NEW YORK — Barclays Center is newer, sleeker and has the better food options. Nassau Coliseum has the history.
With the New York Islanders splitting their home games between the two arenas this season, their fans have always been clear about their preference. They don’t care much for Barclays Center, located in Brooklyn. They still love the renovated Coliseum, which is far more intimate and much more convenient for the Islanders’ fan base that remains concentrated on Long Island.
"It’s a hockey arena here," said Peter Rotolo, who was at the Coliseum for a game in January. "Barclays is like, the sightlines are terrible, the seats are terrible. It’s a beautiful arena, but it’s a basketball arena and a concert arena. It never was made for hockey."
Fans like Rotolo never fully accepted the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn in 2015 after the franchise spent its first 43 years at the Coliseum, winning four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980-84. They complained about the bad views and many obstructed seats at the arena, which was built for the Brooklyn Nets, and clamoured for the team’s return to the Coliseum in Uniondale, 30 miles and seemingly a world away.
They got their wish with a unique arrangement as the NHL decided to split up the home games between the two very different venues. The arrangement is expected to remain in place until the Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park, adjacent to the horse racing track, is ready for the 2021-22 season. Construction isn’t slated to begin until May.
All of which means there are two homes for the first-place Islanders for at least the next two seasons and what’s left of this one.
"They should have never left," said David Levy, a fan from Melville who attended a game at the Coliseum with his son and two nephews. "We used to come here all the time. I go to Brooklyn, it’s beautiful but it’s a very, very long commute. … This is much more convenient. They blew it when they didn’t just rebuild the arena here."
The Islanders played their first 11 home games this season in Brooklyn, then began an 18-game stretch on Dec. 1 in which they are splitting games between the venues, before closing their home schedule with the final 12 on Long Island. The last game at Barclays Center will be Feb. 16 against the Edmonton Oilers, though it has not been announced how any playoff games will be handled.
Josh Rosenberg, who lives about 10 minutes away from the Coliseum, said he will go wherever the team plays but prefers the Coliseum for its proximity and the atmosphere.
"I’ve been coming to Brooklyn since they first started," the Freeport resident said at Barclays Center. "I mean, it sucks to pay the extra fee to ride the train but I’m a die-hard fan. I’ll take the Coliseum any day, but I don’t mind taking the trip out here. (The Coliseum has) a way better vibe. It’s packed all the time, everybody’s cheering and the real fans are there."
The team’s move to Brooklyn was announced in 2012 after a failed attempt to secure public financing for a new arena on Long Island and zoning approval was rejected for a privately funded development plan that would have included renovations to the Coliseum. It was announced as a 25-year deal and appeared to secure the Islanders’ future in New York amid talk the team could move to another city.
Whatever the cozy charm many saw in the old Coliseum, the renovations were welcomed and the noise level has remained deafening.
Attendance figures reflect the fans’ preference.
In seven games at the Coliseum this season, the Islanders have averaged 13,568 fans with four sellouts of 13,917. They have drawn an average of 10,788 with no sellouts at Barclays Center, which has a capacity of 15,795. Overall, the Islanders are last among the 31 NHL teams with an average attendance of 11,599.
Veteran coach Barry Trotz, in his first year with the Islanders after winning a championship in Washington last season, has raved about the Coliseum as one of the old-style arenas that put fans closer to the ice and helps energize the home team. He contends the arena is worth 10-12 extra points over a season compared to elsewhere.
So far, the Islanders are 5-1-1 on Long Island, and 9-6-2 in Brooklyn.
The arrangement calls for the two arenas to evenly split the games for three years. This season, the Coliseum is getting 21, while Barclays is getting 20. It is uncertain what the breakdown will be in ensuing years.
BSE Global, which operates both arenas, shares the fans’ desires to have the team play all its games at the Coliseum. The NHL opposed the Islanders’ full return to the Coliseum, due mainly to it having a smaller capacity than every other arena in the league, but acquiesced to the split arrangement.
The players like the Coliseum, too. The arena and the team’s practice facility at Eisenhower Park a mile away are less than 30 minutes from their homes. In comparison, afternoon traffic in New York can make the trip to Barclays Center more than 75 minutes. Some players commute to Brooklyn on the Long Island Rail Road and then take car services home.
"At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where you play," veteran forward Matt Martin said. "You got to go out there and do your job, take care of business and win hockey games. The approach overall doesn’t change."