You’d never know it, but the community of Vanier, a small neighbourhood right outside of Ottawa has a deep connection to the New York Islanders. It’s where Isles legend Denis Potvin grew-up and where he learnt how to play the game.
A few blocks from my house is a mural depicting New York Islanders legend, Denis Potvin and his brother Jean Potvin. Both are seen in full Islanders gear. I don’t live on Long Island, I don’t live in New York State. I live in Vanier, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Potvin’s hometown.
This is where they grew up. This is where they learnt how to play hockey. This was their community.
I’ve always wondered what Denis thought of the mural. Not of the art, but strictly what it meant to be immortalized in such a way by one’s community?
And earlier this week I got the chance to do that as Denis and I spoke mainly about community. The one here in Vanier and what this mural means to him. The greater community on Long Island that meant so much to him in his career. And the Islanders community as a whole and what the recent overtures by ownership to the New York Islanders alumni mean to him.
We All Come From Somewhere
Michel Anderson, Eyes On Isles: I wanted to ask you a few questions about the mural depicting you and your brother here in Vanier and what it means to be immortalized by your home community in such a way. When were you initially told about the mural what were your thoughts?
Denis Potvin: We were well aware of what the city of Vanier was doing with creating these murals depicting various things in history relating to the French community. Jean and I were approached about something like this which was fantastic because my brother and I are close. A lot of the hockey I played started because Jean would get me to play.
The mural is a tremendous tribute to both of us. It was a very emotional moment to stand there and see the finished product. A big reason why we were able to achieve things that we did in hockey was because of the people who sacrificed so much of their time, like the coaches who drove us and even bought us a hockey stick.
Vanier is a tough community for young kids growing up. Seeing that obvious indicator that someone from Vanier became not only an NHL but a Hall of Fame player to boot is incredibly powerful. Did that ever come to your mind when you saw the mural?
Denis Potvin: Its one of the things that cross your mind when you represent a community in a mural or on television. When I laced up the skates to play for the Islanders I never forgot where I was from and you never hide it. In retrospect, I never thought of myself as a role model in my playing days, I thought of myself as the guy that wanted to win the next game. But when everything is over in terms of the hockey career, I would put [the mural] up there with standing there for the Hall of Fame dinner a crowning glory of your accomplishments. Having it close to home means a lot, it is a recognition, one that you hope will inspire young people.
That mural was much more then “here’s two guys that played in the NHL”. It’s about two guys that started right here in Vanier, outdoor, without money, without any other direction, other than our parents our church and plenty of supportive friends and family in the area. That mural speaks to a whole lifetime of lacing skates up and having cold toes and frozen fingers to lifting the Stanley Cup.
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EOI: I’d also like to ask about the New York Islanders new ownership group and their open arms approach to the New York Islanders alumni. As fans, we haven’t seen this type of overture to the franchise’s alumni in some time. How does that translate to the actual alumni? Do you feel that ownership is making a difference?
DP: Yes. And in a big way. If I was living in Long Island I’d be at every even as well. When you talk about New York Islanders alumni you’re talking about 45 years of players who played. I’m thrilled to see guys like Mike Horty, Richie Hansen, and Darius Kasparaitis, guys who played at various times.
This summer Ledeceky organized a three-day golf tournament in Eastern Long Island. That event was unbelievable. It was really touching and something we’ve been missing for years and years when the organization turned their backs on us.
New York Islanders
I went to my first All-Star game in 1974 in Chicago. It was an impressive thing to see players were able to create a family. We could see it in other places and yet it never happened for us. It was very disturbing to see that through the 90’s and 2000’s that there was no measure of the alumni for the Islanders. It wasn’t like those other franchises – like Montréal, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia – and we missed it.
EOI: You had a hand in growing this fanbase from the ground up, there weren’t much alumni when you arrived in 1973. How do you think an engaged alumnus imprints itself on the current players?
DP: I never lived it or went through free agency. When I got to Long Island I didn’t want to go anywhere else. We had a terrific organization with Bill Torrey and John Picket. It was a family that was created.
We talk about how Long Island treated us those days. The families reached out to us and adopted us. It was great. The family that was developed by the fans of long island. We gave and they gave, it was a wonderful union.
The free agents of today absolutely wants to go to a place where he and his family where ownership is involved with you now and forever. That’s what this new ownership is trying to do, and doing so successfully so far.
As for any New York Islanders fan, speaking to a team legend was a true bucket list type of moment. I want to thank Denis Potvin again for taking the time to speak with me (this is the millionth time I do so). He was world class, a gentleman