For the last 38 years, Long Island has been home to the New York Islanders. During that time, there is one woman who has been with the team while all the history has been made. Tucked away in an office at the Coliseum across from the office of the General Manager, she holds one of the most important jobs in the organization.
Joanne Holewa is the Manager of Hockey Administration, a job that requires her to take on many crucial responsibilities in the General Manager’s office. From booking flights and drafting contracts to ensuring the immigration status of players and helping families make an easy transition to the Island, Holewa has always been the woman behind the scenes.
“Joanne obviously has a tremendous amount of experience working with General Managers, whether it was Bill Torrey to Mike Milbury and right on down the line,” said the Islanders General Manager Garth Snow. “For me, it was a very comfortable situation to come in to this position (in the summer before the 2006-07 season) because Joanne’s knowledge of the business is tremendous.”
“She understands CBA issues and other timelines that happen throughout the course of the year like qualifying offers, immigration issues and setting up schedules not only for our team here, but also in Bridgeport,” Snow continued. “She schedules the charters and the busses, so it’s an endless amount of work that she does very seamlessly.”
Holewa is able to work without many glitches because she has been with an NHL team for longer than any other employee across the league. She knows the business inside and out.
The Islanders former General Manager, Bill Torrey, attested, “She’s remarkable. At times, the business can be high pressure and at deadlines you really have to know what you’re doing. I really don’t know if anyone in this league today that has a better knowledge of how a hockey team has to function and all the aspects that go with it.”
The other thing about Joanne is she’s a team player to the ‘nth degree,” Torrey continued. “No matter who she’s working with, she’s gone right along without skipping a beat. That’s a tremendous quality. Her loyalty to the Islanders franchise is second to none. - Islanders Former GM Bill Torrey
Back when Holewa first started her job with the Islanders, she had already worked four seasons in hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but her family was relocated to New York and she found herself looking for a new job. Since she and Torrey had already established a business relationship, hiring Holewa was a no brainer.
“She called me and said she was looking for a job and would be interested if there were any availabilities,” Torrey said. “At the time, I had an assistant but a couple of months later she left. So I called Joanne and brought her in as my secretary assistant. When you’re starting a new franchise, you’re looking for people that know the business so you don’t have to train them in a sense. It was a homerun.”
Holewa’s position at the Islanders couldn’t be more important. As deadlines come and go multiple times throughout the year, she is the calm between storms.
Once Snow works through all the numbers and makes a deal with a player in free agency, a player selected in the Entry Draft or from a team on Trade Deadline Day, Holewa is the one who drafts up the player contract and gets him in to the office to sign the paperwork.
“I format the new contracts according to the CBA and according to their rules, regulations and time frame,” Holewa said. “A contract during the season is done very differently during the off season. During the off season, we have a bit more time. During the season, the turn around needs to be quick because the newly acquired player needs to be available to hit the ice and play the next day or have practice.”
But writing up a contract isn’t always easy, especially since many players aren’t United States citizens and they need to be here on a work visa or try to become a citizen.
“Right after the contract is done, I would have to pick up on the immigration status to make sure the player is able to be employed and follow up with his former team. Once that is done, then we expedite,” Holewa explained.
Holewa has seen it all, having worked with every General Manager in Islanders history.
Although Holewa said she doesn’t have a favorite GM, she said, “Garth is truly, truly great with our young players and veterans alike. You really come to respect his ability to work through a problem and broach people and ask people’s opinion for making a decision. He is a very fair person and follows the philosophy of ‘treat people the way you want to be treated and do the right thing in life.’ ”
While Holewa has a lot of respect for the man who now holds the position of General Manager, she couldn’t have said nicer things about the man who brought her into this organization and allowed her to job share when her children were young.
“Bill Torrey is a very unique man,” Holewa said. “Everyone fondly called him GM through the years, which in my eyes, stood for Great Man. He is notorious for his hockey knowledge, developing the Islanders and the Panthers and he has just been a really nice person through the years.”
Working so close with the front office and management, Holewa has seen and heard everything in her 38-years with the Islanders. Snow admitted Holewa has shared many hilarious stories with him throughout the years, but as he laughed he said, “But we have a deal. We don’t talk about them. We have a lot of laughs with scenarios that have played out in the past. I’m sure she could write a best selling book if she really wanted to.”
Torrey agrees with Snow. He knows she is a fascinating woman who has seen and has plenty of stories to tell. So he said, “I have never bought a hockey book, but I have always told Joanne that if she ever writes an autobiography that is the first hockey book I am going to buy.”
It’s too bad all those stories are hidden away in a vault behind closed doors, but in reality that is part of what makes Holewa so good at her job. Not only is she a private woman, she keeps a lot of Islanders business to herself including the occasional crisis.
With Holewa’s position, she is busy throughout the year, working months in advance to complete all of her duties flawlessly. Even though minor hiccups occasionally happen, Holewa hasn’t been involved in crisis management in quite some time and that’s part of why Snow has so much respect for her.
“The biggest compliment to Joanne is a lot of things don’t become a crisis because she’s on top of contracts and things of that mature in the early stages,” Snow said. “She obviously doesn’t get the credit that she deserves. She’s a vital piece of this organization.”