Interview: The Hockey Monkey (and artist formerly known as Sparky the Dragon)

Four-five-six, the monkey's got a hockey stick

The current hockey rock mascot and former Islanders Dragon lets us in on life inside the costume.

(Dan note: yes, this is real and The Hockey Monkey is a real person who really answered these questions.)

The Hockey Monkey (seen in action above) is currently the mascot for all-hockey band The Zambonis and formerly worked as Sparky the Dragon for seven seasons as well as Storm, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers mascot. We were fortunate to meet him prior to the Islanders-Rangers Stadium Series game and he took the time to answer some questions we had about the life of a mascot and about being the Islanders' lovable (and mysterious) dragon friend.

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LIGHTHOUSE HOCKEY: Sparky, Storm and The Hockey Monkey aren't the only names you've worked under. How does a young mascot start out in the sports world and stay around so long?

THE HOCKEY MONKEY: Growing up I knew the names of all the college and pro mascots but I never thought I would actually ever have the opportunity to wear the suit. And actually I got started by chance. My first taste of "mascoting" happened when a friend asked if I wanted to make $50 dressing like a turkey on Thanksgiving at a local flower shop. Not the most glamorous start, but it did lead to some amazing things.

While at The University of Rhode Island, I did a few gigs as Rhody the Ram, and a few years later, when I met a friend who was working for a Connecticut expansion AHL team, the Bridgeport Soundtigers, I jokingly asked if I could be the mascot. And he said yes, as long as I could skate. I can - even in an oversize furry head with all the visibility of a London fog. And so it all began.

As Storm, the Bridgeport Sound Tiger Mascot, I had the opportunity to work opening night in front of a sold crowd at Webster Arena. Other highlights from that era? Working with Dick, I mean Rick, DiPietro. Actually, no, that wasn't a highlight at all.

LHH: How and when did the Islanders first contact you about being Sparky?

HM: I got the call to go to the big leagues during my second season (2002-2003.) I heard some rumors that Charles Wang wanted to re-introduce a mascot to the New York Islanders (despite the disaster that had been NYLES!) so I reached out to the game ops team, went for an interview, and the rest, as they say, is history. At the interview I was sworn to secrecy about the new mascot "Sparky" until the big reveal. I was the original Sparky and held the role for the next seven years.

LHH: What's the day like for a mascot? Is it 24/7, do you take naps before games like players, do you chill with other mascots online or in-person?

HM: Game days are long! Since I was a mascot part-time (and had a regular day job) I show up for games around 5 p.m. After light pre-game snack (not too much - you need to be able to dance, baby!) we had the game operations meeting where we discussed that evening's promotions for TV timeouts and intermissions. I always attended the meetings in full costume. (OK , that's a lie). Then it was off to the concourse at around 6:30pm for meet and greats and photo ops. Once the puck drops you have the freedom to move about and entertain the fans or harass the opposition, as long as you are in the right spots for promotions. On opening nights I'd rappel down from the ceiling of the Coliseum. Which looking back on it seems a bit dangerous - which it also did at the time.

One of the best perks of the job was being flown out for the NHL All-Star weekends. All the mascots got to work the skills competition and the All -Star game, as well as the fan fest. We also had a mascot hockey game - and I scored in Atlanta. However, to be honest, I couldn't see a damn thing with the big Sparky head on and it was a lucky deflection.

LHH: How was it working for the Islanders? Did you have a lot of interaction with the players? Did any ask you for fighting tips?

HM: It was good for me, because I was only part-time and didn't have to sell my soul to the team. I was living the dream as the Island's most popular mascot. As for interaction with players, we didn't interact on game days, but spent time with them at community events. Alexei Yashin was by far the nicest guy, too bad the Islanders are still paying him.

As for fighting tips? My go-to guy would have been Steve Webb - he was a legend. STEVE WEBB clap clap clap STEVE WEBB clap clap clap. Oh the memories of the glory days!

LHH: Be as specific or vague as you want but, what's the salary like? Can a working mascot save enough to send his young furballs to M.I.T. (Mascot Institute of Technology)?

HM: To get to do what I had always wanted to do and hear the screaming fans yelling my name - the pay didn't matter. Well, it did, a bit - and it wasn't very much, but it was more than the Ice Girls got, so clearly my assets were in greater demand!

LHH: What are the biggest differences between working in the NHL versus the AHL versus college?

HM: Stardom baby. The fans, the groupies, the celebrity parties....

LHH: What kind of exercise regimen is a mascot expected to follow to keep on top of his game today?

HM: Three push-ups, five sit-ups and one zumba class a week. In costume.

LHH: More physically taxing: working hockey games or working kids parties? I'm betting the kids.

HM: Mentally, it's the kids' parties, but physically it's the games - there are a lot of stairs in a stadium. Imagine doing that in a 90lb fur suit.

LHH: How are you enjoying being The Hockey Monkey for The Zambonis? Is it freeing to not be tied to one team?

HM: It's the ultimate hockey rock mascot gig. Although it is, in fact, the only hockey rock mascot gig.

LHH: What can we expect from The Hockey Monkey in 2014? Solo album?

HM: I've been working on a side-project, MonkeyBassman, which is actually more of an art form than a band. A way of thinking about the world and comprehending life. It's all very deep.

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Thanks very much to The Hockey Monkey for giving us his time and enlightening us. We wish he and The Zambonis nothing but the best. And stay tuned for some more Zambonis-related goodness coming very soon. In the meantime, be sure to check out www.thezambonis.com a few times a day.

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