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Big Night at Barclays Center: New York Islanders come to Brooklyn

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building was lit in blue and orange Thursday as the city welcomed the New York Islanders to Brooklyn, fulfilling a dream of making Barclays Center a two-team arena ... and for the first time in 70 years, making the the borough a two-team town.

The Islanders will open their first season in the city Friday night, facing Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. And while the game will be important in the standings and for the Isles' own ambitions, the story will be about the move from and the aging Nassau Coliseum, where the team played for 43 years, to the sparkling, if not perfect for hockey, Barclays Center.

Now run by the same management group that runs the Nets and Barclays Center, the Islanders will retain most of their traditions, which date back to their four straight Stanley Cups in the 1980's.  The colors will remain the same (except for the 12 nights when they'll wear black-and-white), as will their organist, public address announcer and after a failed experiment with a subway horn, their goal horn. The Ice Girls didn't make it.

The last time Brooklyn had more than one team was back in the 1940's when the Dodgers, both baseball and football varieties, played at Ebbets Field. Around that same time, an NHL team, the Brooklyn Americans, practiced in Brooklyn but played in Manhattan.  The NFL Dodgers left for Boston in 1945, the baseball Dodgers 12 years later.  The Americans, who had dreams of Brooklyn arena, were disbanded after World War II.

Now the borough is embracing its second team.

"This is a chance for children of color who have never explored hockey — haven’t explored much outside of life on their blocks — to experience something new." Borough President Eric Adams, a hockey fan, told the New York Times.  "We can make Friday night at the rink hip, cool and attractive ... "We need to make hockey sexy to the urban kid."

To that end, Adams announced this week an outreach program to provide vouchers to Brooklyn community groups that would be redeemable for $10 tickets. Fifty to 500 vouchers will be available per game, he said.

It hasn't always been an easy transition from Long Island, noted Brett Yormark, who's won criticism as well as praise for moving both the Nets and Islanders to Brooklyn.

"This is one of those Harvard Business School case studies: How do you not alienate the core fan while at the same time engaging with the new fan?" Yormark told the Times. "You've got to do both."

So far, it appears that he has. Of the nearly 9,000 in season ticket sales, Yormark says 33 percent come from Brooklyn and another 25 percent from Long Island. The Isles have been bottom five in NHL attendance for the last decade, half of those years in dead last.  Not everyone is happy.  One fan plans on lighting a candle for "what might have been" outside the arena ... but won't attend the game.

From the Nets perspective, the arrival of the Islanders will give the NBA team an opportunity to co-market on Long Island, where the Nets are a woeful second to the Knicks.  Of course, the downside of all this is if the Islanders win the cup and the Nets had a mediocre --or worse-- season. Would Barclays Center then become the home of the Stanley Cup champions?!?