Long before Dave Ogrean became the executive director of USA Hockey, not to mention a great collaborator and alliance-builder for the organization, he got hooked on the sport at the "Miracle on Ice" in Lake Placid, New York.
Ogrean trained all the scorers and statisticians for the 1980 Winter Games as USA Hockey's director of public relations, and witnessed one of the greatest upsets in sports history when the United States won its second Olympic hockey gold medal. It defeated the vaunted Soviet Union in the semifinals before a victory against Finland two days later to capture gold.
"I never played the game and if it wasn't for my roommate [Ray Ferry] at the University of Connecticut who played and was tri-captain of the team, my attraction to hockey might not have been as great," said Ogrean, 64. "But the experience I gained in Lake Placid addicted me to the sport.
"It got into my bloodstream in a way I didn't realize, and it's one of the reasons I think I kept coming back."
Ogrean indeed came back, with even bigger aspirations.
He served two terms as executive director for USA Hockey from 1993-1999 and from 2005 to the present; his final day after a combined 18 years as the organization's leader will be Saturday at the USA Hockey Annual Congress in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ogrean, who announced his retirement on Jan. 12, will be succeeded by Pat Kelleher and begin part-time work as adviser to USA Hockey president Jim Smith.
After one season as USA Hockey's director of public relations, Ogrean became a programming manager at ESPN in November 1980. For the next eight years, he formed strong relationships with many people associated with the NHL, including then-President John Ziegler.
"The four things I'm most proud of is the creation of the National Team Development Program, the American Development Model, the expansion of our relationship with the NHL and the diversification of the game in the United States," Ogrean said.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Ogrean was everything anyone could ask for as a liaison between USA Hockey and the NHL.
"He was well-versed both in what USA Hockey needed to be successful, and understanding the pressures we were facing on the League side," Daly said. "He was always about finding a win-win, and his legacy will show he was pretty [darn] successful in achieving that. Just as importantly, 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."
The NTDP 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, focusing on helping players improve and acquire experience against older competition.
"The NTDP was a catalyst for a lot of good things, especially our relationship with the NHL, and obviously on the international level," Ogrean said. "Our reputation is much better than it was 25 years ago because of the improved performance we've had in all tournaments at all levels. There are more American players, and we're having more impact in the NHL."
The U.S. has won 60 medals in major international competition (32 gold, 18 silver, 10 bronze) on Ogrean's watch. The number of players participating in USA Hockey has more than doubled to 555,175 since 1993-94.
Former USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio knows the positive impact Ogrean had in pushing ideas to greater limits.
"His steady and smart leadership of operations was instrumental for USA Hockey to grow, prosper, and reach many of the goals for growing hockey in the U.S.," DeGregorio said. "His impact will continue to be felt for many years."
Ogrean was instrumental in helping to launch the American Development Model (ADM) in 2009, which highlights the importance of focusing on a smaller ice surface in the advancement of youth hockey players.
In the ADM style of training, players are split up and rotated throughout six stations on the rink to hone specific skills, including forward/backward transition, partner passing with movement, acceleration puck-tossing, tight-space skating and agility skating.
"I remember being in rinks at the World Championship years ago, watching games against Sweden or Finland and seeing our players go into the corners and get hammered," Ogrean said. "They would outmaneuver us in these small areas that we weren't focusing on in America. The ADM has brought that to the front, and we've benefited."
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello, who worked with Ogrean when serving as general manager for the United States at the World Cup of Hockey 1996 and the 1998 Winter Olympics, is grateful for his service.
"All we need to look at is the number of American players playing in the NHL since Dave was there," Lamoriello said.
There have been 286 players from the NTDP selected in the NHL Draft since 1996, including 65 first-round picks. Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews became the seventh United States-born player selected No. 1, and the fifth since 1995, last year.
"[Ogrean] helped institute so many different programs, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention [DeGregorio]," Lamoriello said. "The support and commitment they have and will continue to have to make USA Hockey better is just incredible. They've done so much, are quality human beings, very professional and talented and very committed."