New York Islanders: Purveyors of Asymmetrical Warfare

Sep 23, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; General view of the ice during the third period between the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 23, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; General view of the ice during the third period between the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

New York Islanders fans are in the midst of an internal, interminable, debate about the virtues of specific arena attributes. Is there a reason to celebrate asymmetry?

It’s been about a year now that New York Islander fans have been adjusting to the unique and peculiar aspects of Barclay’s Center. The most common defense of it’s perceived shortcomings is, “Like the Green Monster at Fenway, the monuments at Yankee Stadium, the urine smell at Madison Square Garden, time endears these imperfections to us.”

And there is some truth to that.

The path from architectural eyesore to historical icon is well worn. In 1887 the artists of Paris lead a revolt against the Eiffel Tower. They found it to be vulgar. So maybe the aesthetics of Barclays will grow on you like the tower did on Balzac and Dumas.

But I have another way of thinking about it that I haven’t heard elsewhere. Hear me out. Hockey is unlike the other sports we watch. It is our only asymmetrical team sport. Let me explain.

Other sports are divided into halves and quarters. Evenly divided. Hockey, for no reason beyond tradition, divides by thirds. Why? Our game has just always had a different mindset.

Hockey is Just Different

In soccer, in football, in basketball, each team defends each end an equal amount of time. In hockey the home team defends one goal twice as long as it defends the other. If there is a “good side of the ice surface”, you know which team will control it and maintain a huge, unfair competitive advantage.

In hockey, unlike any other sport, the home team has a tangible advantage during 67 percent of the game, because their bench is positioned, relative to the blue lines, to make line changes easier. Does any other sport, would any other sport, allow that kind of advantage?

No, it would not. Hockey is the game of asymmetry.

And the fix would be simple. Just divide the game in half. But we love our irregular sport as is.

Is there another sport where one team is forced to play with less players multiple times each game?  One team has more participants on the field of play? How can that be?

And perhaps that term “asymmetry” isn’t quite enough to describe the actual sport. It is downright chaotic. Hockey doesn’t take turns with possession like football. Hockey doesn’t have one guy at a time step to the plate.

Hockey players are thrown together like marbles in a box and shaken. They’re like protons in a super-collider. And no, I don’t really know what that means. But potentially, I am correct.

Think abut this; hockey uniforms aren’t even “uniform” compared to other sports — they all have different helmets and different skates. And the goalie is dressed like he is in a different sport altogether.

The Beauty of Ugly

I have seen sporting events in more than 100 venues in North America. In fact last week I crossed the Rose Bowl off my bucket list as I took my daughter to a Liverpool/Chelsea friendly. So If you want to discuss bad seats in an arena, I have some options for you.

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Did you ever get a chance to see a Blue Jays game at the Ex in Toronto? More than half the seats faced away from home plate, and they were all covered with seagull dung.

My first NFL game was Giants/Chargers at Yankee Stadium in the early 70s. My seat had a pole IN it. Yeah, that’s right. Part of the seat had to be cut away so that it could fold down around a support beam.

I’ve been to major league sports events that didn’t even HAVE seats. The LA Coliseum and Rich Stadium in Buffalo put you on benches. Yeah, hard cold steel benches in the Buffalo winter.

But let’s get back to Barclay’s. Is it fair to walk in through the front of the building under a facade with a hole carved out of it that looks like it was modeled after Salvador Dali’s clock, and expect symmetry inside?

This building, like this sport, was never designed to be examined with scientific precision. They are rebels and outliers. And should be given the freedom to be who and what they are.

So next time you’re watching the World Junior Tournament from Oslo or Minsk, and find yourself romanticizing on what a joyous celebration of the purity of sport this spectacle is, and how watching it rekindles the flame of your fandom each winter… look at the corner of the rink.

Next: Islanders Ownership Has Been Heard

Both Oslo and Minsk have rinks with cars in them. And think about how much you mean what you’re saying when you say, “I can’t stand to watch a game at Barclays with that stupid car, it ruins the whole experience.”