The first ever game at UBS Arena represented a lot more than just a 5-2 defeat for the New York Islanders at the hands of the Calgary Flames. It signaled the start of something really special; an arena that the Islanders can finally call “home.” The uncertainty of where the Islanders will play their home games that surrounded the team for years is no longer a cause for concern, and that is more important than any result of a single game.
Leaving the Nassau Coliseum was never going to be an easy task for anyone included. The arena that the Islanders called home for 46 years was enriched in history built by the legacy of the dynasty team that won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. But when you are moving from a historical building into a brand new, state of the art arena located a little over ten miles west of the Coliseum, the departure becomes much easier. Especially when the new arena is not only decorated with monuments and pictures celebrating Islander’s history, but also celebrating Long Island’s own history, making the fans feel right at home.
No matter the rich history of the Islanders past, it was not always good times surrounding the franchise. After dominating much of the 1980s and remaining competitive in the early 90s, the rest of the decade brought a different light to the Islanders. Between the inept management of head coach/general manager, Mike Milbury, that saw a number of horrendous trades in attempt to save the franchise and a sale of the team to John Spano who, after investigation, was deemed a fraud that did not have the assets to complete the deal, all the glory that was created by the franchise was quickly reduced to none. These factors, mixed with poor on-ice performance, an unpopular (at the time) and heavily mocked rebranding of the traditional uniforms to the “fisherman” look, as well as a steep decline in attendance led to rumblings of moving the team away from Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum.
As the decade turned to the 2000s, a few good seasons were sprinkled in with many dreadful years for the Islanders and ongoing talks of finding a new home surrounded the team. It was clear that the prevailing state of the Nassau Coliseum was not a viable long-term option anymore. 2006 provided a glimmer of hope for the franchise when Charles Wang, then owner of the Islanders, proposed The Lighthouse Project. The proposed project included a complete transformation and renovation of the Nassau Coliseum as well as the area of Uniondale surrounding it, making it a state of the art arena for the Islanders to play at that neighbored a modern suburban area. The completed project was estimated to bring in over $70 million of annual tax revenue while creating almost 20,000 permanent jobs and seemed like a surefire way to keep the Islanders on Long Island. Unfortunately, Wang was never able to obtain the necessary approval needed to begin the project, and the Islanders were left looking for other residence options.
Keeping the team in New York remained a top priority for everyone involved, but as time kept passing, the options became limited. After playing a 2009 preseason game in Kansas City, realizations that the Islanders could potentially relocate outside of New York became a nightmare for the fans to encounter. Wang was determined to keep the team on Long Island and was still hopeful to build a new arena to replace the Nassau Coliseum but in August 2011, Nassau County voters rejected a proposal to build a new arena in the area. The Islanders would officially be leaving the Nassau Coliseum at the expiration of the building’s lease in 2015. To the dissatisfaction of the fanbase, it was announced in 2012 that the team would begin playing their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn starting in the 2015-2016 season.
Anyone that ever stepped foot in Barclays Center to watch a hockey game knew immediately that it was not a sustainable home for the Islanders. Not only were there large amounts of limited view seats since the stadium was built for basketball, but the travel to the stadium was a major inconvenience to the fans who were primarily located on the Island. Gone were the days of a short commute to the Coliseum with hours of tailgating before the game.
While Barclays Center had its obvious flaws, it played an integral part of the franchise’s history. It gave the Islanders a temporary home while current team owners, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, continued the quest for a true home. Finally in December, 2017, the search was complete as a group led by the Islanders won a bid to construct a new arena at Belmont Park. On top of that, it was later announced that the Islanders would play home games at Nassau Coliseum until the completion of the new arena, giving the team and its fans an opportunity to give a proper farewell to the place they called home for so many years.
The brief team history only glosses over the struggles that the team had to endure before finally getting their own building to play in. For many Islanders fans that witnessed these struggles firsthand, the thought of seeing their team have a permanent home felt more like a dream than a possible reality. Now that UBS Arena is completed and games are officially being played there, fans are still getting used to the idea of the Islanders playing at an arena that was built specifically for them. While fans continue to get acquainted with their new home, it is up to the current and future Islanders teams to fill the arena with its own memories.
If you want to check out some highlights of the Islanders in their brand new arena, click on the links below:
Brock Nelson Roofs The Islanders First Goal At UBS Arena