Patrick Instrumental in Caps' Stability, Youth Hockey
Winning the Lester Patrick Trophy is a family matter for Dick Patrick.
After all, the trophy is named for his grandfather, the longtime coach and general manager of the New York Rangers, and one of the major forces in the development of hockey in North America.
"I'd like to think he'd be looking down and smiling," said Patrick, who's beginning his 30th season with the Washington Capitals and will receive the award, given for service to hockey in the United States, during the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony Oct. 15 in Dallas.
Dick is the third Patrick to receive the trophy, joining his uncle, Lynn Patrick, and cousin Craig Patrick, an assistant coach with the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team and the architect of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Cup-winning teams in 1991 and '92. Unlike his grandfather, father (Muzz Patrick), uncle Lynn and cousins Glenn and Craig, Dick Patrick never played in the NHL. His impact has come off the ice, in particular with the rise of the Capitals and the growth of hockey in and around the nation's capital.
To Caps general manager George McPhee, Patrick has been indispensable to the growth of the franchise in particular and hockey in and around the nation's capital in general.
"Dick Patrick has been invaluable to [former owner] Abe Pollin and [current owner Ted] Leonsis and to this marketplace," McPhee told NHL.com. "He's a very knowledgeable hockey man -- he played the game in college -- and to have him in this marketplace, growing the game at the grass-roots level, making sure the NHL team is making the right decisions; I don't know if the franchise would still be here without him."
Lester Patrick passed away in 1960, but not before he passed along his love of hockey to his grandson.
"I knew my grandfather -- he died when I was in high school -- and his history in hockey and the National Hockey League," Patrick told NHL.com.
"My grandfather had all this historical background. I didn't appreciate it all at the time, but I saw his interaction with my father, who was running the Rangers at the time, and my uncle Lynn, who was running the Bruins. I saw the respect that they afforded him, seeking his advice, and it became apparent to me pretty early on that he was really knowledgeable about hockey in lots of ways, including the historical aspects."
Patrick played college hockey at Dartmouth, but that's as far as his on-ice career went -- cousins Craig and Glenn both made it to the NHL, but Dick said he didn't pursue a playing career because, "I don't think I was good enough to play in the National Hockey League." Instead, he went to law school at American University, got involved in the business of hockey, and was named president of the Capitals in 1982, eight years after the franchise entered the NHL.
The Caps had failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their first eight seasons. But since Patrick's arrival, they've been a regular participant -- 23 times in 29 seasons. He downplays his own contribution and gives much of the credit for the early turnaround to the man he hired as general manager -- David Poile.
"I think they were probably close before I arrived," Patrick said. "I don't want to say it's because I arrived that we became successful.
"The first thing I was asked to do by Abe Pollin, who was the owner then, was to find a new general manager -- he decided he wanted to make a change there. That search led me to David Poile, and he came in and provided some stability for a number of years."
Poile's first move provided one of the cornerstones of the franchise.
"[Poile] started right away with a big trade that brought Rod Langway [from Montreal]. The team had some great players already -- including Mike Gartner, who wound up in the Hall of Fame. It just needed a few more pieces to gel, and David was able to do that. Things just took off after that. Rod became the face of the franchise, the leader, the captain. We started having success right away, and things just built from there."
Perhaps even more important than Patrick's role in the maturity of the Capitals' franchise is his role in the growth of hockey in the Washington area.
"It's grown by a huge amount," he said. "I coached youth hockey when my son was growing up, and though we had some pretty good roots then, it's just expanded tremendously. A lot of that is because new rinks have been built -- it's hard to play hockey if you don't have ice. That's made a big difference.
"Now we're at the point where top hockey players are developing here. Jeff Halpern, who's played with the Capitals twice and signed with the Rangers this summer, grew up locally and learned his hockey right here in Washington."
However, he feels there's more to the growth of hockey than just developing players who can go on to the NHL.
"The whole point of youth hockey, particularly in this area -- it shouldn't be to grow up and play in the National Hockey League," he said. "I've told parents when I used to coach that it's unrealistic to expect anything like that. If they're playing youth hockey, it should be because they enjoy the game and love the game, not for any particular goal like getting a [college] scholarship or things like that. It's too hard to predict."
McPhee says Patrick's work at the nuts-and-bolts level of hockey has had benefits for the sport and the Caps.
"He knows the grass-roots level of hockey in Washington very well, having experienced it," McPhee said. "He's always donated a lot of resources for growing the game at that level. We have kids who've grown up and are still playing the game -- playing the game for life -- and their kids are now playing and supporting the Washington Capitals at the same time."
One of the Caps' main accomplishments under Patrick was the construction of the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. It's a state-of-the-art training center and headquarters for the players and coaches, but also has played a role in expanding the team's footprint throughout the region.
"When we moved to the Verizon Center, Ted [Leonsis] made the decision that he wanted to put not only the practice rink but the team offices -- everything -- right in the middle of where we had the heaviest fan base," Patrick said. "It was a huge effort to get it done, involving lots of people. We're delighted with it and our fan base is delighted with it. In addition to our practice rink, there are two other rinks for hockey and public skating, and it's become a destination for a lot of people."
McPhee said that while Dick Patrick comes from one of the first families of hockey, he's more than deserving of the award he's receiving.
"I think he's earned it," he said. "It's a great hockey family -- it has a great legacy. But it's more than just a legacy. I think Dick has carved his own name into the legacy by being a very professional president and part owner of our club, and I think his grandfather would be really proud of him and what he's accomplished."
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist