By Darren Eliot -
The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inducts Lou Lamoriello and the very next day the NHL finally moves the negotiating process along with the NHLPA. Coincidence? Probably, but the implications are intriguing. Long known to have much pull inside the league, maybe Mr. Lamoriello didn’t want any acrimonious labor issues sullying his night. It could have been as simple as, “Gary, this ugly PR glitch coming out of DC doesn’t require an immediate response. Do me a favor and wait ‘til morning, would ya?”
Which, of course, commissioner Garry Bettman did – thankfully – in terms of timing and content. After all, Lamoriello certainly deserved the award as did all the inductees last night, including players Eddie Olczyk and Mike Modano. In Lamoriello’s case, he is a builder beyond belief in the world of U.S. hockey. His protégés are legion and they themselves have lineage linking all the way back to Lamoriello’s days as the head coach at Providence College. Follow the branches and you will find the Lou disciples in management, coaching and scouting across the hockey landscape.
I remember chatting with him years after my Cornell Big Red team beat them out of ECAC semi-final in 1980. His N.J. Devils were about to win the 2003 Stanley Cup over the Anaheim Ducks. I was there covering the Final for NHL Radio on Westwood One and we were just casually talking hockey before Game 7. As we reminisced, I made the error of reminding him of our 1980 triumph, to which Lamoriello pointedly and succinctly countered with, “But we got you in ’81 in the Final. Good too. 6-1 after two, as I remember…” He was right about the outcome and every detail. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Lamoriello has one of the sharpest minds – not just hockey minds – I’ve come across.
True, my sample size in sharp minds isn’t great, since I’ve spent my life in rinks. But I know success when I see it and I’ve witnessed Lamoriello’s ingenuity in running a tight, winning program at the NCAA level and at the NHL level. His is a business voice in our game that reverberates mostly behind the scenes, but his imprint has been indelible nonetheless. His team went to the Stanley Cup Final yet again this past spring. And now, with his USAH honor in the books, Lamoriello can whisper in the Commissioner’s ear, “Let’s go. It’s time to play some hockey.”
Not buying it? OK. The “theory” is mine alone. The honor, though, is Lou Lamoriello’s – true and truly deserved.