After 18 months, the hockey crowd returns to Webster Bank Arena


BRIDGEPORT – The faces, some familiar and some unfamiliar, went through security and protocol checks, and most came out with smiles.

For the first time since March 11, 2020, there was a hockey crowd at Webster Bank Arena on Saturday. The New York Islanders met with the New Jersey Devils at the home of the New York AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Islanders.

“After 18 months seeing people lining up and entering the arena, it was an adrenaline rush for me and the team,” said Bridgeport Islanders president of business operations Brent Rossi after the match.

“Our goal was to provide an environment as safe as possible while providing a great experience. I hope those who showed up today understood that.

Assists were 4,101 for the first of three preseason games for the New York Islanders at Bridgeport. They will meet the Philadelphia Flyers here on Tuesday and the New York Rangers on October 9.

Former Bridgeport Sound Tiger Kieffer Bellows scored for the Islanders in a 2-1 loss. Yegor Sharangovich won for the Devils at 3:36 into overtime.

Fans went through security with a verification they were either vaccinated against or tested negative for COVID-19. Rossi said it went well.

“The lines went extremely well,” said Rossi. “We had a fanfest with a lot of young fans.

“Frankly, we were prepared for a lot worse,” he added. “I thank all the fans who came into the room – I even thank the Devils fans – for being with us as we try to get everyone in safely.”

There was a lot of promotion for the Islanders’ new home, UBS Arena, to open on November 20 in Long Island. Advertisements around the lobby had reminders of that date. Dashboard ads reminded fans that Comcast no longer broadcasts MSG Networks, the cable home of the Islanders.

There hasn’t been much promotion for Bridgeport, who opens their season on October 15 and plays their first home game as Bridgeport Islanders on October 23. The team changed their name this summer after 20 years under the name Sound Tigers. (The four Sound Tigers banners still hang over the harbor, which is now the end the home team has twice defended.)

A Maluma concert on Thursday was the first event open at the arena.

“It was amazing,” Rossi said. “Energy, I’ve never been to such a crazy concert. It was unreal.

These three Islanders games are the first sporting events since Wednesday night, when the NBA closed its doors, Tom Hanks announced that he and Rita Wilson had tested positive and that the world had changed.

The Sound Tigers – in case everyone will remember that night – beat the Toronto Marlies 4-1 in front of an announced crowd of 1,762. The AHL suspended its season the next day.

The Sound Tigers played a truncated 2020-21 season, the equivalent of 12 home games, between February and May with no fans admitted.

Bridgeport opens its 2021-22 camp earlier this week. New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he expected downsizing from Long Island to Bridgeport in the coming days.

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