NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and the New York Islanders have a new routine for home games: Get up in the morning, get ready and head to the train station to get on the Long Island Rail Road.
Yes, much like their fans, the Islanders have to commute to work on game days now that the team plays in Brooklyn.
“Feel like a real Long Islander now especially, have to get on the train and commute in,” defenseman Travis Hamonic said.
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The Islanders are entering their first season at the Barclays Center — home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets since 2012 — after spending their first 43 years at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, 23 miles east of Brooklyn.
The deal to move to Brooklyn on a 25-year lease was announced in 2012 after a failed attempt to secure public financing for a new arena on Long Island and zoning approval was rejected for a privately funded development plan that would have included renovations to the Coliseum. It also secured the Islanders’ future in New York amid talk the team could move to another city.
The team’s headquarters and practice facility remain on Long Island, where the players continue to live. That means they now have to schlep to work — a train ride of about 45 minutes to an hour for most players — for home games. The train ride beats the hassle and traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
Even if fans occasionally recognize them in transit.
“Couple of fans come up and say hi but nobody’s really overboard about it,” Okposo said. “Everybody’s just kind of getting ready for work.”
The new routine means the players have to arrive at the arena in time to get ready for the morning skate at 10:30 a.m. After about a 30-minute practice, the players change and have an open media session. That’s followed by a team-provided meal in the locker room, a departure from past years when they were on their own.
“(This) is very convenient,” Tavares said. “Last year we used to as a team, 13 or 14 of us would go to a restaurant so that’s a little different but we’re still all together.”
After the meal, they head to a nearby hotel where the team has secured day rooms for players to take their afternoon nap before heading back to the arena to get ready for the game.
The routine means Okposo will spend an entire day away from his wife and 21-month old daughter.
“That’s going to be tough,” he said. “A whole day away from my daughter. Obviously I’d like to see her but it works out OK. There’s not a lot of distractions when you come here so you can just focus on the game.”
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk downplayed the lost time with family, saying, “If we were back at the Coliseum, you’d go and eat, go home, sleep, wake up and go to the game. You’d maybe see your family for 20 minutes in between the time you get home.”
The Islanders played three games at home in the preseason, and most players had at least two chances to try out the routine and get acclimated to playing in the new arena.
“The more you skate out there the more comfortable you get with your surroundings, the lighting and the boards,” Tavares said.
The Barclays Center will have a capacity less than 16,000 for hockey, putting it at the second-smallest in the NHL behind Winnipeg’s MTS Centre. The team’s four championship banners already hang from the rafters and Islanders merchandise has also been stocked for sale in the arena’s stores.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano acknowledged a little concern about the distractions players might face from being questioned daily about their commuting and adjusting to the new arena, but pointed out the team went through similar queries during their final year at the Coliseum last season.
“We’ve done a good job, kept a singular focus on what we need to do and our guys have accepted that,” Capuano said.
All the players praised their new facilities, including lounges and a locker room built for them that is double the size they had at the Coliseum, which opened in 1972 and was considered the worst in the NHL for years.
Still, the players know their new home won’t help them win any more games.
“It might make us feel more comfortable and want to be at the rink a little more,” Okposo said. “We’ll see how that plays. … As far as the amenities go, it’s nice to have but we still have to go play the game.”
That starts Friday night against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
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