New York Islanders swag may be worn across the New York metro area, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into Barclays Center attendance; with an average 13,500 people per game — down from 15,500 at the Nassau Coliseum and the third-worst crowd in the 30-team NHL — it’s even more important than ever for local fans to make #LetsGoIslanders a success for their first season in Brooklyn.
One of those fans is Fort Greene native Ebay Covington, 39, who used to attend games to watch the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, shifted his allegiance after the Islanders moved to Barclays this season after 43 years in Uniondale, Long Island.
“Now that we’ve got a Brooklyn hockey team I’ve got to stay home,” said Covington.
“The Rangers, that was my squad since Wayne Gretzky,” Covington explained, noting that his obsession with live hockey came four years ago, thanks to a birthday gift from his supervisor at the Ingersoll Community Center. “I was up close, and ever since then I’ve wanted to go to every game,” he said. “It’s a different ballgame [live].”
Now, Covington has a new set of hockey idols.
“I like JT — John Tavares and [Anders] Lee. They’re like pit bulls. Lee is a bulldog; he just goes, he don’t care. And you’ve got [Matt] Martin and [Cal] Clutterbuck,” he said, rattling off his favorite Islanders.
Now he is taking his new hometown team to heart and introducing them to the next generation.
This year, Covington is part of a partnership with Barclays Center that will enable him to attend approximately 15 games this season — accompanied by 10 to 15 children from the Farragut, Ingersoll and Whitman New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) communities.
Despite the fact that the Islanders are three points behind their cross-borough rivals for second place in the Metropolitan Division, have 16 games left in the regular season, and have not won a playoff series since 1993 (22 seasons) despite making the playoffs seven times, Covington is undeterred.
When asked about his experience of hockey at Barclays, where critics have cited everything from obstructed views to unruly patrons to excessive prices, Covington lavished praise on what might appear to some to be a quirky feature: the postgame celebration.
“When we win [the fans] are not going to leave,” Covington said. “In the Coliseum they used to run around that stadium, celebrating. At Barclays when they won [6-3 vs. the San Jose Sharks]; the game was over at 10:30, I think those fans didn’t go home until 12:30!”
The arrival of the Islanders at last year not only changed his sports allegiance but also Covington’s knowledge of a sport that has not called Brooklyn home in almost 75 years — when the now-vanished Brooklyn Americans ruled the ice at the Brooklyn Ice Palace in Crown Heights during the 1941-42 season.
In a quest to better understand hockey’s history, Covington took a trip to the Brooklyn Historical Society’s exhibition on the Americans, who for one brief year were the borough’s only professional ice hockey team. For Covington the experience was a revelation; not only had he never heard about professional hockey in Brooklyn, he was fascinated by the rich history of the Americans franchise and its bootlegger owner, “Big Bill” Dwyer.
Should the Rangers and Islanders meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs, though, Covington will find his hockey loyalties challenged.
“I usually run with the Islanders when they play at home and go with the Rangers when they play at the Garden.”
For Brooklyn’s sake, let’s hope a packed Barclays Center is host for the deciding game, lest the Islanders go the way of the Americans.
The next home game is Monday, March 21 at 7:30pm between the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.