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NHL Stadium Series

Stadium Series practice extra special for Lamoriello

Maple Leafs GM visits rink named for McMullen, former boss, mentor with Devils

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- His eyes didn't well up. There were no tears trickling down his cheeks.

But don't be fooled.

Even though he wasn't showing it on the outside, the emotions of the moment cut deep inside Lou Lamoriello.

The general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs had just walked through the front door of the rink his team was about to practice in Friday when he spotted a plaque that he said moved him.

Engraved on it were the words: "MCMULLEN HOCKEY ARENA. In Memory Of Dr. John McMullen. USNA Class of 1940."

"There was a bit of nostalgia when I saw that," Lamoriello said. "Actually, that's a bit of an understatement."

Here at the home of the U.S. Naval Academy, the Maple Leafs were forced to cancel their outdoor practice on Friday because of winds that gusted to 70 mph. The NHL made contingency arrangements that had Toronto working out at the McMullen Hockey Arena.

Video: 2018 Stadium Series time-lapse in Annapolis, Maryland

For Lamoriello, the change in plans meant he would spend this stormy Maryland morning watching his team practice in the facility named after McMullen, his longtime boss and friend.

McMullen was a graduate of the academy. He moved the Colorado Rockies to New Jersey in 1982 and hired Lamoriello as team president in 1987. Under the watch of the two men, the Devils won the Stanley Cup twice (1995, 2000) before McMullen sold the team in 2000.

When McMullen died in 2005, Lamoriello paid tribute to him at his service.

All these memories came flooding back to Lamoriello as he stood in the foyer of the arena Friday. As such, he felt there was only one thing to do: Call McMullen's son Peter right then and there.

Peter McMullen wanted to be here to enjoy this experience with Lamoriello but was unable to attend because his family was being honored at Montclair State University later in the day. 

So the two men did the next best thing.

"We smiled a little over the phone to each other," Lamoriello said. "He actually said I beat him to the punch because he was going to call me.

"This is such a unique day."

Not long after completing his phone chat with Peter McMullen, Lamoriello spoke with Vice Admiral Walter E. "Ted" Carter, 58, Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. Admiral Carter, who went by the call sign Slapshot during his days as a carrier pilot, still plays pickup hockey at least once a week on this same ice sheet.

Tweet from @MapleLeafs: Scenes from practice.#StadiumSeries pic.twitter.com/kJse3eTPPq

About a half-hour later, Lamoriello was standing behind a window in a second-floor observatory, watching practice by himself and soaking in the experience. It is one he won't soon forget.

"Being in this place named after [McMullen], it's a special place, it's a special day," said Lamoriello, 75. "He certainly brought me into the National Hockey League. I spent 14 years with him in the capacity that I had (with the Devils).

"When he sold the team, our friendship grew to a different level until the day that he passed. And I was privileged and honored to have the family ask me to eulogize him. He was a friend.

"I think he's an individual who is very misunderstood. He did things for the reasons you should do them, for the right reasons. Not for any notoriety or publicity. He was a Naval Academy graduate. He believed in the Naval Academy and supported it, as you can see from this complex here."

Lamoriello said McMullen's influence can also be seen in the growth of grass-roots hockey in New Jersey.

"I can remember when I first went there, there were about 40 high schools that played hockey," Lamoriello said. "When I left (in 2015), there were over 125, 130. He's done so many things for youth groups and people like that, but in his own quiet way."

On Saturday, weather permitting, the Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals will face off in front of more than 30,000 people under the lights of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, NHL.TV).

Among those in the stands will be 500-plus servicemen and servicewomen, a scene Lamoriello can't wait to experience.

"Without these individuals, we wouldn't have the safeness and the lifestyle we're all able to have here in North America," Lamoriello said.

"I've had such a great feeling when we've had our armed forces nights in Toronto because they're a group where you can't really express what they mean. When you look at your grandchildren and you look at your loved ones, all of those who are important in our lives, it's these people who have sacrificed for us and for our families to keep us safe and allow us to have the lifestyle we do.

"We can't ever lose sight of that."

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