After a long week, I am finally back from my trip to New York City. It was the first time I had been to that side of the country, and while post-snowstorm mid-February may not have been the most comfortable time to visit, the city lived up to my expectations. I had some of the best food, saw some beautiful sights, spent time with wonderful people, and watched some fantastic hockey.
Tickets fell through for the New York Rangers’ Saturday game versus the Colorado Avalanche, so the only games I went to were two New York Islanders home games located at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The first was Sunday night versus the Avalanche, and the other on Thursday night against the Rangers. It was my first time going to an NHL game in an arena other than the American Airlines Center in Dallas, so there were a ton of new things to take in.
Truly the most unique part of the Sunday game were the fans. Not only am I referring to the soccer fan style “band” in the back of my section supporting the team, but also the group of about 20 people cheering only for the referees. This group was all dressed in striped shirts and would go ballistic when a penalty was called or play was stopped. Most impressively, the group was committed to this for the entire game. If the refs on ice held their arms up on a delayed penalty, I would look over and the ref fans were holding up their arms. When a penalty was announced, I saw the “refs” chant begin with their signs. If the refs reviewed discussed a call, the “refs” formed a huddle. And this went on until the final horn sounded.
The Thursday crowd was a much different story, however. The Barclays Center was packed and the demographic seemed split right down the middle between Rangers and Islanders fans. Even some couples were at odds wearing opposing jerseys. There was a lot of verbal jabbing going on, but it was in jest for the most part. What unified the crowd was a mutual love for the sport of hockey, and a more deeply unifying hatred for Sidney Crosby, evidenced by the resounding boos around the arena following the announcement of Sid’s 1,000 point milestone achievement in Pittsburgh that evening.
As for the games themselves, I was able to see two great Islanders wins. Both games started with the Islanders going down 1-0 early on. The drama was very much alive. Before I get into the best players I saw, the most impressive thing I did see was the Islanders special teams. A shorthanded goal and 2/7 on the combined power play showed just how much coordination and effort the players put forth under their new interim coach.
On that impressive unit was John Tavares, who I swear has 360 degree vision. Tavares racked up 4 assists in the two nights I got to see him play. One was a spectacular behind-the-back pass to Bailey who fed Lee to open up scoring against the Rangers, the other was after an absolute battle on the shorthand where the pass was blindly thrown past two Rangers skaters and Henrik Lundqvist to set up Kulemin with the open net. Truly a master at work. Johnny Boychuck was a true standout on defense, showing great zone control and patience as most of his shot had clear lanes to the net.
It wasn’t exclusively Islanders players that impressed me, however. The Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello was a wonder to watch. Unmatched speed and skill with the puck made for a very tense game at any time he was on the ice Thursday night. His assist in the game was the embodiment of control and composure as he perfectly placed the puck for Holden to score.
I hope I am able to go back again soon. I was sorry to miss a game at Madison Square Garden, but I will make sure the next trip has a Rangers game in the itinerary. While the trip was not all about hockey, it was a fantastic part of it. I hope I am able to attend more games in other new cities in the future. I will be sure and tell you all about them.