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UBS Arena Opening Begins New Chapter in New York Islanders History



New York Islanders UBS Arena

By Allan Kreda
Special to NYI Hockey Now

Initial visual proof a new era has truly arrived for the New York Islanders are a series of new green signs along the Cross Island Parkway, directing drivers to various exits for UBS Arena.

Once parked and initially stepping through the doors of the hockey team’s new home into its grandiose lobby, this fresh epoch for Long Island’s hockey team becomes reality.

“I have one word to describe this place, wow!,’’ said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took over for Andrew Cuomo in August. “This is spectacular. And this is where the Islanders belong.”

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It was Cuomo who initially spearheaded and supported the Belmont project and was present in December 2017 when plans were announced to redevelop the grounds near the historic racetrack grandstand dating back to 1905. Now fresh generations of Long Islanders will be able to experience hockey, concerts and all else that goes with a state-of-the-art entertainment facility in their backyard.

Hochul was joined by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky, who has been the face of ownership since taking majority control with Scott Malkin in 2016 two years after they bought the team from Charles Wang in 2014.

“It’s such a great day for the fans,’’ Ledecky said. “I want to make sure they are recognized because without them, this doesn’t happen. It’s all about the fans.”

For Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of the venue development firm Oak View Group and a partner with the Islanders for UBS Arena, satisfaction levels were justifiably high with the arena ready for Saturday’s home opener against the Calgary Flames after more than two years of tireless work since groundbreaking in September 2019.

“We found a way to get through the greatest health crisis in the history of construction,’’ Leiweke said. “And here we sit today with a building that was privately built that will change a community forever, that will finally give the Islander fans something they’ve been striving towards for 30 years which is their own and which they deserve.”

Curran used a clever analogy to summarize the sentiment of the day.

“No longer is Long Island the land of No. We are the land of Yes, yes, Yes!,’’ she said, echoing a chant made popular at Nassau Coliseum every time the home team scores.

Bettman, who has helped the Islanders navigate the waters from Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn back to Nassau Coliseum and now to Belmont, said he was always steadfast about the franchise not leaving the area it has called home since 1972.

“Even when there were doubters about the future of the Islanders, I was never one of them,’’ the commissioner said. “I was always confident it would get to this point in time in this circumstance. It just took a while to get there. And I cannot emphasize enough that Charles Wang had a vision and Scott Malkin shared that vision and was able to execute it perhaps better than anyone could have imagined. It’s all good.”

The shift to Belmont after twice saying goodbye to the team’s long-time home, Nassau Coliseum – with a brief sojourn for games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center – has an entirely different vibe.

And with good reason, because now the Islanders will play in a venue dedicated to hockey first – with modern amenities around every corner and down every corridor at UBS.

“I wish we were playing here in my day,’’ quipped Islander legend Clark Gillies as he gazed around the huge freshly painted atrium. “What a place!”

Also on hand were Gillies teammates Bob Nystrom, Butch Goring and Denis Potvin – all part of the New York Islander squads who won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.

Nystrom, known also as Mr. Islander, has long been a team ambassador, staying on Long Island working a second career in the insurance business and raising a family in his adopted home after his playing career ended in 1986. Nystrom’s son Eric played 10 seasons in the NHL.

“It’s absolutely beautiful and the dressing rooms are a little bit different than ours in ’72, said Nystrom, who scored the iconic Cup-winning overtime goal in 1980. “I’m just so happy for the players. They have a home. It’s going to be phenomenal. And the fans, I’m happy for them too.”

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