To say Lou Lamoriello is close with Slava Fetisov is to underestimate the depth of their friendship, which dates to when Fetisov took on the Soviet government and, with Lamoriello’s constant support, forced his way to the Devils in 1989.
In many ways, Lamoriello, the longtime NHL executive now running the Islanders, and the Hall of Fame defenseman, active as a Russian politician, hockey executive and activist, are similar, headstrong in their beliefs and unflinchingly loyal to their friends.
So, when Fetisov called Lamoriello about a month ago to discuss his grave concerns about global warming and inquire about bringing one of the Last Game exhibitions designed to bring attention to climate change to Long Island, Lamoriello was immediately receptive.
“It’s not really going to affect me but it’s going to affect my grandchildren,” the 76-year-old Lamoriello told Newsday about global warming. “You have to look at it. I’d never spent much time thinking about it but Slava and what he had to say, it certainly makes you concerned. The awareness and the association made me say, ‘Whoa, this is something that should be paid attention to.’”
The result: The latest game in Fetisov’s passion project in partnership with the United Nations will take place Tuesday at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum at 3 p.m. In addition to Fetisov, former NHL players expected to participate include Arron Asham, Radek Martinek, Eric Boulton, Mike Richter, Bruce Driver, Jim Dowd, Grant Marshall and Randy Velischek. Boomer Esiason is expected to be one of the celebrity participants.
Over the last two years, Fetisov has staged Last Game events in Russia, Finland, Kenya, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Future games are possible for Singapore, Ecuador, Japan, Monaco and Germany.
The goal is to play The Last Game at the North Pole to bring attention to glacial melting. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme predicted global warming might make the Arctic “nearly ice-free” by 2040.
“Sports and climate and ecology should unite everybody,” Fetisov said in April after the game in Israel.
Veteran New York-based journalist and filmmaker Jon Alpert has been working with Fetisov the past two years to produce a documentary on The Last Game and will be on the Coliseum ice shooting on Tuesday.
“When you have a tough guy like Lou Lamoriello and a tough guy like Slava Fetisov, two of the toughest guys in the world, hugging onto trees because they’re afraid they’re going to lose them, it should say something to everyone,” Alpert said. “There is Lou Lamoriello who is scared about what is happening to our planet. Slava Fetisov is scared to death about what is happening to our planet.
“That’s why I believe the planet cannot have two better friends than Lou Lamoriello and Slava Fetisov,” Alpert added. “If they have a soft spot for the planet and want to save it, I find that extremely inspiring.”
The first thing Alpert filmed for the project was Fetisov in Russia, looking for a frozen pond to skate on as he did so frequently in his youth. Even in the middle of a Russian winter, it took a long time to find one.
In Finland, Fetisov and Alpert visited the indigenous Sami people to witness how global warming has adversely affected their reindeer herds. In Kenya, it was the Maasai who have seen their cattle herds dwindle after lengthy droughts. In Abu Dhabi, built on the Persian Gulf, there are fears over rising water levels. In the Golan Heights, Fetisov and Alpert saw how the once-plentiful apple crop has disappeared, morphed into farmers planting mangos because of the rising temperatures.
“The thing about Slava,” Lamoriello said, “is when he puts his mind to something, you know you’re going to get 100 percent out of him.”
Asham, a former Islander who also played for Lamoriello’s Devils, said he, too, has seen the effects of global warming. Originally from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Asham has visited Rankin Inlet in Canada’s Yukon Territory and said, “We’ve got to start worrying about it, glaciers are melting at a rapid pace.”
Here on Long Island, Asham, who has lived in Point Lookout since his time with the Islanders, said, “There’s a lot of erosion, it seems like we’re losing a lot of beach. Everything’s changing and it’s happening a little bit too quickly.”
In addition to the former NHL players and celebrities, Tuesday’s Last Game will also include local first-responders, among them Chris Princiotta, 37, of Long Beach, a firefighter stationed in Brooklyn’s Squad 252.
In 2012, the home Princiotta shared with his older brother Chuck, also with the FDNY, suffered severe water damage during Hurricane Sandy and ultimately had to be demolished.
Chris Princiotta now lives with his wife and two small children in a new home on the same property. He said concerns about climate change “weren’t really in my face until it happened.”
“I think it’s going to be a very great experience to get to see what it’s like to be on the ice with professional players,” said Princiotta, who has played for the FDNY hockey team for 13 years. “It will be very interesting to meet the people involved in this program and what can potentially happen in the future, to see if this can help.”
“I think it’s going to be unique,” Lamoriello said of Tuesday’s event. “But I think the message is what’s important. This event is giving the opportunity to get the word out more as to what the real problem is.”