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Rivalry put on hold: Current and former Rangers lend support for upcoming Long Island arena vote

Jul 14, 2011, 8:00 AM EST

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New York Rangers v New York Islanders Getty Images

Many Islanders fans will tell you they hate just about everything to do with the Rangers. Likewise, many Rangers will share the same feelings towards anything related to the Islanders organization. Consider it one of the perks of a bitter rivalry that spans almost 40 years. But as much as the two sides love to hate one another, dire situations tend to bring out the best in one another. For the Islanders, they face an important Nassau County vote on August 1st regarding public funding for a new arena in Long Island. Note: this is not the same thing as the ill-fated Lighthouse Project that was killed last summer by Kate Murray and the rest of the Town of Hempstead. If they are unable to secure funding for a better home, the Islanders may be forced to look outside of Long Island for a future home.

Fans and players alike on both sides of the New York hockey aisle know that an Islanders departure would ruin something special. They may dislike one another on the ice—but everyone seems to love the rivalry. If the Islanders were forced to move, it would kill something distinctive for all hockey fans in the area—it would be the same for both Islanders and Rangers fans.

A few former Rangers players shared their thoughts on the rivalry and how important it is to keep the Islanders on Long Island. Rod Gilbert scored over 400 goals and over 1000 points over parts of 18 seasons with the Rangers. Even though he played his entire career with the Broadway Blueshirts, he wants the best for Islanders fans:

“I want to see this situation with the arena finally get settled and I know I speak for the Rangers organization when I say that I want to see the Islanders franchise strong forever and ever. I also want their fans to have a team that will never play anywhere else except where they won those Stanley Cups. It’s time the Islanders and their fans were rewarded.”

Fellow Rangers legend and Hall of Famer Brian Leetch shared similar feelings on the arena issue and towards the fans on Long Island:

“Islanders fans have proven their support for the team. It would be bad for the area’s hockey fans and for the NHL to lose this rivalry. The health of the Islanders is important to the league, I know that. It’s disappointing to see the friction over the new arena, but I really hope it gets figured out and the Islanders are able to be competitive for a long, long time. The fans are there, there’s no question in my mind about that. The fans have proven it before. There are a lot who are just waiting to get back in there and fill the place.”

Without getting too deep into the politics of the situation, it’s great to see hockey people getting together for the greater good. Politicians have stated that the referendum (if it passes) would cost Long Island residents $58 per household—a number that has been proven wrong by the folks over at Lighthouse Hockey. Like anything else, the more successful the arena (and team) are in the standings and box office, the more successful they’ll be in the profit column. The Islanders have the potential to make money with a new arena and exciting, young team over the next few years. Members of the Rangers organization know it—we’ll see if the residents in Long Island share their vision.

Of course, there are always other alternatives if the arena deal fails at ballot box.

“…to an Islanders fan, the cost of replacing the Islanders with a Target, Dave and Busters and an Olive Garden is way, way more than $17 per year. But if you are an arena skeptic, I assume that doesn’t count for much.”

Not even Rangers fans would want to see that.

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