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The long goodbye: New York Islanders to play less in Brooklyn before permanently vacating boro

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This island hopping is on the taxpayers’ dime.

New Yorkers will shell out millions so the New York Islanders can spend less time playing in Brooklyn over the next three years before the team abandons the borough altogether, Gov. Cuomo announced on Monday.

The state is coughing up $6 million to bring the squad’s former home, Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum, up to National Hockey League codes by installing high-tech ice-making equipment and broadcasting infrastructure, which will allow the athletes to spend nearly half of their next three seasons competing at their old haunt ahead of the squad’s permanent move from the Barclays Center..

But the Islanders never really fit in at the Prospect Heights arena after taking its ice in 2015, because venue honchos tended to favor its home basketball team, the Brooklyn Nets, according to a Greenpoint fan.

“The Islanders felt like the red-headed step child of Brooklyn sports,” said Robert Metzler. “It never felt like Barclays wanted them to be there.”

Developers designed the stadium with basketball and live performances in mind, skimping on concession stands in certain balcony seats above the rink, some of which lacked a clear view of one of the goals, Metzler said.

“Barclays was never built for hockey,” he said. “It’s very desolate in terms of vendors in the upper tiers, and wherever you’re sitting you feel a little askew.”

But more telling of the Islanders’s rocky relationship with Barclays Center is the squad’s home-game attendance, which this season is the lowest of any franchise in the league. As of press time, the team drew an average of 11,991 fans per game, according to ESPN statistics — roughly 4,000 under the arena’s capacity.

Cuomo announced in December that the Islanders won a bid to build a new home at the state-owned Belmont Park, and team honchos plan to invest a cool $1 billion into constructing an 18,000-seat arena there. But it isn’t expected to open until sometime during the league’s 2021–22 season.

Another local hockey fan said he’s sorry to see the Islanders go because of the Barclays Center’s inexpensive tickets and central location.

“The games at Barclays are cheap, and now I feel like I didn’t take advantage of seeing the team there,” said Bushwick resident John Bowers, who is “not heartbroken” that the team is leaving Brooklyn, but will miss it in a “vaguely regretful way.”

And Meltzer called the squad’s move a blow to the borough and its hockey fans alike, because its arrival presented a great opportunity to grow the sport in Brooklyn, Metzler said.

“It was a genius idea. It had the potential to spread the fan base,” he said. “I would have loved for it to have worked. A lot of people would have.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:49 pm, July 9, 2018
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