Moments after Katie Ledecky had shattered a world record at the Rio Olympics, and moments after her uncle, New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky, had finished jumping up and down for joy, the two shared a special moment.
Katie spotted her uncle in the crowd at the Aquatic Center, put both of her hands up and did the Yes! Yes! Yes! chant.
“It was a special moment,” Jon Ledecky said. “It was a very sweet thing to do and we have that connection, which is terrific. She has become a huge Islanders fan.”
Katie’s become such a big fan that the only thing that ever caused her to break her intensely regimented training schedule was Islanders’ playoff hockey. Katie stayed up through Alan Quine’s double-OT winner even though it meant showing up to the pool tired before a seven-hour practice.
“You can’t get more excited as an uncle for someone who’s willing to break training because of her desire to see the team win,” said Jon Ledecky, who gets hockey texts from his niece all season long.
Her coach told her not to do it again, but two nights later the Islanders went back to double-overtime and she stayed with them every step of the way.
Katie’s interest in the Islanders rivals Jon’s interest in her swimming. He flew down to Rio for the games and was there in person to watch her win four gold medals and a silver.
“It was a surreal experience because I remember the day Katie was born,” Jon Ledecky said. “To think about this young lady from the first day of her life to having four gold medals put around her neck with a silver to boot was surreal.”
Jon Ledecky can’t take credit for teaching her to swim, though he did introduce Katie’s parents. He also can’t take credit for how hard Katie worked for that opportunity, relentlessly training and training and then training some more. That wasn’t lost on the Islanders, who can appreciate long hours and a lifetime of training.
“It’s inspiring to see any athlete dominate their sport as Katie Ledecky did at the Olympics,” Nick Leddy said. “The fact that she is American and we have a connection with her because of our owner Jon, made it even more fun to watch.”
A few players reached out to Jon Ledecky while he was in Brazil to send along similar messages.
“I think they were inspired by that and they do understand from listening to her interviews that she was putting in seven hours a day of practice, every day of her life,” the Islanders’ owner said. “What we’re seeing in hockey today is that the teams that end up doing well have that determination, dedication and grit and I think the Islanders players fit into that category. I think all of the guys have a lot of grit, are very determined and are dedicated to continuing to climb the ladder towards the Stanley Cup.”
With Rio in the rearview, Jon Ledecky’s attention is back on the Islanders. The new owner is just as passionate about the team as he is about Katie’s swimming.
“We are lucky to have great owners that are extremely passionate about the team,” Anders Lee said. “I’ve seen Charles (Wang) celebrate after we score a goal as if he’s sitting in the seats with the diehards. Now, seeing Jon’s passion for Katie during her races and then his excitement after she won was great to see and I look forward to seeing him do the same when we score goals this season.”
Jon Ledecky’s a big hockey fan. He’s followed the game since he was a kid and even reported on the Harvard men’s team during his time at school. He has the owner’s box at Barclays Center, but his favorite seats are in the corner where the Islanders shoot twice.
“I want to be a passionate fan, but I’m also entrusted with being one of the owners of the team,” Jon Ledecky said. “So the Yes-Yes-Yes celebration is something I’ve been doing for the past two years. It’s grown to be a pretty much symbolic expression of enthusiasm and victory for the team. I think you’ll see my arms raised hopefully often during the season, both at Barclays Center and maybe a little quieter on the road.”
He wants the Islanders to hoist the Stanley Cup, but also to be the top team off the ice, taking care of the players, their families and of course, the fans. He’s been crisscrossing North America, scoping out other arenas to see what he likes and doesn’t like, and has been meeting with fans, finding out what Islanders fans want and how to improve the product.
“We’ve been on a listening tour and that listening tour is not going to stop because the season is beginning,” Jon Ledecky said. “We want to be best of breed among NHL teams and we want to have that not only on the ice, but for the fan experience. The last couple of years I’ve been touring every other NHL arena and some of the minor league affiliates as well trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for fans and trying to incorporate those best practices to give our fans the best experience.”
The best experience of owning the team so far was watching John Tavares’ series-clinching goal against the Florida Panthers in Game 6 – and it’s not even close.
“I was afraid that the roof would come off of Barclays Center after John scored that goal,” Ledecky said. “I’ve never – in all my time in sports – been involved with something like that where just the outpouring was amazing.”
The goal now, is to build on that and recreate it three more times – one for each of the next three playoff rounds.
“The electricity in the crowd was amazing and that’s what we’re capable of as Islanders fans,” Ledecky said. “We’re all passionate, committed owners and I think you’ll see that passion on our faces and in our commitment to trying to bring that fifth ring to the fans.”