By Michael McEnaney
New York Islander owner Chares Wang’s self-imposed October 3rd deadline on a decision from the Town of Hempstead on his $3.8-bilion Lighthouse Project stole the spotlight away from his hockey team on what should have been an exciting peek at the club’s future as number one pick John Tavares made his NHL debut.
A sellout crowd packed the Nassau Coliseum with an energy level not often felt the last few years in the almost 40-year old arena.
But instead of shining the spotlight on the 19-year wiz kid from Ontario, Wang’s deadline shifted the attention to a real estate project that, even if ground were broken on this week, wouldn’t see completion til at best 2015.
Worst than this was the hastily thrown together press conference at the Coliseum moments before the game during which Wang stated, “I’ve always said I wanted a yes or no by this day, and if not, we’re going to explore all our options and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Okay, lets play some hockey!
The name Kate Murray, Hempstead Town Supervisor, got as much play as Tavares’ and a promotional video shown on the scoreboard moments before the opening faceoff seemed ill-timed when the focus and energy in the building was clearly centered on the kids’ debut. Add to this the fact the defending Stanley Cup Champions provided the opposition, featuring two of the most electric players in the game in Crosby and Malkin and it’s easy to see why all the attention given the Lighthouse Project rang a sour note for some.
“Win some games,” began 43-year old John Wittreich of Lake Ronkonkoma as he headed into the game. “They start playing good again and all this KC talk will vanish and names like Kate Murray will thankfully disappear form the conversation. It’s a hockey team and all anyone talks about is a real estate project – enough already. Win some games.”
As 32 year-old Chris Schneck of Brentwood made his way past a group of fans in the corridor outside Gate 17 holding up signs supporting the Lighthouse Project he added, “I think we get the connection. The project would be good for Long Island and obviously benefit the hockey team but I’m here to see Tavares play and for Wang to be making comments about the future of the team being in doubt on opening night is kind of bizarre. That’s not what I want to hear as a ticket holder.”
While the team management has been claiming all along that Wang’s outside business dealings have not been a distraction, it is certainly a legitimate question to consider.
In the elevator ride to the luxury suite/press level of the Coliseum prior to Saturday’s home opener, a fan yelled out that he hated Murray, who has clashed quite a bit with Wang over details of the project in recent months. Islander GM Garth Snow sheepishly chirped back, “Me too” then grinned as his eyes stared straight ahead, waiting for the doors to open.
Snow has openly complained that the condition of the antiquated Coliseum is making it difficult to attract higher profile free agents to the Island. Can’t imagine threats to relocate the franchise from the owner made on opening night are aiding that effort much either.