Matt Carkner Joins LI Blues for Winter Classic Game

Syosset, NY – On Sunday Morning, the Winter Classic was held in Syosset. Though, the teams weren’t from Detroit or Toronto and they weren’t NHL talent. Instead, the Long Island Blues and East Coast Jumbos faced off in the frigid cold to have a great time.

These two teams are considered special hockey teams, meaning they are made up of athletes who have special needs. The Blues are our local team on Long Island and are celebrating ten years of existence. The team held their fourth annual Winter Classic event and they were joined by Islanders defenseman Matt Carkner for today’s game.

Carkner spent the game on the bench and helped coach the Blues in their hard-fought matchup against the Jumbos.

I had a chance to sit down with both team founder and President Michael Russo, as well as Matt Carkner, to talk about their involvement with the team and some Islanders related questions.

AT- Tell me about how you started the Long Island Blues special hockey club.

Russo: We started the team 10 years ago. My son Nicholas has downs syndrome and my other two kids play travel hockey, so we decided to start a team for special education children. I read about teams in different areas and realized that they already exist in other places, so we started a team here on Long Island. My friend Neil Robbins and my wife got some ice time in Freeport for five or six kids every month, and now it’s grown to about 30 every week.

AT- There are several other teams here today. Did they follow your lead?

MR: When we started the Blues, there were 15 other teams around the country. Today there are around 60. Today we had a team from Boston, and two from New Jersey. We’ve traveled to tournaments in Maryland and played teams from down South.


AT- This is your fourth Winter Classic game. Tell me a little about it.

MR: We started the Winter Classic four years ago and now all the other teams have started to follow suit. The town of Oyster Bay throws a big event for us where we bring teams in from other places. It started with one outdoor game, but it now spans two days.

AT- This is the 10th Anniversary of the Blues. How have your expectations been met or exceeded for this?

MR: I never thought it was going to get this big and I’ve been surprised at how high the talent level is as well. We did this so these kids could be apart of a team and have somewhere to go. It also gives parents a way to network and meet others who can talk about similar things.

After the speaking with Michael Russo, Matt Carkner signed autographs and posed for pictures with the athletes. MC gave me a few minutes to talk about his affiliation with the Blues and about his time as an Islander.

AT- How did you become affiliated with the organization?

Carkner- When I was with Ottawa, I worked with the Capital City Condors, which is a growing special needs hockey team. I spoke with the activities director with the team and was introduced to the Blues. I try to donate tickets and give locker room tours as much as I can but this is my first time coming out for to an event for the Blues. It’s cool to see them out here having a great time and I like to help with that as much as I can.

AT- This is the fourth Winter Classic game for the Blues. Have you ever seen something like this for a special needs team before or is this new for you?

MC- I’ve never seen a Winter Classic like this but it’s very cool and the kids are having a great time. It’s cold out there for the parents and coaches but when you’re playing, you don’t really feel it. It’s just a very cool atmosphere. I was fortunate enough to be able to play outside growing up so I’m happy to see these kids get the chance to do that as well.

AT- You moved to Long Island last year. How was the move and how have you adapted to life here?


MC- To tell you the truth, it was a bit rough- it was a big transition for my family and the lockout was still on so we couldn’t play. Then, super storm Sandy came through and caused a lot of trouble so the first few months were tough. We settled in, and the people on Long Island are very welcoming and have been great. The Blues have been great to us as well and it’s been fun.

AT- What’s your favorite part of being an Islander?

MC- The fans are top notch. Last year in the playoffs, the atmosphere was amazing, fans tearing the roof of the building. I played a few playoff series in Ottawa and it was good, but nothing compares to what we had here, especially after how playoff deprived the fan base is of playoff hockey. I still feel that a bounce here or there, it could’ve been a different series for us, but the fans are passionate and get angry and so do we so they’re great.

AT- I thought that one Strait penalty on Crosby was a little iffy at the time.

MC- Yeah, for sure.

AT- How do guys like John Tavares compare to other greats you played with previously such as Alfredsson and Spezza?

MC- Johnny is a younger guy and I’ve played with elite players. Johnny is one of the best in the league. He’s very professional and analyzes the game properly, and takes care of his body well. He does everything a pro should do, and doing a great job at a young age. He tries to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to training, which adds to his greatness. He’s going to keep getting better and better and is a great guy in the locker room. He’s been very welcoming to me in the locker room and in general.

In the end, everyone who attended had a great time. The players did a great job and put on an extremely entertaining hockey game. The Blues did a great job in hosting the event and clearly had a lot of experience in doing so by how smooth it all went. If you’re interested in learning more about the Blues, you can visit and contact them on the Web here!

Anthony Tartamella