It wasn’t quite ready for the start of the season. As a result, the Islanders were tasked to begin the 2021-22 NHL season with a 13-game road trip. The Islanders subsequently went 5-6-2 on their extended “roadie” and found themselves sitting in the basement of the Metropolitan Division when the trip finally concluded earlier this week in Florida.
The only team to play more consecutive games on the road was the 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks, who were essentially booted out of town for 14 games because of the Winter Olympics in 2010.
But the road trip is now finally over for the Islanders, and, ready or not, the arena is set to open.
The $1.1 billion UBS Arena, located adjacent to the Belmont Park race track in Elmont, New York, will hold a soft opening Friday night with a charity concert featuring the band Chicago. Then on Saturday, it’s the main event — Islanders-Flames at 7 p.m.
UBS Arena is designed to hold up to 19,000 people for concerts and audiences up to 17,250 for NHL games.
The groundbreaking for the arena was held On September 23, 2019. But on March 27, 2020, construction was paused due to an order from then Governor Cuomo to stop all non-essential construction work until April 21 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 16, 2020, the pause was extended to May 15, 2020. On May 9, 2020, the pause was further extended to May 23, 2020. But that’s all in the past.
The Islanders held their first practice at their new home on Thursday. They held their post-practice availability over Zoom on Thursday because the arena’s event level is still being set up. Media members watched practice in hard hats and vests because the place is still considered an active construction zone.
Former Capitals’ coach Barry Trotz compared the feeling to playing in an NHL Winter Classic or an outdoor game. Which is to say, this isn’t just any other game.
“It’s got a different feel,” Trotz said. “So yeah, there’s a little pep in the step. Getting lost trying to figure out where every office is, every room, so that’s probably what it feels like. Which is good — these are great experiences.”
The Capitals will make their first visit to the UBS Arena on Thursday, December 23rd when they face the Islanders in the last game before the Christmas break.
By Jon Sorensen