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Islanders remember Wang as loyal, caring owner

Lee: 'You want to play for someone like Charles'

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Anders Lee fondly remembers the day he signed a four-year contract extension with the New York Islanders.

Shortly after putting pen to paper June 30, 2015, Lee headed back to his car at the Islanders practice facility. On the way, he bumped into Islanders co-owner Charles Wang. The two immediately embraced.

"He was extremely excited for me," Lee said of Wang, who died Sunday at the age of 74. "It was just reciprocal. You know when you have an owner like that, you want to play for someone like Charles. You have someone like that who cares about us individually like that, Charles was always there for us.

"He's an empathetic guy; he wanted to get to know everybody. He cared about us. You don't have that kind of close relationship sometimes in these situations, but Charles was definitely there for us."

The news of Wang's death was particularly tough for Islanders forward Matt Martin; his fiancée, Sydney Esiason, is a close friend of Wang's daughter, Jasmine. The two were roommates while attending Boston College.

Video: Former Islanders owner Charles Wang passes away

"A wonderful person," Martin said. "Always had a smile on his face. I got to know him well, I got to know his daughter well. Unfortunately, it's a part of life. But he won't be forgotten, for sure."

The echoing sentiment after practice in the Islanders locker room Monday was the determination Wang displayed essentially from the time he purchased the team in 2000 to have a new arena built. He tried privately and publicly to get something done, but those failed attempts led to the Islanders moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015. They are splitting their home games this season between Barclays Center and NYCB Live (Nassau Coliseum) and are hoping to break ground on a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, this spring that is scheduled to be ready for the 2021-22 season.

"I remember it wasn't always easy," Martin said. "There was a lot of chatter about the team moving elsewhere. He always kind of shut that noise down. I think the people of Long Island who love the Islanders owe him that he really fought hard and long for this organization. Now we'll have a home at Belmont. He's a big part of that.

"He's the main reason this team is still here. He fought hard for this organization to stay on Long Island. It's just a sad day. He loved this team. He really did."

Wang's success in the business and sports worlds allowed him to support many charitable foundations including the expansion of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in New York City, which offers primary care, women's health, pediatrics, dental, health education and mental health services to the Chinatown and Flushing communities. His ownership of the Islanders helped him create Project Hope, an international program to develop ice hockey in China. The Islanders became the first NHL team to host an international youth hockey tournament.

"He knew what it meant to the community here to have the Islanders here in Nassau [County] and here on the island," Lee said. "He did what he could to make sure that we stayed here. He understood that. We're very thankful because of that, because obviously this is our home."

And though it's unfair Wang won't be there when the Islanders move into their new home in three years, Lee, who was named captain Oct. 4, said he'll be thinking about the man who played a major role in seeing it come to fruition.

"We'll have to honor him in some way," Lee said. "Everything that he's done for the Islanders isn't going to be forgotten. Obviously, he'll be in our thoughts when we get to open Belmont. He'll be there with us."

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