ST. PAUL, USA – IIHF Council member Tony Rossi was one of four men who were honoured this week by receiving the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. Rossi shared the honour with Mark Johnson, Bob Pulford and Jeff Sauer.
The Lester Patrick Award has been presented by the National Hockey League and USA Hockey since 1966 to honour a recipient's contribution to ice hockey in the United States.
The award was originally presented by the New York Rangers in 1966. It honours the late Lester Patrick (1883–1960), who was a general manager and coach of the club. It is presented annually for "outstanding service to hockey in the United States".
The Class of 2011 was honoured at an hour-long ceremony at the River Centre in St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday, with several previous winners in the audience. After they were bestowed with the honour, the quartet answered questions about the sport, whether it was favourite memories from a great team or their thoughts on the future.
The list of previous recipients of the Lester Patrick Award includes personalities like Jack Adams, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Walter Bush, Phil Esposito, Art Berglund, Wayne Gretzky and Brian Burke.
Tony Rossi began as a volunteer at the youth level in Illinois and has risen through USA Hockey to be a man of substantial influence at both the national and international levels of the game. He was elected to the IIHF Council in 2008 and to the USA Hockey Board of Directors in 1983. In 2003, Tony Rossi was elected USA Hockey Vice-President.
"The state of hockey is probably the best it's ever been," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "I think it is quite strong. I think it is probably unprecedented in terms of participation and interest in the game at all levels. That's a testament to the four individuals being honoured."
Tony Rossi: "The people in this sport have been phenomenal, and I do feel it is different than other sports because it always seems so family-oriented. Just with the rivalry we have Canada is really something to see, especially with the U20s, but the guys at Hockey Canada like Bob Nicholson and Murray Costello – they've stayed at my place in Florida. You're enemies on the ice, but when the game's over, the game's over. It is just a real family relationship. Now we've been able to meet people from all over the world and we've made such great friends in the sport."
Mark Johnson’s major accomplishment was leading USA to the historic 1980 Olympic gold medal in Lake Placid, where he led his team in scoring and had two goals against the Soviet Union in the key game. This was followed by an 11-year NHL career, but he's also had a remarkable impact on women's hockey, both as a coach at the University of Wisconsin and with the U.S. National Team.
Bob Pulford was one of the original pioneers of hockey in southern California, moving there as a player and then becoming the first successful coach of the Los Angeles Kings in the pre-Gretzky era. After that he had a long career as an executive for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jeff Sauer won more than 600 games at the college level, including two national championships at Wisconsin. He's also coached the U.S. at the 1995 IIHF World Championship, the U.S. Deaf Olympic team and has been working for more than a year with the U.S. Sled Hockey team as well as consulting for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
"I certainly think hockey is very, very popular in the States now and I think a lot of that has to do with USA Hockey," Pulford said. "They've done a tremendous job, and certainly the NHL as well. The new rules, I was certainly not a great advocate of them but as time has gone on, Mr. Bettman, I am now starting to like them a lot. The game is very exciting now and I think it can keep being even more exciting."
Added Rossi: "I think we just don't stop selling the sport. If you get those 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds out there, you don't have to worry about college hockey or professional hockey. If that base of the pyramid gets big enough, you'll have the quality up at the top. Don't rest on your laurels – just keep selling the sport."
- With files from USA Hockey and NHL.com