Islanders leaving Brooklyn rights a wrong, fans and experts say

The Islanders have never really fit in at Barclays Center, according to fans, experts  and community leaders.
The Islanders have never really fit in at Barclays Center, according to fans, experts and community leaders. Photo Credit: Universal Studios

The Islanders will skate away from Brooklyn for a new home at Belmont Park on Long Island and Kings County has responded with a resounding shrug.

The news that the team’s days at Barclays Center are numbered, with the Islanders securing the winning bid for a new arena in Nassau County, came as no surprise to community stakeholders or the franchise’s loyal fans.

They agreed that the Islanders have never really felt at home in the arena.

“Whenever I was at the Barclays Center, it always felt like this was a rented home,” said Nick Hirshon, a Queens native and the author of “Images of America: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,” who has written extensively about the team and its history. “There’s nothing there that indicates this was for the Islanders.”

Hirshon said many Islanders fans are still attached to Nassau Coliseum and the decades of history and culture that came with it. When the team hit the ice at Barclays in 2015, the franchise tried to downplay those Long Island roots, much to the chagrin of their longtime fans, he said.

“They didn’t consider the fact that the culture of Long Island is to drive around close by and not come into the city,” he said.

Fans echoed that sentiment as they entered Barclays for Tuesday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, with some excitedly shouting, “Going back to Belmont,” on their way in.

“It’s always been much more convenient to drive there and park,” Alex Ortiz, 49, of Freeport said of Belmont. “It’s a Long Island team . . . It’s the only Long Island thing we have besides Billy Joel.”

Fans, experts and the team itself have criticized Barclays’ infrastructure and design. Weak ice, obstructed views and an off-center scoreboard made even the most exciting games unpleasant to endure, they said.

“It’s not built for hockey,” Patrick Scudiero, 26, of Seaford said. “They built it for basketball,” referring to the Nets.

Robert Perris, the district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 2 which oversees Downtown Brooklyn, said the team hasn’t cultivated the same neighborhood presence as the Nets.

“For the local neighborhood it really has no impact,” he said.

Perris added his belief that the Islanders have only added a handful of new fans from Brooklyn, with residents knowing all along that the team’s lease at Barclays was a stopgap to eventually returning to its own arena somewhere else.

“Everyone wants the newest facility with all of the amenities. They will move where they need to get what they want,” he said.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had harsher parting words.

“There’s only one Brooklyn team for Barclays Center and that’s the Brooklyn Nets,” he said in a statement. “We wish the Islanders well on their journey to Belmont and they should consider Nassau Coliseum in the interim period.”

Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky has said that the team will play through next season in Brooklyn as part of its contract with Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which operates the arena. The franchise is currently negotiating to amend its 25-year lease. It is unknown if the Islanders have an interim location to play should they leave Barclays Center before their Belmont facility is completed.

Representatives for Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which also operates Nassau Coliseum, declined to comment.

Some in Brooklyn sounded notes of regret at the impending departure. Mark Caserta, the executive director of the Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID, said Fifth Avenue bars will feel the loss of business before and after games.

“That’s technically 42 days a year where there won’t be enhanced business. It presents a challenge to those businesses,” he said, adding that Islanders fans tend to patronize the establishments more than Nets fans.

One fan polled outside Barclays Center on Tuesday night, 18-year-old Jack Gatto of the Upper East Side, said he liked watching hockey in the arena and couldn’t see himself getting out to Nassau County to watch the team as frequently.

“After them moving here, now moving back, I’m a little disappointed,” he said.

But the general sentiment held that the impending return home to Nassau County amounts to the righting of a wrong.

“The fact that they played in Brooklyn is going to seem like such an anomaly in the long run,” said Hirshon.

Michael Mann, 30, who lives in the Financial District, spoke for most fans from the city and Long Island when he called the move “perfect.”

“It’s where they belong,” he said.

With Jim Baumbach and Robert Brodsky