On November 9th New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello will be inducted as a Builder into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The HHF definition of a builder is: Coaching, managerial or executive ability, where applicable, or any other significant off-ice skill or role, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to their organizations and to the game of hockey in general. It is no exaggeration to say that Lou has met every one of these criteria and more. Let’s take a look at his history.
After a brilliant playing career as captain of both the hockey and baseball Varsity teams at Providence College in Rhode Island, Lou immediately signed on as
an assistant coach of both teams. After 15 years as Coach and five years as Athletic Director (1967-1987) in which he co-founded the Hockey East Association and served as its Commissioner for four years, he was tapped by Dr. John McMullen to become the President and General Manager of the New Jersey Devils, a position he has held for the last 21 years. The Hockey East Championship Trophy, currently held by Boston University, is named the Lamoriello Cup.
It did not take long for Lou to put his personal stamp on the franchise. Perhaps the most important belief that he brought to New Jersey was the idea of “Team First”. The basic credo is: believe in each other, work as a unit, and do not accept anything but success. Loyalty is the keyword – loyalty to the team, to your teammates and to the game of hockey. You are expected to do the honorable thing – to work hard, keep your nose clean and your mouth shut.
Loyalty is important to Lou, his and yours. For example, Brian Burke, currently the president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs played for Lou at Providence in the seventies. When he graduated in 1977 Burke was accepted for enrollment at Harvard Law School. Torn between a hockey career and a Harvard education he asked for and received a one-year deferment from the Law School during which he played professionally for the Maine Mariners, winners that year of the AHL Championship. Faced with a life changing decision and still in doubt about his final choice Burke turned to Lou for his evaluation and advice. Lou, knowing intimately Brian’s potential as a hockey player and equally important as a person, counseled him to quit hockey and attend Harvard. Burke agreed, retired as a player and the rest is his personal history. Coach Lamoriello was always there for his ex-players.
By putting his faith in a man with no NHL experience Dr. McMullen proved to be an extremely insightful visionary. Lamoriello quietly went about building brick by brick a Championship team in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. Using his network of college connections, his tremendous personal contacts with athletic directors, coaches and scouts, and his well-honed eye for young developing talent, he drafted, traded and looked outside the box for players who could dream the dream.
He drafted Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rolston, Bill Guerin and Marty Brodeur. He traded for Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer and in 1989, in a totally outside the box move, he signed Vladimir Fetisov and Sergei Starikov of the Soviet Union and negotiated releases with their government and hockey federation to allow them in-and-out travel visas, making them the first Russian players to play in the NHL without defecting from their country. Scott Stevens was then acquired as compensation from St. Louis for their signing restricted free agent Brendan Shanahan. Slowly the core of the team that would bring New Jersey three Stanley Cups was falling into place.
In 1994 Lou helped broker the agreement that ended the strike. In 1996 he GM’d the United States World Cup Team in 1998 the U.S, Olympic Team. Under his guidance, including two stints behind the bench replacing two different Head Coaches, the Devils along with the Pittsburgh Penguins have become dominant in their division.
Mr. Lamoriello’s meticulous attention to detail, his fearless decision-making, the deserved respect he commands from his players and coaches, the admiration he receives from his peers and his ability to achieve consensus among the league’s leaders are all factors that have propelled him to the elevated status that will be bestowed on him in Toronto November 9 when he is inducted as a Builder into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Congratulations, Sir. The honor is well deserved.