NEW YORK — The New York Islanders rode the train from Long Island to Brooklyn — a trek they hope many of their fans will take once the club moves there in two years.
Training camp opened for the Islanders on Thursday at Barclays Center, which will become the team’s new home for the 2015-16 NHL season. The Nassau Coliseum will be a distant memory for the Islanders as they leave the aging building for the first time since they entered the league in 1972.
“One word for it: beautiful,” team owner Charles Wang said. “When you look at what is going on here, it’s unbelievable. I am very happy as you can see from the smile.”
He stopped short of comparing this day to other big ones in his life.
“I’m ecstatic today. Is it happier than the day I got married?” Wang asked, before an answer was drowned out by laughter. “You enjoy that moment. I have a big smile on my face.”
One by one, the players left the Long Island Railroad train that carried them from Garden City, N.Y., to Brooklyn on Thursday morning. They were decked out in their jerseys and received a warm welcome as they approached the sparkling new arena.
Reporters, television crews and photographers were there to greet them on a near 90-degree day that was more suitable for baseball than hockey.
“It was good to get camp open,” newly named captain John Tavares said. “It’s been a little different with the train ride and getting here and getting on the ice real quick.”
The ice wasn’t quite up to pro standards yet, but Tavares said that will improve in time.
“It would be really tough to play a game on something like that,” he said. “I would say it still needs a few more layers and it needs time to really get set.”
Wang beamed as he spoke of his excitement regarding the club’s move to Brooklyn. He tried long and hard to get a new arena built on Long Island as part of his expansive Lighthouse Project, but that never came to fruition.
While the scheduled arrival date is 2015, it isn’t completely out of the question that the Islanders could move up their transfer if adjustments can be made to their lease and if necessary work at the arena can be completed earlier.
“Our plan is to live to the commitment of the lease,” Wang said. “We’ve always wanted to get here as soon as possible, but we are living to our lease. We’ll honour that lease.”
Wang said he was particularly impressed to see his team skate on the ice and the bright blue and orange club logo adorning centre ice.
The Islanders will get only a brief look at their new digs. Thursday was the only scheduled practice day in Brooklyn, and the Islanders will host the New Jersey Devils in a preseason game Sept. 21.
Much work will be needed to be done before the Islanders are a permanent tenant. While the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets have already resettled at Barclays, a dressing room will have to be built for their hockey brethren.
“It definitely feels really new,” Tavares said. “We’re going to have to take some time. It will be an adjustment once we do get here to make it feel comfortable.”
Officials said about 10,000 tickets have been sold for the preseason game. The building will hold 15,813 for hockey — slightly fewer than the Nassau Coliseum. There are also 400 additional seats, not included in the total, that have obstructed views. But Barclays is a state-of-the-art facility with top amenities and sightlines that provide a unique feel.
“It will still almost feel like a neutral site because the Coliseum is still for all our home games for a couple of more years,” Tavares said. “That is where everything is kind of situated right now. We don’t have a locker room here or anything set up, but it will nice to play, for sure.
“We are really looking forward to the game.”
New York’s four Stanley Cup championship banners are already hanging in the arena, and will remain there through the preseason game. How soon the Islanders, who advanced to the Eastern Conference playoffs last season but lost to Pittsburgh in the first round, might be able to add titles to the four straight they won from 1980-83 remains to be seen.
“The certainty of knowing where we’re going to be is a positive going forward,” general manager Garth Snow said. “It’s going to be spectacular.”