Friday, June 26, 2009

One More Hockey Post

Tuesday we ran a post congratulating Yankee fan and former first pitch tosser Brian Leetch on his being voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In my haste to make sure that Leetch was one of the four members that the Hall allows to be inducted anually, I overlooked the inductee in the Builders Category - a man who has a more concrete connection to the Yankees than Leetch. So indulge the puck head in me one more hockey post this week (unless something really interesting happens in the draft tonight) .

New Jersey Devils CEO/President/General Manager Lou Lamoriello will be inducted this fall in the Builders Category. Lamoriello is one of the more fascinating sportsmen of recent years. He's most well known in the metro-NYC area as the strong-willed President and GM of the Devils for the past twentytwo years and the architect of three Stanley Cup Champion teams. But Lamoriello has a host of other accomplishments in the sports world beyond his career with the Devils.

While a student at Providence College, Lamoriello was the captain of both the baseball and ice hockey teams. During his collegiate summers, he played in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the most prestigious wooden bat amateur league in the country. In the days before baseball had an amateur draft, Lamoriello was offered a contract by the San Francisco Giants, but elected to pursue a career in coaching. At age 21 he became player-manager of his Cape League team, managing three summers there and winning the 1965 title. One of his Cape League players was Bobby Valentine. Lamoriello was named to the Cape League Hall of Fame earlier this month.

At the conclusion of his collegiate career, he became an assistant hockey and baseball coach at Providence, then became the head hockey coach in 1968. He held the head coach position for 15 seasons, making 11 postseason tournaments, four NCAA tournaments, and reaching the Frozen Four in his final season. He remains the all-time wins leader at Providence and is a member of the Providence Hall of Fame.

For the final season of his coaching career and four years thereafter, he served as the Athletic Director at Providence. In that position, he hired Rick Pitino to coach the Friars' basketball team. He was also instrumental in forming Hockey East, arguably college hockey's most powerful conference. He served as Hockey East Commissioner for four years and the conference championship trophy bears his name.

In April 1987, Dr. John McMullen, owner of both the Houston Astros and the New Jersey Devils, as well as a former limited partner of George Steinbrenner, hired Lamoriello as President of the Devils. By the time training camp opened in September he was also the G.M., a post he holds to this day, making him the longest tenured G.M. in the NHL.

In 1989, Lamoriello brought defensemen Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov to the Devils from the USSR. They were the the first crop of NHLers to come from behind the Iron Curtain and opened the floodgates for the Eastern Europeans that proliferate the game today.

He was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy, given for dedication to hockey in the United States, in 1992. On the international stage, Lamoriello served as the General Manager of championship 1996 World Cup of Hockey and 1998 Winter Olympic teams. Leetch played for both teams and won the Lester Patrick Trophy as well in 2007.

By 2000 Lamoriello also owned a small stake in the Devils. The short-lived YankeeNets conglomerate purchased the Devils from McMullen in April that year. After the acquisition, Lamoriello was named CEO of the Nets as well.

YankeeNets fell apart in 2004 and sold off the Devils. A new company, Yankees Global Enterprises, was created to serve as the holding company for both the Yankees ballclub and the YES Network. Lamoriello has served on the Board of Directors for Yankees Global Enterprises since its inception and has been on the Board of Directors for the Yogi Berra Museum since 2006. He's also been a frequent guest of George Steinbrenner at Yankee Stadium through the years.

So that's my Lamoriello biography. He's had an extremely interesting sporting life, with some loose connections to the Yankee front office over the past several years. He's certainly deserving of this most recent honor bestowed upon him.

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