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Builders induction a fitting tribute to Lamoriello

Monday, 11.02.2009 / 6:43 PM / Hall of Fame

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

"You have to take a step back and you have to be very careful because you realize that whatever accomplishments are given is because of the people you have been surrounded with. I have been very fortunate here, as I was at Providence College, to have great players, great people, great coaches. As well as being talented, they were all good people." -- Lou Lamoriello

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke is far from surprised that New Jersey Devils Chief Executive Officer/President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame Nov. 9 as a member of the Builders category.

"A better question would be how dare they exclude Lou Lamoriello from the Hockey Hall of Fame." Burke told NHL.com when asked about Lamoriello's credentials.

Of course Burke is biased.

Burke freely states that much of what he has accomplished in hockey can find its roots in the union he entered into with Lamoriello as a walk-on to the 1972-73 Providence College hockey team that Lamoriello coached; a happenstance that began a relationship that is now approaching four decades.

"There're people I owe professionally and people that I owe personally, but there is probably nobody I owe in both areas of my life as much as I owe Lou Lamoriello," Burke said. "The influence he has had as a coach and as a mentor on my life has been tremendous."

But that shouldn't discount Burke's opinion, especially when he is not the only one singing Lamoriello's praises. Lamoriello's influence upon the sport -- both at the college level and the professional level -- is almost immeasurable.
 
Consider this little nugget of information.

During Burke's freshman year at PC, he shared the ice with both Ron Wilson and Bob Nicholson. Today, Burke is the GM of the Maple Leafs and has won a Stanley Cup as the architect of the Anaheim Ducks. Wilson is presently the coach of the Maple Leafs, but is better known for leading the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, as well as coaching Team USA to an improbable championship in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Nicholson, meanwhile, has been the head man with Hockey Canada for the past decade.

"That's a testament to (Lamoriello's) ability to identify leadership, I think," Burke said.

But it is not only those that have tight bonds with Lamoriello that are celebrating his inclusion into the Builders fraternity at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Devellano, now the senior vice president of the Detroit Red Wings, has had dealings with Lamoriello for more than two decades. Devellano has won seven Stanley Cups as an executive -- three during his time with the New York Islanders and another four with the Red Wings -- so his assessment should hold some serious cachet.

"Lou is an excellent, excellent hockey man," Devellano told NHL.com. "He has a passion for hockey. He revived the Devils and has been with them 20-something years. He's a good hockey man.

"His word is his bond. I've always enjoyed dealing with Lou. He's a passionate NHL guy and has been really, really good for hockey and it's a very well-deserved honor for Lou going into the Hockey Hall of Fame."

As Devellano stated, Lamoriello has been with the Devils for more than 20 years. In fact, no current GM in hockey has been with his team longer. And, during his tenure with the Devils -- which began when the late Dr. John McMullen hired Lamoriello in the spring of 1987 -- New Jersey has developed into a model NHL franchise.

In his first season as GM, the Devils notched their first winning season in franchise history, a history that went back to the franchise's early years as the Kansas City Scouts and then the Colorado Rockies before moving to New Jersey in 1982.

New Jersey has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in all but two of Lamoriello's 21 full seasons as GM and has appeared in the Stanley Cup Final on four occasions, winning titles in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

"Lou is very much the boss of the New Jersey Devils and Lou does what Lou has to do to succeed," Devellano says. "Lou wants to win and he wants to win very badly. But Lou has always put the Devils first."

Despite the accolades from his peers, Lamoriello insists that his success is not about him, but rather a collaborative effort from everyone in the organization -- be it the No. 1 center, the all-star goalie, the team doctor or a secretary in the front office. 

"You have to take a step back and you have to be very careful because you realize that whatever accomplishments are given is because of the people you have been surrounded with," Lamoriello told NHL.com. "I have been very fortunate here, as I was at Providence College, to have great players, great people, great coaches. As well as being talented, they were all good people.

"That's the reason that you have success, is the people that you are surrounded with and where their expertises are and all of that. It's just unfortunate that sometimes one person gets recognized when it really is everybody that should be recognized."

All of the people that helped Lamoriello reach this stage of his career -- a career that will be immortalized when he shares the induction ceremony stage with Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille on Nov. 9 -- won't be recognized, or even mentioned during Lamoriello's acceptance speech. But all of those people did go through Lamoriello's mind after Bill Hay, chairman and chief executive officer of the Hockey Hall of Fame, called Lamoriello's office to inform him of the honor.

"I thought about Dr. McMullen who gave me the opportunity way back when I was somebody coming from outside the (NHL) circle, which is something he wanted to do," Lamoriello said. "I just thought of how, quite frankly, lucky I have been to be put in a situation to be able to do some of the things without interference and with the support system that is necessary to have success.

"That's what runs through your mind -- how does something like this happen and why and then what you do is just grow the appreciation for everything that everybody has done. That's what went through my mind."

He also thought about all the other people that have shaped his career -- his three children, owners like McMullen and George Steinbrenner, front-office peers like Dave Conte and Marshall Johnston, the coaches that delivered his organization Stanley Cups -- Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Pat Burns -- and the legions of others that have transformed the New Jersey Devils from a perennial loser to a shining example of how an NHL franchise should be run.

Many people saw Lamoriello's jump to the NHL -- when McMullen made him president of the Devils -- as shocking, an opinion that was only intensified when Lamoriello gave himself the general manager's job the following fall. Here was a man that had never played, coached or managed in the NHL, and, outside of the New England college community, was virtually an unknown commodity.

A 1963 graduate of Providence College, where he played both hockey and baseball, Lamoriello took over as the Friars' head coaching job in 1967. In his 15 years as coach, Lamoriello won 248 games and advanced to postseason play in all but four seasons. In 1983, Lamoriello's last season behind the bench, a team that many consider the best to ever take the ice at PC, finished third in the NCAA Tournament.

"There're people I owe professionally and people that I owe personally, but there is probably nobody I owe in both areas of my life as much as I owe Lou Lamoriello. The influence he has had as a coach and as a mentor on my life has been tremendous."
-- Brian Burke on Lamoriello

The next year, Lamoriello took over as the school's athletic director, a post he would hold until he left for the Devils. The highlight of that tenure has to be becoming the driving force behind the formation of the Hockey East Conference -- which has since named its championship trophy after Lamoriello.

All in all, it has been a terrific hockey life for the 67-year-old Lamoriello, a truth that will become evident to all come the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Nov. 9.

"How fortunate can one man be to come from two different eras -- being in college athletics, coaching there the years that I did and then being the athletic director and then being involved in Hockey East in one place, and then, when the decision was made (to leave), I have been in New Jersey since. To be in two places and only two, to me, is very gratifying. I have been with different people through that process, but with two separate logos -- but only two logos."


It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery