It wasn’t just another pre-practice huddle on Thursday morning for the New York Islanders.
As head coach Barry Trotz directed the flow of proceedings, he and his Islanders stood at center ice of their new home, UBS Arena, for the first time ever as construction crews put the finishing touches on the new state-of-the-art home of New York hockey.
“It was cool. The best I could describe it to anybody is that it felt like the Winter Classic, those NHL series games,” Trotz said. “It has a different feel. So there’s a little pep in the step. Getting lost in it, figuring out every office, every room. That’s probably what it feels like, which is good. Those are great experiences.”
“It absolutely blew me away,” star center Mathew Barzal added. “The entire facility and the rink and how it’s set up is so high-end, I can’t even tell you how nice it is down here. We’re a pretty lucky group.”
“The boys are home!” a faceless Islanders yelled from the middle of the huddle as it broke off into sections of drills.
And one might add the word “finally” to those sentiments.
The Islanders staggered home from a 13-game road trip after losing four straight games, opening the doors of UBS Arena with a 5-6-2 record to start — a disappointing early last-place standing slapped upon their ledger after two straight Stanley Cup semifinal appearances.
But .500 hockey on the road normally translates to playoff hockey. It’s just up to the Islanders, though, to take advantage of a heavy home schedule that sees 15 of their next 20 games played at UBS Arena.
“We haven’t had a chance to play a home game yet this year and [you see] how much we feed off our crowd and the impact they have on us,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “We’ve seen it in the playoffs… now we get to be back in front of them. After that, you look at it, it’s a brand-new building that this franchise has been looking forward to for a long time… It’s an extremely exciting time for this organization.
“There’s a lot that’s gone into it. It’s going to bring a lot of life and I know that we’re going to feed off that life from the crowd. It will be needed.”
That home slate starts rather poetically against a Flames team that they took on 17,941 days earlier — when that franchise was in Atlanta — in what was the Islanders’ first-ever game as an NHL team at their brand-new home at the time, the Nassau Coliseum.
“The Coliseum served us well, the Barclays served us well,” Trotz said. “The guys on this team the last four, five years, they built this. It’s helped that we’ve been a competitive team the last couple of years and we have to continue that.”