Ron DeGregorio will step down as president of USA Hockey after 12 years and four terms on Saturday with a legacy of excellence as one of the architects of the United States National Team Development Program.
Founded in 1996, the USNTDP is a two-year residency program for the top 16 and 17-year-old players in the United States. DeGregorio's vision was to build teams that can compete with the big boys of the world. Winning Olympic gold twice in 20 years (1960, 1980) wasn't enough. DeGregorio's mission was turning a miracle into a model.
"We wanted to have a program of excellence that set standards and something that people would have to compete against in terms of the most high-performance players to attract them," DeGregorio said. "I believe right now it's not a miracle when we win. Frankly it's a great disappointment when we don't win gold, let alone participate and contend very well. Our goal is to [win the gold medal] each and every tournament now. That's the perspective that I think is it a bit changed since the last two decades."
The bar continues to be raised. The U.S. under-18 team led by Auston Matthews, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, won its ninth gold medal and sixth in the past seven years at the 2015 IIHF U-18 World Championship in Zug, Switzerland in late April. Jack Eichel, the projected No. 2 pick at the 2015 draft, played two seasons with the program before attending Boston University and helped the United States win gold at the 2014 U-18 championship. Sonny Milano, chosen by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the 16th pick in 2014, was Eichel's teammate in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
"I think each tournament we play in now, gold is the expectation now and I look at someone like Mr. DeGregorio and what type of person he is, and the opportunities he gives USA hockey and everything he does for us," Eichel said. "He's been one of the key factors in our turnaround and how much better we've been in the last few years."
This season, 62 USNTDP alumni played in the NHL including No. 1 picks Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues, 2006) and Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks, 2007), and James van Riemsdyk, selected by the Philadelphia Flyers with the No. 2 pick in 2007. John Hynes, hired as New Jersey Devils coach Tuesday, coached the USNTDP to a gold medal in 2006, silver in 2004 and bronze in 2008.
"It tells me that our momentum is high," DeGregorio said. "You can't sit on your laurels; excellence has to be maintained daily and excellence has to continually be improved."
Though DeGregorio will remain actively involved with USA Hockey, his presidential run will end Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colo., when the organization will elect its fifth president at its Board of Directors meeting.
"I have probably the will and skill now to continue but I'm not so sure I can give the 60 hours a week I'm putting in these days," DeGregorio said. "I think the time was right because we're in a good place and it's time now to move others in the positions that they've earned.
"He's a volunteer that's been worldwide with us," said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director for hockey operations and general manager of the 2016 junior team. "He's not going away. He's going to continue to be around us and I just wanted to make sure everyone knew how much he's meant to our programs."
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL