The public sees NHL Vice President Bill Daly and Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren as suits and ties charged with multi-million dollar budgets. But beneath the prepared press statements and corporate contracts they are still the young men who fell in love with hockey.
That dedication to the game earned them the 2014 Lester Patrick Award, presented Thursday in Minneapolis in conjunction with the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2014 induction.
The Lester Patrick Award is given to people who advance the sport of hockey in America.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made an early visit to the ceremony to share a moment with Daly and Holmgren for award photos. Bettman praised both men for what they give to hockey.
Bettman also alluded to the intense devotion Daly and Holmgren have for the game. It’s a passion that beats at the heart of so many in the game from youth players to Olympians and the Lester Patrick Award winners were quick to recall the moment hockey took hold.
For both men, their early introduction to hockey fittingly involved the league in which they currently work.
“I still remember the love I had for the game just watching it,” Daly said, recalling the night in November 1972 when his father took him to watch the New York Rangers face the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I was hooked at that point.”
Daly didn’t just recall the date and teams for his first game, he rattled off details like the outcome and that Jim Rutherford, current Penguins general manager, started in goal for Pittsburgh.
Daly credits his mother and father for instilling a love of hockey. His mother moved from Saskatoon, Sask., as a high school senior and met his father, who quickly took to hockey as a favorite sport. They both passed that on to their son and Daly said he intends to keep the tradition alive in his own family.
“My dad took the time to teach and coach me,” he said. “It’s been a lifelong passion of mine.”
Holmgren said he preferred baseball growing up, but that the love of hockey was embedded on cold days and nights at a neighborhood playground on the east side of St. Paul, Minn.
“From the middle of November until the middle of March we were out there playing every day outdoors,” he said.
Like Daly, Holmgren remembers his first game and noted that his current position with the Flyers is fitting given that his first NHL game was between Philadelphia and the Minnesota North Stars.
“It’s easy to fall in love with the game of hockey,” he said.
Daly played college football, but kept in touch with his enthusiasm for hockey as he moved on to law school and a career with a private firm. That firm did work with sports clients including the NHL and when opportunity knocked, Daly answered.
“There were very few jobs at that time I would have left my firm for, but this one was unique and it was in an area and field that I was passionate about and a sport that I was passionate about. It was a no brainer for me.”