Isles finally host a game in ‘awesome’ new home

NEW YORK — The New York Islanders‘ long wait is finally over.

Nearly four years after winning the bid to build a new home next to Belmont Park, the Islanders opened the doors to UBS Arena on Saturday night. The Calgary Flames were the Islanders’ first home opponent this season after the team spent the first 6½ weeks of the season playing 13 road games.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said Lonny Lehman, a first-time season-ticket holder from East Meadow, New York, a short drive from the Coliseum. “[Looking forward to] just having a home again. … It’s been a long time coming. Our politicians failed us. Fortunately, our new owners kept us here and they’re going to have a nice following.”

The $1.1 billion building is the culmination of a campaign that started more than a decade ago by previous Islanders owner Charles Wang. First came the proposed Lighthouse Project in 2007 that was part of redevelopment plan, but went nowhere. Then, Nassau County voters rejected an attempt to secure public financing for a new arena four years later, and the unpopular move to Brooklyn in 2015 eventually saw the team splitting home games between Barclays Center and the Coliseum.

Now, the new arena is here and the years of uncertainty over the team’s future are over. The team itself this season? Well that might be a different story.

The Islanders, who advanced to the NHL semifinals last season, returned home in last place in the Metropolitan Division, and Calgary greeted them rudely in New York, at least in the early going. The Islanders trailed 2-0 during the first period.

Away from the on-ice product, fans were abuzz in and around the complex. Lehman also praised Islanders owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, saying: “They’re fantastic. I wish they owned the [NFL’s New York] Jets.”

Tickets for the home opener were sold out months in advance, and there was a waitlist for season tickets. Sellers were listing tickets for the first game from $230 for the cheapest seats in the corner to more than $800 on a few hours before the puck dropped.

UBS Arena has a capacity of 17,250 — larger than the 13,917 at the renovated Coliseum and 15,795 at Barclays Center.

“This is awesome,” Jason Saltsberg said. “This is definitely much more luxurious than the Coliseum was. Everything has been trending in the right direction. As soon as they announced the arena, the team seemed to turn the corner and it’s all happening at once and it’s fantastic.”

The Islanders went 5-6-2 on their season-opening stretch of road games, including four straight losses. Twenty-five of their next 36 games will be at home, and they don’t play more than two consecutive games on the road until a four-game trip from Jan. 4 to 11.

“Hopefully they can bring the Cup home,” said Holly Baratta, who bought season tickets for the last season of the Coliseum, but didn’t get to use them because of limited seating due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The players got a chance to practice on the ice at the new rink Thursday and were impressed.

“It absolutely blew me away,” the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal said. “I walked right in, saw the gym, saw the eating area and I couldn’t wait to see more. The entire facility and the rink and how it was set up was so high-end. … We’re a really lucky group.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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