Charles Wang was a player-friendly owner.
“Most owners, it’s 'I sign your check.’ That's kind of where the relationship stops,’’ former Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro said Monday of Wang, who died Sunday at 74. “He was just as excited as we were when we won. He would always make a point to get to know you, your kids. Whatever he could do to make it feel like a family atmosphere, he would do it.’’
Wang learned hockey from his players, and he had some novel ideas. “He suggested putting a sumo wrestler or someone of that size in goal,’’ DiPietro said. “That way they couldn't see the goal.
"He ended up becoming a huge fan of the sport. He loved the game, he was at every game. I remember from the times being hurt sitting up in the suite with him watching the games, how emotional he got. Goals either scored for or against, you could see the emotional reaction he had to it.’’
Wang enjoyed the company of his players.
“He was a great basketball player. He loved basketball,'' DiPietro said. “I hate to admit it, but he used to rain threes on me all day long. He also made a hell of a meatball when we had a meatball cook-off. He was just a really good guy. He was so humble and down-to-earth.
"I'll never forget we were going out, maybe we were going to lunch, he ends up pulling up in a green Volkswagen Beetle. I said, ‘What are you doing? Why you driving that?’ He said, ‘What do you mean? It's a nice car.’ I said, 'I would expect you to have a fancy car.'
"He told me a story that he actually had a Bentley but he was really nervous about driving because he doesn't like to be showy about anything. He went really early in the morning to Oyster Bay to get groceries, and as he was getting back to the car, he forgot how to unlock it so he pressed the wrong button and the alarm started going off. He got all upset that people would actually see him in that car. He never drove it again.’’
DiPietro said Wang also had a strong connection to the fan base.
“I'll never forget one of the games we played, it was a blizzard and everybody thought the game was going to be canceled,'' he said. "Charles was actually standing out at the [Nassau Coliseum] door shaking all the fans’ hands, saying how much he appreciated them showing up at the game.’’
Former Islanders player and coach Butch Goring said that even after the team fired him, he remained on great terms with Wang.
“When they did fire me, I met with him and we talked about the team, what I liked about the team, what I didn't like, what changes I would make. I kept a very good rapport with Charles. We were friends even though they fired me. I still came to the rink and I sat in the box. I have good, positive thoughts about him.
“He was first-class all the way. I think Charles was very receptive to the players' wants and needs. He made every effort to make these guys as competitive as possible. When one of the players had an issue with his wife’s [health], he flew him home. He was a very good owner to his players.’’
The current Islanders credit their former majority owner with keeping the team on Long Island.
”He poured his heart into that Lighthouse project. I remember having conversations with him; he really wanted that to happen,’’ Matt Martin said. “There was a lot of chatter about the team moving elsewhere. He always kind of shut that noise down. So I think the people of Long Island who love the Islanders owe him that at least. He really fought hard for this organization. Now we'll have a home at Belmont. He's a big part of that.''
Anders Lee added, “You know what it meant to the community here to have the Islanders. He did what he could to make sure that we stayed here. We're very thankful, obviously. This is our home.’’
Lee said it is sad that Wang will not get to see the Islanders' new arena at Belmont.
“It is unfair. We will have to honor him in some way,’’ Lee said. “Everything that he's done for the Islanders isn't going to be forgotten.’’