BROOKLYN— It was nice to pick up a few local angles when I watched the New York Islanders host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn recently. Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Bossy, of course, spent 10 seasons with the team when it played on Long Island and still works for them in a part-time ambassador’s role. Meanwhile, Île-Perrot resident Marc Champagne serves as a goaltending consultant for the organization. He has a long history with Islanders goalie and former Hab Jaroslav Halak.
I met Champagne prior to game time in the Islanders press box. He spends between seven and 15 days a month working with the Islanders goalies and those on their American Hockey League affiliate and reports to goaltending coach Mike Dunham. In addition, he works at a Sports-Études program in Ste. Agathe and lends his expertise to different camps such as DSkate, run by St. Lazare residents Steve Hindle and Kosta Papoulias, which caters to young hockey players with diabetes. Champagne worked in the past for Jim Webster and the Sports-Études program at John Rennie high school in Pointe Claire.
“I love working with the kids, but I also love working for the Islanders,” Champagne told me. “I have known Jaroslav Halak since 2004 when I coached him in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team in Lewiston, Maine. In fact, it was his agent Allan Walsh who helped get me this amazing job. I was actually looking for work in the Quebec Major Junior League and reached out to Allan. Well, he went one better and reached out to the Islanders. The next thing you know they asked for my CV and I was hired. That was prior to the 2014-2015 season. What a pleasant shock that was — to get a job in the NHL.”
The game I attended, a 3-1 Islanders loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, saw Halak out with a lower body injury. “Jaroslav was 19 when I had him in Maine,” said Champagne. “We have been close since day one. We never stopped communicating and now we are together again. With him, I basically work on fine-tuning his game. We know each other so well.”
For anyone headed to New York, I’d strongly recommend a visit to the Barclays Center. While my hotel, the legendary Algonquin on 44th Street near Times Square, was within walking distance to Madison Square Garden, the hometown New York Rangers did not have any games scheduled during my time in town. However, now that the Islanders have relocated to Brooklyn this was a solid option. You can get there via the subway system within 20 minutes. It is situated in a busy area, with lots of shopping opportunities. Most of the team’s loyal fan base is still in Long Island. They either drive in or take the train. I spoke to many of them as I walked through the arena. While some complained about the commute of at least 45 minutes, they pledged to support the team. Communications manager Jesse Eisenberg told me the adjustment is going well and that sponsorship opportunities in Brooklyn far outweigh those in Long Island, where the team still practices. The players are doing their best to make this work as well. After the game I stood outside the Isles’ dressing room as a slew of players came out to take part in promotional meet and greets.
“I am happy with the move,” forward Matt Martin told me. “We will get new fans, but the old ones are still coming as well.”