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More Than Just a Different Building

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Relax, relax. This isn’t just an angry Islanders fan complaining that the Barclays Center was the sole reason for the Isles getting swept by the Hurricanes. The Canes played great and deserve every ounce of this third round appearance. They completely exceeded expectations and beat us at our own game of frustrating, stingy, physical hockey. And before I go any further I want to thank the New York Islanders for also completely exceeding expectations and winning a playoff series in a year that was supposed to be a buffer year.

Now that we have that out of the way it’s time for the crux of this topic here and it’s a little thing called “home-ice advantage”. What is a home-ice advantage in hockey? Is it being able to play a goal horn when your team scores? Is it wearing your dark jerseys? Is it having the last change? The sport of hockey in a league with such tremendous parity can have anything happen regardless of who is the home team, but in the playoffs, there is a reason why teams EARN the right to have home-ice advantage in the playoffs. It’s the little things that make such a massive difference in these meaningful games and even more so for small market teams. The home-ice advantage comes with the home fans making it extremely difficult to play on the road. It comes when your players get to be in their own home with their families and not in a hotel room and a plane ride away. It comes from being in a region of the country that is OWNED by that team and their fans so that when the road team comes to town, they can’t avoid the opposition’s fans and culture. It’s creating an atmosphere that is a bonding between the fans and players where they feed off of each other.

So how does the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum embrace that “home-ice advantage”? Well, all you have to do is take a look at the first 2 games of the playoffs for the Islanders this year, or look at the amazing home record in the playoffs at the barn giving it the nickname “Fort Neverlose”. During the playoffs, from Valley Stream to Riverhead, you would’ve encountered some ounce of pro-Isles all across the towns on the Island. Driving around I’d see multiple businesses supporting the Island’s only professional sports team. The countless fans showing up to the barn hours before the game and tailgating outside the Marriott. This is just stating the obvious to Isles fans and is not new to anyone other than the hockey fans that weren’t blessed to have seen Islander hockey at the barn before the departure in 2015.

The contrast with the Barclays Center isn’t as apparent in the regular season but it is clear as day when the Islanders play in the playoffs. The players have to stay in hotels or take a 40-minute train into their own building. The crowd is just as rowdy as they are in Nassau but the acoustics of the Barclays Center completely stretch out the noise and games sound like a Tuesday afternoon against Arizona. During Game 2 in Brooklyn, the Isles headed into the third period up 1-0 and had the upper hand. The Hurricanes came flying to start the third and were able to strike twice within the first 2 minutes of the period. After the Canes tied the game at 1, the organist tries to keep the crowd in it by doing the signature “Lets Go Islanders” chant but the crowd was silent and Carolina had absolutely no problem keeping their momentum and scored again. Calvin deHaan even admitted to how he’s glad the games were at the Barclays instead of the Coliseum.

Now compare that with Game 2 of the Penguins series. Erik Gudbranson breaks the ice in the second period to give the Pens a 1-0 lead and the organist does the same “Lets Go Islanders” chant and the crowd responds. The building was as loud as it was the entire game and the players fed off of it. Shortly after the Pens took the lead, Beauvillier tapped home a rebound and tied the game. Here is the video evidence for the different atmospheres in different venues:

Props to the Hurricanes fans because they showed what their identity was in Game 3. They showed what true home-ice advantage is and won the game because of the energy shared between their team and fans. The game was tied at 2 entering the third and Canes fans made it difficult for the Isles to have any momentum. THAT is what Isles hockey was all about in the first round. They didn’t beat the Pens because they were the more skilled team, they beat them because they were relentless and brought energy to every shift, and the atmosphere was the same way. If you’ve watched any other playoff game at any stadium, the home atmosphere has been measurably louder than at any point in Brooklyn.

Something that hasn’t been mentioned is the ice condition. The ice quality has no bearing on the outcome of the games because both teams play on it but the piping and cooling system at the Barclays Center is not within NHL regulations. There is absolutely no excuse for National Hockey League to allow play(especially in the playoffs) on ice that I wouldn’t let a junior team play on. The ice is dangerous and makes the game unenjoyable to watch due to the horrible bounces and sloppy play. It’s no surprise that Mrazek went down with a groin injury in Game 2 as that appeared to be a direct result of the ice. Mrazek’s frustration is apparent:

Okposo and Nielsen both left with the ice conditions being part of the problems with resigning. They didn’t want to risk their career’s on playing on ice that is dangerous.

If the Islanders made a run this year(which was entirely possible), the league would’ve had to market their biggest event of the year at the Barclays Center. A Stanley Cup Final with a car in the corner of the rink, a jumbotron off-center, a stadium that sounds like a golf green, and a fanbase that lives an hour away, a venue that puts up Islanders playoffs paraphernalia during warmups when given 10 days to prepare. How on earth could the best team of marketers in the NHL possibly market such a dumpster fire of a venue?

At the end of the day, if round 2 was played in Nassau, the Isles could’ve started the series up 2-0, down 0-2, or tied 1-1 for all we know. It’s playoff hockey and anything can happen. The Isles also had dozens of prime opportunities that they just completely missed and that’s completely on them. But what is known is that the Isles were at a disadvantage playing in Brooklyn and it was a factor that only happened due to the NHL’s opportunity cost. Tons of Islanders fans including myself felt embarrassed heading to Carolina after Game 2 because the rest of the league watched an embarrassing performance in an embarrassing venue.

Thank you. Gary Bettman, Brett Yormark, Kate Murray, New York State, and Nassau County. For ruining what could’ve been something magical. This Isles team will be back and we won’t go away anytime soon.

 

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