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Lester Patrick Trophy

Ogrean recognized with Lester Patrick award

Former USA Hockey executive director responsible for growing game in America

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Dave Ogrean probably would have never even considered a position at USA Hockey if not for his college roommate at the University of Connecticut.

The extent of Ogrean's hockey education prior to college was knowing his dad played goalie for one season at Harvard University, and attended some NHL games at Boston Garden.

"Where I grew up in (Storrs) Connecticut, nobody was playing hockey and there weren't any rinks around," Ogrean said. "Other than my dad playing goalie as a freshman at Harvard, hockey was never on the radar until I went to college and met Ray Ferry."

Ferry played college hockey all four years for the Huskies and was tri-captain as a senior in 1973-74. He and Ogrean shared a dorm room for three years. Not only did they become great friends, but they also met their future wives on campus and the couples married the same year.

"I would not have covered the ice hockey team for the college newspaper my senior year had it not been for Ray, and I probably wouldn't have been interested in an internship with the ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference)," Ogrean said. "If I didn't get the internship with the ECAC, I wouldn't have had the qualifications to serve in public relations at USA Hockey, so stuff happens in a sequence."

Ogrean's journey ultimately led to him becoming USA Hockey executive director from 1993-99 and from 2005 until his retirement on Jan. 12, 2017.

Under Ogrean's direction, the United States won 60 medals in major international competition (32 gold, 18 silver, 10 bronze) and the number of players participating in USA Hockey more than doubled to 555,175 since 1993-94.

For his outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States, Ogrean will receive the 2017 Lester Patrick Trophy during the United States Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel on Dec. 13.

"[Ogrean] is just so deserving of this," Ferry said. "He never sought the limelight and usually the limelight finds people who are like that because others understand the quality of the person. He has always been kind of a grassroots sports guy, understanding the value of that."

Although Ferry introduced him to hockey, the experience Ogrean gained as USA Hockey's director of public relations during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, created his addiction.

"[Hockey] got into my bloodstream in a way I didn't realize [in 1980]," Ogrean said.

Witnessing one of the greatest upsets in American sports history when the United States won gold at the 1980 Winter Games played a part in that. He was training the scorers and statisticians at the time the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union before a win against Finland to capture gold two days later.

After one season as director of public relations, Ogrean became programming manager for ESPN in November 1980 and spent eight years there.

"I'll never forget going to lunch with Lee Corso in Florida when I was 35," Ogrean said. "I remember how respectful and polite he was to this waitress we had serving us in the restaurant. I've never forgotten that and one of the things I've used as a barometer over the years when hiring people is to take them out to lunch and watch how they interact with folks and the waitress.

"Creating a team and atmosphere of equality has always been important to me. Be nice to people on the way up because you may pass them on the way down."

Ogrean formed strong relationships with many people associated with the NHL while at ESPN, including then-President John Ziegler.

"[Ogrean] was smart and such a good leader, but he also had a soul," Ferry said. "He created a fun atmosphere and felt that if people are enjoying and being treated right, they'll perform."

USA Hockey's National Team Development Program was launched in 1996 during Ogrean's first term as executive director. The program is composed of the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 teams and focuses on helping players improve and acquire experience against older competition in the United States Hockey League.

"[Ron DeGregorio] deserves the credit for the NTDP," Ogrean said. "It came about as a result of the frustration of not being able to break through in tournaments at the international level. What we wanted the NTDP to do was help USA Hockey win more medals, produce a greater number of players at the high-performance level with better skills, and increase the number of Americans and number of impact players in the NHL."

In addition to the NTDP, Ogrean played a part in the creation of the American Development Model (ADM), the expansion of USA Hockey's relationship with the NHL, and the diversification of the game in the United States.

Ogrean helped launch the ADM in 2009, highlighting the importance of using smaller ice surfaces in the advancement of youth hockey players.

"The ADM was the brainchild of the staff, specifically Ken Martel and Kevin McLaughlin," Ogrean said. "It was a result of studying why hockey was doing better in other countries. We wanted to figure out how, in our culture, we could take some of their concepts and adapt them to our programs with the core being age-appropriate development. We knew there would be a resistance by some because it looked different, but the ADM is producing players who are learning the game so that they love it more and play it longer."

Ogrean is quick to point out that the success of the NTDP and ADM was magnified after forging a lasting relationship with the NHL.

"In 2005, I learned how great a friend I had in NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman," Ogrean said. "He was always interested in getting an answer to the question, 'How can I help you?' When people ask me for my mentors, [Bettman] is one of those guys on that short list because I always knew where he was coming from. He had the best interests of USA Hockey and the game. [Bettman] and [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly are allies and friends to USA Hockey of unimaginable value and quality."

Said Daly: "[Ogrean] was well versed both in what USA Hockey needed to be successful, and understanding the pressures we were facing on the League side. He was always about finding a 'win-win', and his legacy will show he was pretty [darn] successful in achieving that. Just as important, he was a good partner and a really good friend. Hockey in this country is a lot better off because of Dave's many contributions."

Ogrean is also proud how much more diversified the game has become under his watch.

"We have a game that has a reputation, properly deserved, for being primarily white and pretty expensive and it's tougher for hockey than it is for soccer or basketball to really become diverse," Ogrean said. 

"It's something that we still have a lot of work to do on, but we've been able to have more impact growing the game for girls and women and [USA Hockey president] Jim Smith deserves a ton of credit for what he's done for our disabled athletes and sled hockey."

Pat Kelleher, who replaced Ogrean as USA Hockey executive director, learned much from his predecessor.

"His greatest strength was that he could walk into a meeting with Bettman and have a great conversation at a high level, or he could address a board member or youth hockey member with the same enthusiasm and excitement, understanding what was really important for the game," Kelleher said.

Now a part-time advisor to Smith, Ogrean is also able to spend more time with Mary Ellen, his wife of 43 years.

"People have said to me, 'Your wife is really cool because she's her own person with her own identity,'" Ogrean said. "She has her own identity, her own personality, her own career and she wants to be involved in the stuff I do only when I ask her to be; she never asks why she wasn't invited to join me on a trip ... that is absolutely not in her DNA."

Ogrean credited many people for shaping him into the top administrator he is at USA Hockey, including the late Walter Bush, who served as president at USA Hockey for 17 years beginning in 1986.

"[Bush] viewed the culture of USA Hockey with a sense of civility that enabled us to always attack issues and problems in a non-violent way," Ogrean said.

"My leadership philosophy has always been to talk about what you wanted to do and need, and once I'm sold, do the political blocking and tackling for you before getting out of your way," he continued.

"Because of the quality of the staff I had around me, that was an easy thing to do because they were all high achievers and high performers. I received credit because they were so good at what they did."

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