Some of the biggest names in Islanders history returned to the ice on Dec. 5, looking to help spark a brand-new generation of hockey fans in Brooklyn.
Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom, and Butch Goring — all of whom won Stanley Cups with the Islanders during the team’s glory days in the ’80s — laced up their skates to launch the Sticks and Skates program at Prospect Park. The initiative offers free skating each Monday until March 27 and will also offer hockey clinics for players and coaches starting next month.
“Now that we’re really new in Brooklyn, we want to get out there and visit a few of the people in the neighborhood,” Gillies said. “Get them more used to the Islanders. That’s what the goal is.”
All three players competed with the Islanders on Long Island, but the trio is certain that programs like this one can help grow the team’s fanbase in Brooklyn, particularly at the youth level. In fact, Nystrom said it was opportunities like this that fueled his son’s interest in hockey.
“It was so enjoyable to see the kids coming in from when they were mites and turning pro and ending up in the NHL — my son, Eric, being one,” Nystrom said. “We love the sport, and I think — more than anything else — we want to promote it for kids who haven’t tried skating or playing hockey.”
Nystrom, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1980, served as the Islanders’ Director of Amateur Hockey Development & Alumni Relations from 1992 to 2002 and counted those years as some of his most rewarding, watching the growth of hockey in the United States. Now, he’s hopeful to see it expand in Brooklyn as well.
“More than anything else you’ve got to be in your community and promoting the team,” Nystrom said. “That starts at a very young age so you can build fans from the bottom up.”
The Islanders are in the midst of their second season in Brooklyn and, after clinching the team’s first postseason series victory since 1993 at Barclays Center last year, and the squad’s alums are hopeful for the future of hockey in Kings County.
“As a kid growing up in western Canada, I was a long way away from any professional hockey team, so to have a team in your neighborhood and be right here and be a hockey fan, is pretty special,” Gillies said. “It’s definitely exciting to see what can happen here in Brooklyn.”
The Sticks and Skates program hopes to see 10,000 skaters of all ages head out to the rink this winter. The Islanders legends, however, are hoping for a bit more, anxious to see as much blue and orange out there as possible.
“We’ve got a great fanbase in Nassau and Suffolk County and now, certainly, you want to expand it,” Goring said. “And get the people in Brooklyn to understand how wonderful it is to be involved in hockey and what a fun sport hockey is. Whatever we can do, we want to get people out here.”
Sticks & Skates at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside [171 East Dr. at the southern end of Prospect Park, (718) 462–0090, www.prosp