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First Annual 'Pittsburgh Penguins Amateur Hockey Founders & Builders Award'

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Kylie Penticost

On Tuesday February 21, 2012, the Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey Club honored two very special Pittsburgh natives, Rose Semplice and Dale Rossetti, with the ‘Pittsburgh Penguins Amateur Hockey Founders & Builders Award’ for their devotion to youth hockey in Western Pennsylvania. Two people who live and breathe hockey. Two people who made it their life goal to enhance the quality and accessibility of the sport to youth and adults. Two people who would put hockey before themselves.

The evening started with a limo to transport Mrs. Semplice and Mr. Rossetti to and from CONSOL Energy Center for dinner at the Lexus Club and a pair of tickets to see the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the New York Rangers. With a recognition event worthy of hockey royalty, this evening was a small gesture compared to their years of dedication, support and love of hockey.

As a parent, guardian, grandparent, player, spectator, coach, rink employee or reporter, have you ever wondered how the rinks that you work, play or watch in, came to be? Or, have you ever imagined what high school would be like without a hockey team? Or, how much time and dedication was needed to maintain the building in which the rinks are in, or the logistics, rules and guidelines required to form a hockey league from the ground up?

Rose and Dale know it all too well. They are the ones who gave their heart and soul, as well as years of commitment, to enhance the atmosphere and development of the sport that was not-so-popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The hockey community within Western Pennsylvania started from next to nothing but grew to something large and unimaginable when they began their efforts. Neither of them ever thought that hockey would grow as big as it has become today, especially within a region where football is so highly revered.

Mark Madden says, “Without Dale Rossetti and Rose Semplice, high school hockey in Western Pennsylvania would not be half as developed as it is now. They founded the league, established teams, and ran things when no one else would, when hockey as a participatory sport was in its fledgling stages in the Pittsburgh area. Running hockey now is easy. It's established. There are plenty of players and rinks. Dale and Rose got things up and running before Mario. Before Sid. Before Geno. They did the grunt work. The hard work.”

All of this before three Stanley Cup Championships. Before unprecedented sellouts. While the Steelers were winning four Super Bowls, Rose and Dale were the ones working overtime, recruiting volunteers, players and their families. Against all odds, they built a sustainable foundation for the future of youth hockey in Western Pennsylvania.

Both individuals are similar in many ways, yet different in others. They are equality passionate, humble and very modest when talking about their accomplishments, but have created and developed many different avenues for the sport using their own unique strengths. For Rose, it was her public relations skills. For Dale, it was his knowledge of building ice rinks.

Rose Semplice

Like any mother, all Rose wanted was for her family to be happy. Unfortunately, her son was not. He liked hockey and wanted to play but the opportunity and commitment from his high school where not present. Her motherly instincts kicked in. Rose then decided that she would take matters into her own hands and start up a team from the ground up.

She became Team Manager, Public Relations Director, and ‘team mom,’ not only for her son, but also for all the other boys who played or wanted to play.

However, until her son asked her to play high school hockey, Rose did not know anything about the sport. She made it her mission to learn as much as she could. For her to fully understand the game, the rules and guidelines, Rose took the time to research and watch other games carefully. Then, she took a leap of faith, hoping that her next big project would take off and flourish: in the early ‘70s, she founded the high school hockey league, which is known as the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL) today.

Her motivation to create and build a high school hockey league was to make her son and the rest of the boys happy. She wanted them to have an equal opportunity to feel a part of a team, to feel a sense of pride and have the same recognition as the football or baseball team had at school and in the media. She wanted to give the 'under dogs' a chance to shine and progress in hockey, like kids in other sports. That was her mission; she calls it her 'labor of love.'

Having founded and helping to build the PIHL to where is it today, her proudest accomplishment was drawing the much deserved media attention that the high school hockey league was lacking. Because hockey was not a common sport and other, higher profile sports were grabbing the media attention, reporters did not care so much for it. Rose worked around the clock, pitching stories and directing reporters to players who were leading goal scorers, standout ‘under dogs,’ goalies who had the highest save percentages, and players who had amazing potential - along with making sure the reporters took a few photos to compliment the story.

Kathy Santora, former President of the South Hills Interscholastic Hockey League (SHIHL), and current Rules Interpreter and Chair Discipline, shares how inspirational Rose was to her and describes her gratitude, “Thanks to her, my job as a female in this hockey world is easier, not that it’s easy but thanks to her, she was way ahead of her time. There were not very many women involved when she was active. I can thank her for me still working on hockey at 9:30 p.m.”

Even after Rose’s son Lenny finished playing high school hockey and went on to establish himself as a successful coach, she was still a vocal and a driving force in the league because of the importance it had in her life. Today, 40 years later, the number of PIHL schools is 70, with a total of 163 teams (freshman, junior varsity and varsity).

Mark Shuttleworth, Director of Amateur Hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins, said, “Rose is one of the pivotal figures in Pennsylvania youth hockey. We talk about Founding Fathers in American history. Rose is the Founding Mother of high school hockey. She’s the matriarch. I am privileged to know her.”

