This past week, the Elmont-UBS Arena LIRR station connecting fans to New York Islanders games and concerts began service.
As a visiting reporter who opts to stay with family out in Suffolk County over booking a hotel, that came as great news to me.
The last time I was here, I had to quickly sprint out of UBS Arena following the New York Islanders’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers and hop on a shuttle to the Queens Village station. Long story short, I did not get home until about 4 a.m. after multiple connections and other crazy antics.
While I did not leave that up to chance when the Panthers opened the season on Long Island — wisely opting for an Airbnb in Elmont to ensure that things will go smoothly — a unique opportunity popped up on Saturday that gave me the chance to test this train line out.
I was out in Babylon at around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon when I saw that I could get glass seats for $80 that night against the Ducks.
My friends convinced me to take the quick 10-minute walk to the train station and start my journey.
”Here we go,” I thought to myself.
The way there was pretty much as simple as you could possibly get.
I hopped on a 4:55 p.m. train headed to Penn Station, transferred at Jamaica (as every New Yorker has done at least a thousand times), and arrived at the Elmont-UBS Arena station at 6:16 p.m.
The station does not take you directly to the stadium’s gates like the Atlantic Terminal stop did for the Barclays Center during the team’s short tenure there.
Fans have two options to get around that: A shuttle or a 12-minute walk.
The shuttle line can get pretty long at times, leaving the time you arrive at the rink up to chance, but I opted for the walk and was in the door at 6:33 p.m.
For a decision I made completely last minute, I was still able to get in the door early enough to drop my external phone charger off at one of those charging kiosks, grab that delicious chicken sandwich from Big Chicken Shaq and have enough time to meet up with my friends before warm-ups started.
Where I was really concerned about this whole ordeal, however, was the way back to Suffolk County. Especially given the fact I had a 7 a.m. flight at LaGuardia to get to.
My destination for that night: Huntington.
The journey back started off with a bit of a wrinkle. The first train leaving the Elmont-UBS Arena station for Huntington was to leave at 10:19 p.m.
By the time I finished up my 12-minute walk from the rink, it was 10:21… and the next train out to Huntington was not until 11:19 p.m.
Luckily for me, there were a few more options out there, and I had family who was willing to drive a little bit to pick me up at the station.
I wound up opting for the 10:38 p.m. Ronkonkoma train that got me out to Farmingdale at 11:02 p.m.
It was a nine-mile drive for my family but one that saved me two hours, as that Huntington train would not have brought me there until 1:05.
Moral of this story: You might want to plan to use the Ronkonkoma line if you are going to the game from Suffolk County unless you are okay with leaving the game early.
The only other issue that seemed to pop up is that the number of trains available did not seem to be ready for the sheer volume of people taking the train back from the stadium.
Platforms to get on the train were packed to the point where there were genuine concerns as to if I would be able to get on the train and, once you are on it, you are packed on it like a can of sardines to the point where it is a headache to get off.
There is also only one train per hour for most lines heading East. The Penn Station line suffers from the same issue for those headed to the City.
”This is a s*** show, but a lot less of a s*** show than last year,” I overheard one fan say as the pack of fans squeezed themselves on the train.
Of course, this is something that will always exist when leaving a sporting event. The 7-line is still like this when leaving Citi Field for Mets games after ages of baseball in Queens.
There does seem to be a healthier volume of trains at Mets-Willetts station, though.
At the end of the day, as long as you can get your way on the train, everyone there will make sure you are able to get off at your correct stop. The crowd also gets a bit smaller after the first few stops, so that helps.
As long as you can deal with the tight squeeze and talk some hockey with the good people of Long Island, you are all set to attend New York Islanders games this way.