As the Islanders set to play in first outdoor game in 10 years, the franchise eyes more marquee events

The last time the Islanders played in an outdoor game, they hosted the Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29, 2014. It wasn’t the result the Islanders were looking for as they lost to the Rangers 2-1, but the atmosphere in The Bronx that night was off the charts.

“I remember going to that game,” said Islanders legend John Tonelli. “I remember how hyped up I was and excited to go see that.”

That was the first and only time that the Islanders played in an outdoor game — until this weekend.

For the Islanders and their fans, it’s been a 10-year wait to take things outside again, but the wait will be over on Sunday. The Islanders will face their arch rivals, the Rangers, in the Navy Federal Credit Union Stadium Series at MetLife Stadium. Puck drop is just after 3 p.m., and the game will be nationally televised on ABC.

To say it’s a big day and a big moment for the Islanders franchise would be an understatement.

“It’s a great thing,” said Islanders co-owner, Jon Ledecky. “It’s exciting for our team, but it’s more exciting for our fans. Everyone is pumped for the Stadium Series. I’m personally looking forward to watching hockey outside. To see a congregation of 75,000 hockey fans in one place is really exciting.”

It’s a huge weekend for the NHL as they’re staging two games at the home of the Jets and Giants. On Saturday night, the Devils will play the Flyers, followed by the first meeting of the season between the Islanders and Rangers on Sunday.

The jersey

Whether it’s the Winter Classic, Stadium Series, or Heritage Classic, NHL teams have been introducing specially designed jerseys to wear in these outdoor games, and the Islanders have come up with something unique.

They will wear a dark blue jersey with orange trim and their abbreviated nickname “ISLES” across the front in orange. From the moment that the gear was released, Islanders fans have responded in a big way.

And for the Islanders, that means “cha-ching” at their team stores or in online sales.

“The merchandise that we have for the Stadium Series literally sold out in the first day and a half, and we’ve been trying to restock it,” said Ledecky. “People are so excited to wear the gear, and they feel pride that their team has been selected to play in this prestigious event.”

First Islander outdoor game in a decade

The Islanders have had to wait a little longer than expected to take part in an outdoor game. CitiField, the home of the Mets, was selected to host the 2018 Winter Classic, but the Islanders didn’t get to make the short trip to Flushing. Instead, the Rangers took on the Sabres, and that didn’t sit too well with Islanders fans.

And that’s what makes this Sunday so special for Islanders Country because it’s not something that happens very often.

“I’m very happy to see us get one in this area, especially for the Islanders to be in it,” said Tonelli. “It’s a lot of excitement for the fans. I think the fans will really enjoy it. The NHL has figured out a way to promote the game in a bigger and better way.”

This will be the second time that the Islanders have “hosted” the Rangers in an outdoor game, and the reason for that is very simple. The Rangers, by virtue of their lease at Madison Square Garden, are prohibited by New York City from having a home game at a venue other than “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

So, while the Islanders will be the home team and don the home dark jerseys, hosting a game in New Jersey is not the same as hosting a game on Long Island, and it certainly didn’t feel like a home game at Yankee Stadium 10 years ago.

They also want to bring some big events like the NHL All-Star Game and the NHL Draft to their home, UBS Arena.

“The thoughts of everything come into my mind,” said Ledecky. “Do we want to host everything we possibly can? Of course. Would a Winter Classic game at the new Belmont facility be terrific? Of course, it would, but that’s a decision made by the National Hockey League. We can only raise our hand and say please consider us, and we’ll continue to do that because we know our fans want to see it.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is on record as saying that UBS Arena will be considered for those marquee events once the retail village, which is currently under construction, and a hotel is completed.

But the Islanders feel they can pull off these major events because of their proximity to Queens, Brooklyn, and the rest of New York City.

“We’ve said many times that we’re a New York team,” said Ledecky. “We’re not just a Long Island team. I think incorporating all of those venues would be a good way to bid and get events so that would be my philosophy if someone asked me. These are National Hockey League events. They’ve been doing them for a long time, and they understand what works and what doesn’t work.”

Belmont Park Village coming soon

What will be working for the Islanders organization very soon is the Belmont Park Village which is set to open up later this year. The retail complex is going up fast adjacent to the parking garage on what used to be the South parking lot that was used during the inaugural season of UBS Arena in 2021-22.

Considering the revenue it will bring to the community and the jobs it will create, Belmont Park Village is generating excitement. The Islanders have elevated the experience with “The Park at UBS Arena,” an outdoor area in front of the main entrance featuring two pond hockey rinks. This addition has already turned the campus into a destination for fans before Islanders games.

The same will soon take place with shopping and dining options at Belmont Park Village.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous asset for the community,” said Ledecky. “I think for the fans and for the community, the benefits that that village will have will be many. I think it’s going to be a magnet for fans; it’s going to be a magnet for the community, and I think it’s going to be an international destination when it’s all said and done.

The Islanders franchise has come a long way since their long and winding road search for a permanent new home on Long Island. That search took them from Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center in Brooklyn and then back to the Coliseum while UBS Arena was under construction.

They have a magnificent new home, and they’re getting set to take part in a marquee NHL event this weekend. The question now is, will other big events be on the horizon as well?

“We’re very optimistic as we always are that we’ll be given the opportunity to host marquee events,” said Ledecky. “The Stadium Series is a home game for us. We’re hosting a marquee event, the first hopefully of many.”


Top: Workers build for the outdoor NHL Stadium Series hockey games at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Tom Canavan)

Bubble: New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky, center, during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *