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Hockey

For the New York Islanders, Brooklyn is beginning to feel like home

For the New York Islanders, Brooklyn is beginning to feel like home

Patrons arrive at the Barclays Center for a Dec. 2 game between the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers in Brooklyn, N.Y.

(Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Six decades after Walter O’Malley proposed building a stadium for his Brooklyn Dodgers at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues a sports arena sits nearly in the same spot. Denied a replacement for Ebbets Field, O’Malley followed population shifts and moved to Los Angeles, which worked out pretty well.

The NHL’s New York Islanders and NBA’s Brooklyn Nets have followed a new shift back to Brooklyn, to Barclays Center. The Islanders, forced out of Nassau Coliseum when politics and money got in the way of renovating or replacing the rundown arena, are still settling in during the first season of a 25-year lease. The arena, with its dark interior, hundreds of partially or very obstructed views, off-center scoreboard and white SUV parked behind one net, is just starting to feel like home.

“More and more it does, for sure,” center John Tavares said after the team prepared for Monday’s game against the Ducks. “You’re in a place for so long and you’re in here only the first couple months, so it’s going to take time.”

Practices are held on Long Island, where players live. On game days they commute to Brooklyn on the Long Island Rail Road and take their pregame naps at a hotel. “We’d rather be home but it’s part of the transition and something we’ve got to get used to,” defenseman Calvin de Haan said. “I think it’s been all right so far.”

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In some ways the transition has gone well. The Islanders’ improved business arrangement guarantees them perhaps as much as $50 million annually from Barclays Center, which keeps revenues from tickets, sponsorship and other areas. Also, the Islanders are 12-5-2 at home after defeating the Ducks, 5-2.

But their attendance average of 12,727 before Monday’s game ranked 29th in the NHL and 25th in percentage of capacity, at 80.5. Last season they averaged 15,334 fans, 94.8% of capacity. “It’s tough for some people to get here after work,” De Haan said. “But we’re trying to open up a new area and hopefully get people to start cheering for the Islanders here.”

Lamoriello relishing new challenge

Lou Lamoriello’s question as he approached his 73rd birthday wasn’t why he should become general manager of the Maple Leafs after being squeezed out in New Jersey, where he built three Stanley Cup champions in 28 years.

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After looking at a group that included Brendan Shanahan as Toronto’s president, Mike Babcock as the coach, wunderkind Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager and Mark Hunter as director of player personnel, Lamoriello didn’t think twice. “You look at that and you say, ‘Why not?’” he said.

Lamoriello, elected to the Hall of Fame as a builder in 2009, last July became the newest person to tackle an old problem: leading the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967. He’s intrigued by the possibilities outlined by Shanahan—whom Lamoriello drafted for the Devils in 1987—but aware of the changes needed to end years of failure.

“To me, this is the New York Yankees environment of the National Hockey League and should be, and yet there hasn’t been success,” he said last Saturday. “And yet the players are still movie stars after the game is over, win, lose or draw, because of the popularity and that creates, sometimes, an entitlement. That’s what you have to get rid of and that’s where the culture comes in, that you as a player and everybody else involved, including ourselves, have an obligation and have to be accountable to what our job is, not what people think after the fact.

“Yes, the building has been sold out despite a lack of success, so that’s where you have to create the culture, getting away from entitlement into accountability for what your responsibilities are, and that’s when success follows.”

Progress has been slow. Goaltending remains a problem because of injuries to James Reimer and Garret Sparks, and Jonathan Bernier was sent to the minors before returning last Saturday to shut out the Kings. The Maple Leafs rank near the bottom of the East in scoring.

None of this is a shock. “I knew what the potential plan was, knew what the sort of ups and downs that were going to happen but I also knew what the potential is,” Lamoriello said. “We’re working together with the same goal, knowing there’s going to be some highs and lows but I would think the experience all of us have had will get us through the lows and keep us pushing for the highs.”

Above all, he has been invigorated by the city’s passion. “You walk down the street, go in a restaurant, no matter where you go, it’s hockey. And it’s genuine. You just feel it,” Lamoriello said. “They energize you. Mike energizes you. And that’s what life is about. You have to have energy in what you do, and you have to feel good about it. If you don’t have energy or enjoy it, what are we doing?”

Good question, in any situation.

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Slap Shots

R.I.P Dickie Moore, a six-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens and Hall of Famer who died last Saturday of undisclosed causes at 84. He won the first of two straight scoring titles in 1958 despite wearing a cast on his left wrist the final three months of the season….Congratulations to Jaromir Jagr, whose 732nd NHL goal moved him past Marcel Dionne and into fourth place on the career list…The NHL’s holiday roster freeze, which began last Saturday, will run through midnight Sunday local time with respect to waivers, trades and loans.

Helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen


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