I have always wanted to see a professional hockey game in New York City. That recently became a reality when I took the trip from the Algonquin Hotel near Times Square to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the hometown Islanders faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I did so from the press box.

It is less than 30 minutes by subway, taxi or car. This marks the first season in Brooklyn for the Islanders. The team spent its entire 42 history at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, aka Long Island. With the arena outdated and no new facility on the horizon, ownership turned towards the Barclays Centre – home of basketball’s Brooklyn Nets. The announcement of the move was actually made three years ago. They have a lease until 2040.

The team still has its practice facility in Long Island. Four Stanley Cup banners are already hanging in the Barclays Center. In addition, banners hang for retired players Billy Smith, Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin as well as former coach Al Arbour and former general manager Bill Torrey.

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, at the crossroads of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, Barclays Center boasts one of the most intimate seating configurations ever designed for a modern multi-purpose arena. For hockey the capacity is just over 15,000; 17,732 for basketball and up to 18,000 for musical or other performances. It opened on September 28, 2012 with eight consecutive sold out shows by JAY Z.

Brooklyn - Mike Bossy

Former Islander superstar Mike Bossy is a goodwill ambassador for the team and is now a regular on TVA hockey broadcasts
Photo by Marco Webber

I enjoyed the experience immensely and strongly recommend it to anyone visiting New York. As Mike Bossy told me, this is indeed a work in progress. Most of the team’s loyal fan base is still in Long Island. They either drive in or take the train. I spoke to many of them as I walked through the arena. While some complained about the commute of at least 45 minutes, they pledged to support the team. Communications manager Jesse Eisenberg told me the adjustment is going well and that sponsorship opportunities in Brooklyn far outweigh those in Long Island. The players are doing their best to make this work as well. After the game I stood outside the Isles’ dressing room as a slew of players came out to take part in promotional meet and greets.

There was a great atmosphere in the rink and so many fans wearing Islanders jerseys, most with number 91 Tavares on the back (for captain John Tavares). There are all kinds of neat promotions going on – seeking the loudest fan of the game, the best beard, the best dancer, guess the autograph and seat upgrades. At one point during the game a member of the US Army was introduced to the crowd and got a long standing ovation. The team mascot Sparky actually skates around the ice, something the Habs’ Youppi can’t seem to do.

Eleven subway lines stop near the arena: 2, 3, 4, and 5, B, D, N, Q, and R to Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center C to Lafayette Avenue G to Fulton Street.

I was eager to speak with Mike Bossy about the move. The former Laval Nationals junior hockey superstar was nothing less than the most prolific goal-scorer in Islanders history and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played right wing and won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983 while scoring 573 goals. He netted an NHL record 50 or more goals in nine of his 10 seasons to go with 553 assists and also won the Calder Trophy in 1978-79, the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981-82 and three Lady Byng Trophies.

Bossy grew up in the Ahuntsic area. The Nationals thought so highly of him as a teenager that they offered to cover part of the living costs of his family if they moved there for this would give them territorial rights. So he left his friends at St. Pius X Comprehensive High School and enrolled at Laval Catholic. In four full seasons for the Nationals he had 70, 84, 79 and 75 goals respectively and was drafted by the Islanders 15th overall in the first round.

While Bossy retired in 1987, he was lured back to the Islanders family nine years ago to work in corporate sales. He retained Rosemere as his base and commuted, spending weekdays in Long Island and returned home on weekends. When the team relocated to Brooklyn for this season he saw an opportunity to switch things up. Since the sales and marketing of the team is now in the hands of the Barclays Center, he reached an agreement to play a very part-time role, and come to town for specific games. “I basically go visit people in the suites and shake a lot of hands,” he says.

Bossy had done some work for TVA Sports in Montreal and he raised the possibility of coming on board as a regular contributor. That proposal was accepted and he can now be seen four to five days a week on sportscasts, between periods of game broadcasts and as a panelist on the Dave Morrisette Show. “I am very much enjoying it,” he says. “I work nights, so it gives me a chance to spend more time with my grandchildren and even drive them to school.”

As for Islanders, Bossy is impressed by their lineup. “They have a good team that is developing nicely,” he said. “There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and they are on the right road.”

Mike Cohen’s email address is [email protected]. Follow his travels at www.sandboxworld.com/travel and on Twitter @mikecohencsl.

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