The NHL has arrived in Brooklyn.
On Saturday night, nearly 15,000 excited fans turned out for a preseason game between the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils. But this was more than just a regular-season warm-up — it was history.
The Islanders hosted the Devils at the Barclays Center in the first National Hockey League game ever played in Brooklyn.
“Obviously there's a lot of hype around this game,” Islanders captain John Tavares said after the loss. “The atmosphere was great. It’s a lot of fun to play in this building.”
The Islanders fell to the Devils 3-0, but the night was about more than the game. It was a look into the future.
In 2015, the team will move from the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island, where it has played since entering the league in 1972, 30 miles west to Barclays in Brooklyn. The preseason matchup with the Devils gave the Islanders and their fans a chance to get comfortable with hockey in their new home.
The fans had no problem adjusting to the new building, even if the Islanders struggled. Barclays can hold 15,813 people when set up for hockey. On Saturday, 14,689 loud and raucous fans from across New York City and Long Island turned out to check out the team’s new digs.
“Preseason, you don’t see a crowd like that — the music, the atmosphere,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “It was great.”
But this was as much a preseason game for the arena as the teams on the ice.
There’s still much work to be done to get Barclays — a building originally designed for NBA basketball — ready for NHL hockey. The Islanders locker room is still being built, so the team worked out of a temporary space. The ice was rough. And one end of the stands was open and covered in a black curtain, which made it hard to pick up the puck when it hit the glass.
“It didn't feel 100 percent like a home game because it was a little bit different (than what we’re used to),” winger Matt Moulson said. “But it's a great atmosphere out there for a game in how everything is set up. I'm sure it would be pretty easy to get used to.”
The fans felt the same way.
Most said they enjoyed the experience of watching the Islanders play at Barclays. They liked the building and what it means for the future of the team: It will help attract top-tier free agents and, more importantly, keep the team in New York. But they admitted it was strange to see their team on different home ice.
“It’s a beautiful arena,” Vikki Terrile of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, said. “But I'm still adjusting to being here. When I think of sitting at a hockey game, it’s at the Coliseum.”
Photos: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images