Later this month, a limited number of sports fans across New York State can start returning to arenas and stadium. But, while Islanders fans await word on when they can resume attending games at Nassau Coliseum and how they can get tickets, the organization is still working hard keeping the fans engaged with the team through social media and special events like the one held Saturday at their future home UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
It was an opportunity for fans get a peek at the new home office for Islanders Country that is scheduled to open this fall for the 2021-22 National Hockey League Season. The Islanders have been keeping their fans abreast of the construction process through photos and videos on the team’s website and social media platforms, but on Saturday many of those fans were able to get an up-close look from the outside on how the arena is coming along.
And the players are certainly pumped up about their new home as well.
“Yeah, it’s super exciting,” said Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “I’m really looking forward to go and visit. I’ve seen some pictures and little videos but I’m really excited to go in person and see what it’s going to be like.”
Fans in approximately 2,200 cars drove through the parking lot and alongside the construction site where they were greeted by Islanders mascot Sparky, had a chance to see two Islanders heart-shaped ice sculptures with a Valentine’s Day theme, prepared by Long Island City based Okamoto Studio. There were also stations for fans to pick up some Islanders swag including hockey sticks and a tote bag with a foam Islanders puck, two “Hockey Fights Cancer” rally towels and a Valentine’s Day card with a message from Tori, the Islanders’ professional service dog that will one day assist a veteran or first responder with disabilities.
It’s the latest example of how the Islanders are committed to the Long Island community.
“It’s great that they’re having that at the new arena,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz on a Zoom meeting with reports on Saturday morning. “I think staying connected in the community is very important and obviously I’m all about getting free stuff.”
And Islanders fans certainly were able to pick up plenty of free stuff.
The street hockey stick and the foam puck were distributed to promote “Hockey Week Across America”, an initiative created by USA Hockey in 2008 to “engage the hockey community in celebrating the sport at all levels and exposing the game to new audiences.”
As more and more kids learn how to play hockey, enjoy it, and fall in love with it, the sport will continue to grow in the United States. And until young fans can enjoy going to an Islanders game again at “The Barn”, they’ll have a stick and puck to utilize in front of the house or in the backyard to stay engaged with the Isles and keep active.
“It’s huge,” said Islanders defenseman Andy Greene. “That’s where the grassroots programs come into place and to try to get people involved at an early age. It’s tough now. I’ve always thought that hockey is the best sport to watch live in person and obviously you can’t do that now. Now, you have to find other ways to get people involved. It’s of such huge importance if you can get more people involved and more fans involved.”
Each tote bag was a pair of towels to commemorate “Hockey Fights Cancer” an initiative that started in 1998 by the NHL and National Hockey League Players Association and has raised more than $28 million to support people impacted by cancer and their families. Back in November, the NHL along with the NHLPA, teams, rightsholders and corporate partners highlighted the “challenges with cancer many of those within the hockey community have faced.”
Even though Islanders fans aren’t allowed to attend games just yet, Saturday night’s home contest against the Boston Bruins was designated as the Islanders’ “Hockey Fights Cancer” game with Islanders coaches and broadcasters wearing “Hockey Fights Cancer” ties and pins. Also, lavender-sponsored dasherboards were installed and one of the in-arena tarps featured “Hockey Fights Cancer” branding.
“That’s been a great initiative for as long as I’ve been involved in the league,” said Trotz. “It affects so many people. It’s something that we’ve got to get out our world and get a cure for it and the sooner we do that I think it won’t have the effect that it has on so many lives. I’ve got friends, just like probably everybody has someone that they know or a family member who has been affected by that very dangerous and dreadful disease.”
After the announcement by New York State that fans can begin attending sporting events effective on February 23rd, there are so many Islanders fans that can’t wait to get their hands-on tickets, as limited as they might be, to see the Islanders once again in person. Islanders Country hasn’t been able to cheer on their favorite team at the Coliseum since last March 7th because of the COVID-19 pandemic but events like the organization held on Saturday at the UBS Arena site have certainly kept the fan base engaged.