Ottawa NHL player Slater Koekkoek and his bride, Santana Campanale Koekkoek, were married last year in a gorgeous outdoor ceremony in Sarasota, Florida. It was a memorable day with beautiful weather, a fairy tale atmosphere, and happy smiles all around.
Since then, the young Ottawa couple has been thoroughly focused on their new lives together, immersed in family, exceptional business goals, and some big changes.
Santana’s business is home building. She’s the director of sales and marketing with Campanale, the well-known Ottawa company co-founded by her father, Vince, back in 1979.
Slater’s business has been pro hockey. He’s spent most of his life in the sport, including eight seasons in the NHL. After a brilliant career in the Ontario Hockey League, the Winchester, Ontario native was chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft, then went on to play 186 NHL games with Tampa, Chicago and Edmonton.
But last year, Slater opted to take a step back from the business of the NHL. And, while he hasn’t completely closed the door on pro hockey, he’s just started a brand-new business that has nothing to do with the sport.
And so far, that suits the young couple just fine.
Throughout much of his hockey career, Slater quietly dealt with anxiety, which often made preparation for games extremely challenging. It regularly affected his ability to eat properly leading up to game time, limiting his energy and performance.
“I had gotten to a point in my career where I was hoping to be out of the lineup,” Slater said. “I was hoping to be on the sidelines of my own life. I was scared to be yelled at, scared to make a mistake, and knew it was time to take back control.”
Santana could clearly see that things were becoming unbearable for him.
“He was fighting the intensity as hard as he could,” Santana said. “He didn’t want to ‘quit’ or be seen as a ‘quitter.’ He was feeling the pressure of public opinion, people saying ‘how could someone in his position be unhappy?’ I would say to those people, ‘Yes, he is fortunate, but it doesn’t make him any less human’. He was trying to convince himself (and me) that this was
“Having dealt with anxiety myself, I empathize with his struggles and recognized that although he has always lived with this, it was not the only way to live. We can get help and we will get better.”
later approached the NHL player assistance program, which was supportive of his request for help.
“I told them I had struggled with anxiety most of my life,” Slater said. “I wanted to see a therapist and work on tools that would set me up with a better chance of success in either hockey – if I go back – or my future endeavors. They ultimately supported my request so I enrolled in psychotherapy last year with a therapist named Claude Tellier.
“Claude is my absolute soulmate of a therapist and I always tell her that I go into her office 6 feet tall and leave feeling 6-foot-4. She’ll say things to me like: ‘Be proud of your accomplishments; believe in yourself; and you have all the tools to be successful.’ I usually challenge her on all of it until I finally accept them.”
Things were difficult in the beginning, as Slater struggled with his identity outside of hockey and the uncertain times ahead. But Santana has been inspired by her husband’s courage and growth through it all.
While Slater hasn’t completely closed the book on his playing career and the business of hockey, he’s more excited right now about FFYLwork (pronounced ‘fulfill’), the brand new business he just launched in August.
“FFYLwork bridges the gap between those seeking commitment-free shift work and the businesses that offer it,” Slater said. “Our motto is work when you want, hire when you need. The mission is to help people achieve the ideal balance between personal and professional commitments. This allows them to work on their own terms so they can spend more time doing what they love, with who they love.
“On the flipside, we’re here for business owners facing staffing shortages and having difficulty finding the right workers at the right time. We connect these businesses with a pool of qualified shift workers.”
To help shape his business model, Slater was able to draw from personal experience. In the latter parts of his NHL career, he was looking for ways to feel valued outside the rink.
“I would connect with local friends and business owners to see if they needed any help. I would help in any way I could and go home and feel much better,” Slater said. “Going into work and picking up a shift to help a business in your community is helping you with that sense of value which leads to overall improvement in health.”
As Slater took a step back and began thinking of his next steps in business, Santana said he would wake up every morning with a brand new business idea or concept that he had spent hours drafting the night before. She remembers the morning the FFYL light bulb went off.
“Slater’s mind is one of the many beautiful things about him,” Santana said. “He has an ability to look at the world through an empathetic and constructive lens. Over coffee in the morning, he would pitch his business ideas to me. And the morning he woke up with the idea for FFYL, I knew it was ‘the one’. It embodies everything he is – creative, purposeful, and authentic. It spoke to his beliefs and his community. I headed to work that morning and, by the time I came home, he had the name for the business and, by the end of week, he had his first business plan.”
Immersed in her own work with Campanale, Santana knows a fine business model when she sees it. Campanale is family-owned and operated, and specializes in real estate development and property management.
“I have the privilege to work alongside my sister, brother, and cousins,” Santana said. “We have communities in Barrhaven, Stittsville and Arnprior with residential homes, condominiums and commercial opportunities. Our goal is to combine exceptional quality with energy-efficient and green building designs. I can’t remember a time when the company wasn’t a part of me.”
Slater can definitely vouch for that, recalling an early glimpse at Santana’s car.
“It was our first date and I couldn’t help but notice work boots and a hard hat in the back seat of her car,” Slater said. “I asked her if that was the norm, to which she replied, ‘I never leave home without them.’
Santana’s interest in the business began at the age of 10, accompanying her father to the sales office to help him with photocopying. Later, she worked a summer job at the head office. And after graduating from Carleton University, she made the decision to come into the family business and learn the ropes.
“I enjoyed working one on one with homeowners and quickly became passionate about sales. My role has expanded over the years to assisting homeowners and business owners in finding their dream space.”
Working in a male-dominated industry, one of things Santana is most proud of in her role is her commitment to helping and supporting women in business.
“I’ve experienced, first hand, the importance of advocating for gender equality and women empowerment in and outside of the workplace,” Santana said. “I believe in the power of the pack. We are stronger together by supporting and uplifting each other. Over 65% of our management roles are led by women.
“I’m a member of the Women’s Business Network (WBN) and sit on the committee for the WBN Mentorship Program, which links emerging women entrepreneurs to established leaders in a mentee/mentor relationship. I’m grateful to have been mentored by my father. His guidance, encouragement, and support was invaluable to me as a young woman starting my career. I’m passionate about assisting other women to ensure they have that same opportunity.”
As the Ottawa couple moves forward, they’re excited for the next chapter in both their careers and their lives together.