2009 Lester Patrick Awards Coverage


Written on 10/21/2009 by Jim Cerny

I am here at the 2009 Lester Patrick Awards here at the phenomanally beautiful Gotham Hall in Manhattan as I write this.

Tonight, Mark Messier, Mike Richter, and Jim Devellano are being honored for their "outstanding service to hockey in the United States." It's a real hockey who's who here this evening, with NHL commisioner Gary Bettman on hand, along with his right-hand man Bill Daly and other assorted hockey notables like Glen Sather, Brian Burke, Brian Leetch, and Chris Drury.

Not shocking to see Leetch (as seen in above photograph with his good friends Messier and Richter) here. He is a 2007 recipient of the Lester Patrick Award, and will soon be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in early November. His career---and life---has dovetailed with that of Richter, and Messier guided him into becoming an NHL superstar upon his arrival on Broadway in October of 1991.

But it is the relationship between Leetch and Richter that is most interesting. Long-time teammates with the Rangers, Stanley Cup champions together in 1994, and powerful forces in the resurgance of US hockey beginning in the 1990's, Leetch and Richter are forever linked to one another.

"We've been together since we were 15 or 16 years old," Leetch told me tonight. "To be in the same area and last that long with the same NHL team, and have so many shared experiences, is fantastic."

They shared three Olympics together, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey tournament title, and too many to count memories in New York as Rangers teammates.

They also helped influence a whole new crop of U.S.-born NHLers, though Richter will have none of hearing that.

"I felt a sense of responsibility, and maybe had sense of awareness, that we had an impact (on US kids), and the more succes you had, the more impact you had," explained Richter, who was quick to add that whatever influence he has had pales in comparison to that of the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team.

"That's a whole different story," Richter told me. "We could never match what the '80 team accomplished and how they captured the imagination of a whole country. It's what inspired so many of us to strap on skates and try to play for our country one day, and believe that maybe we could play in the NHL."

Richter is spot-on with his observations about that 1980 squad, but he is far too modest about what he, Leetch, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, et al did for hockey in the United States.

As for Messier, he spent much of his time this evening talking about how to grow the game of hockey in the United States and how kids are being pushed at too young of an age into tournaments and travel programs, instead of simply playing for the enjoyment of the game and the life lessons that go along with participating in sports.

A father of both a 22 year-old hockey-playing son, and a 6 year-old that is just beginning to take up the sport, the legendary Captain does not like what he sees from youth coaches, officials, and parents.

"In my humble opinion, I think we are weeding out the kids who can't just play for the love of the game," Messier told me. "For the most part, from the youth standpoint, we need to be teaching them the life lessons that hockey teaches us, about being good civilians, about being good teammates, the code of conduct, how to interact and treat others with respect. Those are the lessons we are supposed to be teaching our youth, not the yelling and screaming and punishment for winning and losing."

Interesting stuff from the man known to be as fierce as a competitor ever seen in the National Hockey League.

"Sports is about physical and emotional well being for our children, not about professionalizing them at a younger age," stated Messier. "And I think we've really gotten off the track here. And as a result we are losing younger players from the sport."

Speaking of teaching, that is one of Devellano's great gifts to this sport. He has taken many a keen and eager young executive under his wing over the years while working in various front offices with the Blues, Islanders, and Red Wings, and has helped turn them into successful executives on their own.

Respected in near-unanimous fashion aroud the NHL for the quality person he is, Devellano has helped Neil Smith, Ken Holland, Darcy Regier, Don Waddell, and Scott Howson among others become general managers in the National Hockey League.

"I've always liked to help young people who have a real passion for the game," Devellano stated tonight. "I like to be a guardian."

For more on tonight's festivities, check out my story over at NewYorkRangers.com.

And speaking of the Rangers, and walking down memory lane, Adam Graves will be our guest on Rangers Radio this week. The show will first air Friday at noon, and then will be available to download at NewYorkRangers.com.

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