Schwartz: Can The Islanders Be Home Sweet Home In The Hub?

When the NHL returns to play on August 1st with the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round, the Islanders will have the home-ice advantage over the Florida Panthers in a best of five series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.  With the Islanders seeded 7th in the Eastern Conference and the Panthers seeded 10th, the Isles will be the “home” team for games one and two as well as a potential decisive game five in necessary.  Now with the NHL’s return to play taking place in hub cities Toronto (Eastern Conference) and Edmonton (Western Conference), there is a good question that needs to be asked…

How can the Islanders, or any other team for that matter, have any possible home ice advantage when the games are in hub cities and will have no fans in attendance?

Well, there is a matter of matchups like being able to wait until the “visiting” team has submitted its lineup and starters before you have to.  The “home” team also has an edge after the game has started when it comes to getting the right personnel on the ice.

“The biggest thing on the home ice advantage is obviously the last change,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz during a Zoom meeting with reporters on Saturday.  “You can say what you want but the fans do give you energy in the buildings.  I think it’s a little bit of getting used to training yourself that ok it’s going to be a little quieter.”

The Islanders will get their first post-pause feel of what it will be like to play in an empty arena on Monday when they begin training camp 2.0 at Northwell Health Ice Center on Long Island.   When the games do begin north of the border, there will likely be your typical in-arena music and sound effects but that’s about it.  Without any fans in the stands, there won’t be familiar chants and songs from the Blue and Orange Army or the sound of 13,917 fans screaming “YES YES YES” after an Islanders goal at Nassau Coliseum. 

The Islanders are asking fans to help support the team by submitting short videos with chants of “Let’s Go Islanders”, “YES YES YES”, and goal celebrations so that they could be played on the video screen in Toronto, but that certainly is nowhere near equal to what the team is used to at “The Barn”.  So, without the typical noise that is heard in Islanders Country, the team has to be prepared for a different atmosphere during a challenging COVID-19 world that we are all living in. 

Sometimes, a team has to block out noise in a hostile environment, but the challenge for the Islanders in Toronto will be blocking out the sounds of silence and putting all of their attention on beating Florida.

“Let’s just focus on the game,” said Trotz.  “Focus on the task at hand.  You gotta get yourself prepared, you gotta be mentally focused and not let anything get in the way of your individual performance or team success.  If you can focus on that and your shift at hand, shift after shift, I think you’ll be just fine.” 

So, when the Islanders take the Scotiabank Arena ice for game one against the Panthers on August 1st, they’ll be the home team by virtue of wearing their blue jerseys, submitting their scratches and starting lineup before Florida, and having the final line change.  But beyond the music and the virtual chants from fans watching at home, the only cheering in the arena will come from the bench and any scratched player of staff member that is able to be in the building.

But these are hockey players we’re talking about so the competitive juices will be flowing.

“I can tell you this,” said Trotz.  “These are the best athletes and they will compete if you’re on an outdoor rink in Canada in the middle of the winter and you throw the guys out there right now.  “They’re going to compete so I don’t think that’s going to be much of a problem.”

It normally takes sixteen post-season victories for a team to win the Stanley Cup.  But these are anything but normal times for the Islanders, Panthers and the other 22 NHL teams that are still alive in the race for Lord Stanley.  In 2020, as North America and the rest of the world continues to navigate through the coronavirus, it will take the winners of the qualifying rounds a total of 19 victories to hoist the cup.

I’m sure the fans will come through with some great chants on those videos they will submit, but it’s still going to be strange for any of the teams. With no fans on hand in Toronto and also in Edmonton if the Islanders can get to the Eastern Conference Final, the Islanders hope to make enough noise in the playoffs so that they can hear the fans back home in Islanders Country going crazy.     

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter covers the Islanders for New York Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club. Peter spent 8 years as the radio play by play voice for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. He was also the radio play by play announcer for the XFL’s NY/NJ Hitmen in 2001 and the radio play by play announcer for the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1993 to 1996.

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