, you simply cannot understand what simply moving this team to Brooklyn will do for the Islanders. They are currently in the worst arena in pro sports, they have the worst accommodations of any pro team in the country in any league. Moving to Brooklyn will bring an excitement and a new energy to the team. Imagine if Ryan Smyth had come into the Barclay's Center when the Islanders traded for him. What about other free agents that have spurned Islander millions to take less to go elsewhere. What about all of the players who have been traded to the Islanders react as if they are being sent to the NHL's version of Siberia? There is a reason the Islanders are having to scrape the bottom of the free agent barrel and scouring the waiver wire looking for anyone who can come in and help the team.

Its because no one with any modicum of freedom wants to play for the Islanders unless they have no other alternative. That is why John Tavares signing his six year extension with the team was such a shocker. Here is a marquee player, a budding superstar committing a six year extension two years before his contract expired that had the hockey world in an uproar questioning whether Garth Snow had some compromising pictures of Tavares in his back pocket. The national and Canadian hockey media was absolutely stunned that someone would commit to playing hockey for the Islanders long term. The Islanders main problem is not all players are John Tavares and will sign with them based on loyalty and the desire to bring the Islanders back to their long awaited former glory.

Mark my words. When the Islanders move into the Barclay's Center no one will question why a player would sign with the Islanders. Make no mistake about it. That is why Charles Wang has to do everything in his power and buy Nassau County out of the last two years of the lease and get his team into Brooklyn sooner rather than later.

All my kids asked me the whole way home was why the Islanders can't move there now. They didn't complain about the drive or the walk to the arena or anything else and neither did I. I have ask the same question: Why cant they move there now?