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Sabres Debut at Brooklyn's Barclay Center

Hockey on the Island
Sabres debut at Brooklyn's Barclay Center

If you were watching this past Sunday, you saw the Buffalo Sabres come from behind to score twice in the third period, with goals from Matt Moulson and Sam Reinhart, to beat the New York Islanders 2-1 down on the island. Goalie Linus Ullmark notched his second straight win for the team, and Coach Dan Bylsma was grinning ear to ear with Buffalo’s solid effort.

What you might have missed was that this game was not played at Nassau Coliseum, the longtime home of the New York Islanders. The franchise has moved thirty miles west, to the Barclays Center in the heart of Brooklyn. It’s only one month into the season, but the early reviews aren’t exactly stellar.

“This was an attempt by the team to become one of the big players in the New York sports market, and it is backfiring plain and simple,” says Sean MacDonald, New York based writer for Stadium Journey. “Worst of all is that the average fan is being left in the dust.”

MacDonald is well known to Buffalo sports fans. Last year he published a book chronicling his visit to all 31 NFL sports venues in one season, where he then labeled Buffalo as having “the drunkenest fans in the NFL.” That assertion received a lot of media attention locally, and one year later MacDonald stands by his claim.

But back to the Islanders. MacDonald states that the core of Islanders fans are based in Nassau and Suffolk counties. “Many of the true fans aren’t going to make the trip into the city to follow their team. Even on the Long Island Railroad, it’s a long commute, and a long ride home.

The distances involved for the team’s fan base is the least of the Islanders’ problems. The configuration of the Barclays Center was designed as a pure basketball venue to serve their primary tenant, the NBA Brooklyn Nets. As such, corner sections are angled in such a way for optimal viewing for basketball. Additionally, the balconies are also configured with a hoops court in mind.

Consequently, there are obstructed seats. Not just a few. Thousands upon thousands. The ice sheet is not placed in the center of the floor, but somewhat off center. As a result the main scoreboard hangs above the blue line. And in the far end zone, spectators can only see about half of the faceoff circle and none of the goal mouth.

“Did you notice that all three goals at this game were scored at that end?” says MacDonald. “If you’re sitting in those seats you missed all of it.”

There’s more. At that same end zone the 100 level sections curve inwards just beyond the blue line. Spectators who have the misfortune of sitting in those seats pay $100 per ticket, and then have to arch their bodies 90 degrees to the left to at least get a glimpse of the action at their own end. Up in that end zone balcony, tickets run $35 each.

“Of course, who’s buying those tickets, nobody that’s who,” says MacDonald. “On the secondary market you can buy a sideline balcony seat for ten bucks on any given night.”

Sunday’s attendance was announced at 11,278, although it appeared that about 8000 were actually in the house which has a capacity of just over 15,000. Many of those were Sabres fans in full throated support of their team, while most New Yorkers were otherwise distracted, following game 5 of the MLB World Series and the New York Mets.

In fairness, not everything about the Barclays Center is terrible. The venue is located in a superb setting in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, directly adjacent to a transportation hub offering easy subway and commuter rail access. The building is an architectural wonder outside, with an expansive plaza ringed by an open roof featuring a 360 degree LED board. Inside, themed concessions offer just about any food item or craft beer or signature cocktail a fan could want, all done with a Brooklyn theme.

Defenseman Mark Pysyk gave the venue high marks. “The dressing rooms and lounges are top notch we have everything we need here,” said Pysyk. “As for the seating bowl and configuration, every NHL building is different. I guess this just gives our league a different flavor.”

Bylsma added. “It’s a little bit different. It doesn’t feel like the New York Islanders. Uniondale was a little bit older and dingier. This is shiny and new but the shape is really unique. It took a little bit of getting used to.”

Bylsma had previously participated in a hockey tournament in the building. “They really upgraded the player facilities. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Can hockey work here in Brooklyn? “They have an out clause after five years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up back in Nassau,” said MacDonald. “But who knows. The building will take millions to correct the awful design flaws. Will they do it? We shall see.”


■ Taro is liking the merchandise and product line at BFLO Gallery and Gift Shop, which opens a permanent location this weekend at Eastern Hills Mall. Owner Nathan Mroz includes a good deal of Sabres framed photos and memorabilia amongst the line of uniquely Buffalo items and scenic prints. They cut the ribbon this Friday. Taro will be there.

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