Four players and one builder will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame tomorrow in Toronto. Over the last few days, Sun Media's Lance Hornby has taken a close look at the five inductees: Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch and Lou Lamoriello, a group which comprises one of the strongest classes in the history of the shrine
Once asked to sum up his approach to putting together his hockey teams, Lou Lamoriello said: "I fill when empty, empty when filled and scratch when it itches."
He won't be able to sustain a line of self-help books with such plain-spoken language, but he has put college hockey, the U.S. national program and of course, the New Jersey Devils, on solid footing through the years. Now the 67 year old is going in the Hall's builder wing.
Lamoriello influenced a number of players, coaches and executives in the game today, among them Toronto's tandem of general manager Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson, who both played for him at Providence College.
"I owe him a lot, both personally and professionally," Burke said. "When we first met it was 1972, I was a skinny 16 year old, very immature. He was intimidating then, he's intimidating now. He inspired a lot of confidence and provided me a moral compass. The most important thing he taught me was to be honest, to 'Do it right or donpt do it at all.'"
Providence was one of the most well-equipped school teams in the NCAA, Burke recalling the coach always had the latest model sticks and other gear. When the Providence Reds' AHL team needed a place for their injured players to work out, Lamoriello let them skate with his kids to give the latter a taste of pro hockey.
Lamoriello, who was briefly a high-school math teacher, returned to his alma mater at Providence to coach hockey and eventually become its athletic director. It was Lamoriello who brought Rick Pitino to the men's basketball program and Final Four prominence.
In 1987, when the transplanted Devils sought a man with clout to help them survive the tough New York market, Lamoriello took the challenge and never departed, now the longest-serving GM in the NHL.
A tough negotiator (just ask the Devils who went after big contracts), he wasn't afraid to make trades or to remove winning coaches on the eve of playoffs. But he still kept enough stars together for three Cups, and 13 straight playoff appearances.
When coach Jacques Lemaire installed the trap system, Lamoriello gave him the right mix of size, speed and skill to make it work. Many teams adopted it, to the chagrin of hockey purists.
"I know Lou doesn't like the term 'trap', it's a puck recovery system," Burke said. "My teams don't play it, but it was good enough for the Devils that he won three championships. He liked big teams, who were good at fighting and banging."
Lamoriello was named GM of Team USA at the 1996 World Cup and with Wilson behind the bench, they upset Canada in the final. He continues involvement with the national team.
"He would definitely be on the Mt. Rushmore of U.S. hockey, along with Herb Brooks," Burke said. "No one would debate that."
- President and GM, New Jersey Devils
- Three-time Stanley Cup winner
- Has served longer than any present NHL GM
- Spent more than 20 years at Providence College as player, coach and administrator
- As coach, he sent more grads to the NHL than any other NCAA school between 1978-83
- GM of World Cup winning Team USA in 1996
- Has a 34-14-5 record when filling in as Devils coach
- Lamoriello was mostly unknown outside American college hockey circles when Devils owner John McMullen appointed him president in April 1987. When Lamoriello named himself GM barely five months later, the appointment seemed even more questionable. But he got the Devils into the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, even winning a round.