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Winter Classic At Belmont? Isles Owners Hoping To Bring In Marquee NHL Events



AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie

Elmont, NY– No game in the NHL’s regular season schedule comes with more pomp and circumstance than the Winter Classic.

For 15 years, some of America’s most historic venues have been the site of the outdoor spectacle, from Boston’s Fenway Park to Wrigley Field in Chicago.

In 2018, the game came to New York, taking place at Citi Field. Now, the owners of the New York Islanders want to bring it back to the area and hold it, along with some of the league’s other marquee events, at Belmont Park.

“It’s not only becoming a destination but it’s being taken notice by the NHL community,” Islanders co-owner and alternate governor Jon Ledecky said at the opening of The Park at UBS Arena. “That’s really important because if you want to have an all-star game, Winter Classic, or other events, they want to see creativity. They want to see how you go about doing something special.”

The Park at UBS Arena is the new outdoor experience the Islanders unveiled this past Friday, featuring two skating rinks, a beer garden and carnival games.

It’s small relative to a Winter Classic. But the Islanders hope their newest venture will showcase their ability to put on events and entice the NHL to let them do so on a larger scale.

“We know what the league really would like for its big tentpole events,” co-owner, operating partner, and alternate governor John Collins said. “It was important for us to show the league that we can really activate like this. This is a Super Bowl, Winter Classic-esque fan festival.”

Collins may be the Islanders’ ace in the hole to eventually host a Winter Classic. After all, he is one of the godfathers of the event, overseeing the first one back in 2008 when he was the NHL’s COO.

Since then, the league has made outdoor games part of its regular programming. Next month, the Islanders will take part in the Stadium Series at MetLife Stadium, facing the New York Rangers on Feb. 18.

Still, the Islanders would like to see an event on Long Island itself and have for a while. However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that a lack of infrastructure, such as hotel space, is an obstacle. That was an issue going back to when the Islanders played at Nassau Coliseum, and it hasn’t improved much since they moved into their new home three years ago.

To enhance the area surrounding UBS Arena and Belmont Park, Islanders’ majority owner Scott Malkin is funding a 340,000 sq. foot retail complex called Belmont Park Village that is expected to be completed later this year, according to Long Island Business News.

“It’s not a dream that you’re going to build an arena one day,” Collins said. “The arena is here, and it’s pretty nice, and there’s a lot more still to go, like Belmont Park Village. I’ve been to some of the luxury retail villages in Europe, and New York doesn’t know what’s coming. It’s going to draw a lot of people to this campus and a lot of attention. It’s probably the best-kept secret in New York, but probably not for long.”

But even once Belmont Village is up and running, there’s still a long line of cities and venues with similar desires to the Islanders’.

The NHL has already looked into Ohio Stadium as a possible site for a future outdoor game with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even venues not typically used for sports are getting in on the action. The 2024 NHL Entry Draft will emanate from The Sphere in Las Vegas.

Either way, the Islanders are dead set on hosting one of the main events on the NHL calendar in the future. No matter how much it costs.

“To have a chance to reimagine this campus and reimagine hockey in New York is a great opportunity,” Ledecky said. “We really could do some great events with the UBS Arena and New York Islanders hockey at this campus. We’re very excited about the reimagination of Belmont Park.”




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