Opening Night at UBS Arena

The Islanders’ old barn at the Coliseum will always be home in the fans’ hearts, but the team has a new building befitting of the top-notch organization they have become and ensuring the Coliseum’s character has not been lost.

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UBS Arena is being widely-called one of the country’s best sports venues following its debut. (Chris Hennessy/The Fordham Ram)

Chris Hennessy, Staff Writer

New York Islander fans have been waiting patiently for a long, long time for November 20, 2021. The team’s arena situation has been up in the air since long before that date was even known. Last Saturday was the end of the saga. For good. 

The Islanders were founded alongside the Atlanta Flames when the league expanded from 14 to 16 teams in 1972. They moved into a brand-new arena in Uniondale, NY called the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The “Old Barn” was home for the first 42 seasons. Four straight Stanley Cups in the 80s paved the way for a passionate fanbase to support the team and keep them in the Long Island suburbs. 

But the Coliseum was falling apart by 2015. It was less than ideal for an NHL operation and ex-owner Charles Wang’s valiant attempt to build a new arena in the same area had failed. However, Wang was able to keep the team in New York, which was never a guarantee. 

The Islanders soon had to leave as the venue took out seats and cleaned the interior and exterior to house concerts and shows. They played a preseason game in Kansas City and there were plenty of rumors about Quebec City being their final landing place. Despite that, they secured a spot in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2015.

The Islanders’ history is a critical component of UBS’ interior design. (Chris Hennessy/The Fordham Ram)

Unfortunately, it was a disaster. The fans found it difficult to get there, some of the seats had obstructed views and the overall vibe did not sit right with the Islanders faithful. 

The Islanders had the league’s third-worst attendance after three seasons in Brooklyn,  and could not sell out a game to save their lives. Gary Bettman said that the Coliseum was not a viable option for the team after Barclays considered kicking them out citing financial failures. Bettman ended up being wrong and the Islanders split their home games between Barclays and the Barn to start the 2018 NHL season.

The Islanders made an unexpected run to the playoffs that year, bringing playoff hockey back where it belongs. They swept the Pittsburgh Penguins with two incredible wins at home but were then swept when they had to go back to Brooklyn in the second round. The stretch run of the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season was played entirely at Nassau, as was last year’s 56 game campaign. 

Now, finally, the team opened their new home with fans back in the building and construction complete after a 13 game road trek. A state-of-the-art 17,500 seat arena that has an old barn feel. The history of the team is plastered all over the walls of the concourse and the ceiling is low just like the Coliseum. 

As a lifelong Islander fan, I was eager to hear UBS Arena maybe even more so than see it. The Islanders’ home ice advantage comes from the crowd, known for being loud and rowdy regardless of the team’s ability. I was shocked at how loud it was. It was louder than any Coliseum game I can remember. The roar when Brock Nelson potted both goals was extraordinary and delivered on the contractors’ acoustic promise.

While the Islanders finally have a permanent home for the first time in six years, the Coliseum will always be home in the hearts of the fanbase. It met the character of the Isles themselves. It was kind of ugly, did not always work to perfection, but sometimes it was spectacular. Over the past four seasons, Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello have turned the team into a state-of-the-art organization, and now they have a building that goes along with that. 

Chris experienced opening night first hand with fellow WFUV beat reporter Tyler Mooney. (Chris Hennessy/The Fordham Ram)