Dale Rosetti

Dale had a mission. His mission was to get more children playing hockey, trying to keep them off the streets and getting into trouble. Hockey could promote an active lifestyle in a safe and secure environment and ultimately, get parents and guardians involved with their children's activities. He was also extremely instrumental and a main cog in opening more rinks and advocating for people to have the opportunity to play hockey.

Mike Bagnato reflects on the past, "When I look back now and look at how he worked with those young kids, he made it fun for them, he taught them the right way to play as far as skating; he has always cared about the community. We had that explosion of ice rinks which has helped us grow the hockey community and he is a huge, huge part of that. He is a genuine person who does what is right for the community and hockey world."

Dale wore many hats during his years of working in the ice rink business. While he was growing up, he found comfort in being at an ice rink - he called it his ‘safe haven.’ In fact, his first job was working at the Monroeville Ice Palace. He worked there for 13 years, 7 days a week, 8-10 hours a day. He greeted players and their families, scheduled ice times, coached and assisted in learn to skate programs, took care of maintenance of the facility, and then later on, became general manager.

The second rink he helped open and operated came unexpectedly and with a few ‘catches.’ The previous owners ran out of money to build the facility and Dale was the one to pick up the pieces. With the help of numerous volunteers and sponsors, the rink finally opened three years later in 1988 – but there was still no ice. This was the Golden Mile Ice Rink. What was unique about this rink was that it was built from used operations equipment from the other arenas in the area. When their equipment needed replacing, it would get reused to help operate the facility. Over the years, with more and more revenue being brought in, the used equipment was replaced, usually with more used equipment, but no matter the circumstance, Dale always knew how to be positive and optimistic in times of doubt. More importantly, he knew how to fix it and keep it running!

Where ordinary people would have steered away from such tasks and struggles, Dale prospered. He managed to sell ice time and establish hockey communities where otherwise uncertainty and hardship would have discouraged others.

No matter what rink it was, with every new rink he helped get started, then maintained and operated, he made it his number one priority to generate and foster a positive and strong hockey atmosphere. One of the ways he did that was by allowing families, children and youth to try out skating, more specifically hockey, for free. He thought this would be a great way to introduce the sport to people and hopefully get them hooked – well, it worked! Once he starting seeing an increased demand, he started offering developmental sessions at his facilities.

Kathy adds that, “his energy [stood out]. I can remember him walking around the ice rink singing, 'Zamboni Man’. He just was happy to be there and was happy to see anybody. Always had positive energy that it was contagious - he made people want to come back. That is important when you're getting new people involved and expanding hockey."

One of Dale’s biggest accomplishments and his fondest memory that he is most proud, of was being a part of Mario Lemieux’s comeback - being a part of hockey history! Along with Mario and Jay Caufield, he was the only other person to know of this event. All three of them worked hand-in-hand and, throughout that time, formed an everlasting bond of friendship that is still near and dear to Dale.

As the hockey community continues to rapidly grow and expand, Dale is still actively involved with new programs and projects.

Mark S., himself a former ice rink manager, says of Dale, “he knows more about ice rinks than the rest of us in the business do combined. He is one of the most positive people I have ever known and I am proud to call him a friend.”

Why are Rose Semplice and Dale Rossetti deserving of this award?

The years of commitment, the endless working hours, the countless meetings, and the immeasurable budget reviews will never be fully appreciated by the many who step foot into a rink, or watch a high school hockey game, until they have been asked to volunteer or chair an office on a youth hockey board.

Along with Mark Madden and Mike Bagnato, Kathy Santora and Mark Shuttleworth have witnessed firsthand the dedication that Rose and Dale have. Here are their thoughts on why those two are deserving of the first annual ‘Pittsburgh Penguins Amateur Hockey Founders & Builders Award:’

Kathy believes, "They are both inspirations; I think they're both very deserving of this award - any recognition they get, is well deserved. There are people still involved in Pittsburgh hockey that are there thanks to these two. They touched so many people, which is why the hockey community has grown the way it has. Hockey was a second-class citizen, but I think they have brought it to the forefront. They brought respectability, credibility and growth.”

Mark S. further adds, “Rose and Dale were the logical choices for our first annual ‘Pittsburgh Penguins Amateur Hockey Founders & Builders Award.’ Rose got things going. Dale built upon her efforts and kept the sport going. I can’t think of two more deserving people. We have a saying in Western Pennsylvania: ‘He’s good people; she’s good people.’ That’s Rose and Dale - good people!”

Pittsburgh Penguins Amateur Hockey Founders & Builders Award

The ‘Pittsburgh Penguins Amateur Hockey Founders & Builders Award’ recognizes individuals within the Pittsburgh region who have made a difference, impact or positive change in the hockey community.

This is the inaugural year for the award. The Pittsburgh Penguins intend to make this an annual recognition.

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