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Patricks reminisce about their famous grandfather

by Dan Rosen
NEW YORK -- Craig Patrick's eyes welled up and his voice cracked. He had to stop to take a breath and gather himself before going on with his story.
Patrick, the former general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, was remembering the time when, three months after his grandfather, Lester Patrick, died, he thought he saw him sitting in the old Montreal Forum, two rows behind the net, watching Craig practice his shot.
It was 1960. Craig Patrick was 14-years-old, going to school and playing hockey in Montreal. Through his father, Lynn Patrick, the GM of the Boston Bruins, Canadiens GM Frank Selke allowed Craig to skate on the Forum ice after school.
"I did a double take, but I shot the puck and looked up and he wasn't there," Patrick said Wednesday. "I went around and tried it like 30 more times just to see if it was a reflection in the lights that might have caused it, but I never saw him again."
At that point Patrick took a backward step, covered his mouth and did his best to hold back his tears.
Here was the normally composed Patrick, a man who was on the bench as the assistant coach for the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, standing in a compact room at Gotham Hall, mere minutes away from heading inside the ballroom to present the Lester Patrick Trophy along with his cousin Dick, the longtime executive for the Washington Capitals.
The award, given Wednesday night to Mark Messier, Mike Richter and Jim Devellano, honors the memory of Lester Patrick, who spent 50 years in hockey as a player, coach and general manager and was a pioneer in the sport's development. It has been given annually since 1966 and honors the recipient's contributions to hockey in the United States.
Lester Patrick may be the most important visionary ever in the game of hockey, but to Craig and Dick he was simply "Grandpa Lester," the patriarch of the family who died from a heart attack well before either made it big in the sport their grandfather pioneered.
To this day, Craig and Dick, first cousins, proudly enjoy their grandfather's place in the game. And, yes, at time it brings them to tears.
"I wish I knew more about hockey so I could have asked him some questions of my own," Dick Patrick told "I was starting high school by the time he died, so I have a lot of memories of him, but I wish I could ask him what he was thinking about, why he did this or that."
Instead of asking, Craig and Dick spent part of their formative years listening to their grandfather's stories and the conversations he had with their great uncle, Frank Patrick, as well as their fathers, Muzz (Dick's dad) and Lynn (Craig's dad).
They relished the opportunity Wednesday night to tell some of those same stories because, if for only an evening, it brought back to life the man to whom everybody in the hockey community owes a great debt of gratitude.
For example:
"The one funny story, but it probably wasn't funny to (Lester), is back when the Rangers won the Cup in 1928 he took the Stanley Cup home because there wasn't any system back then in place," Dick said. "He had it in his basement and my dad, who was about 11, and my uncle Lynn, who was 14, scratched their names on it. They knew about the Stanley Cup and the tradition, but of course that got them in trouble and they had to repair the damage to the Cup. Then, in 1940, my father and Uncle Lynn were on the Rangers' team that won it so they got their names on it the right way. It's funny to see how things go around and come around."
It was especially interesting to hear Dick and Craig give their thoughts about their grandfather's most impressive innovations.
"I wish I knew more about hockey so I could have asked him some questions of my own. I was starting high school by the time he died, so I have a lot of memories of him, but I wish I could ask him what he was thinking about, why he did this or that." - Dick Patrick
Craig, the former player and GM, believes it was the implementation of the blue lines that allowed for forward passing. When Lester and Frank played in the early part of the 20th century, players were only allowed to pass the puck backwards.
"Well they put in the blue lines to allow forward passing," Craig said. "To me, that's the biggest. I can't picture the game any other way at this point."
In Dick's eyes, his grandfather's vision for playoff hockey is most impressive. Dick, of course, is the businessman of the family -- having spent more than two decades building the Capitals' brand both on the ice and in the community.
"I'm told their thinking on that whole system is back then hockey had a relatively short season in terms of games and an injury to a key player or two could really affect them," Dick said. "With the playoffs, if that happened the team would fall behind but they still had another chance."
Both Dick and Craig know their grandfather, even though he had already passed, played a major role in where they ended up in the sport.
Craig believes Lester was watching over him and his Penguins during their Stanley Cup runs in the early 1990s. Dick said because of his father through his grandfather he was able to talk to some of the most influential people in the game, including Scotty Bowman, Emile Francis and Eddie Shore, when he was starting out with the Caps.
"He's part of the fabric of NHL hockey, and that doesn't disappear," Dick said of his grandfather. "My children, who never met him, are aware of him and have read things about him. It's a very nice feeling. He's being honored with this award for what he contributed to the game of hockey and the National Hockey League and those things will always be there."
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