Johnson, Sauer, Rossi and Pulford Named 2011 Lester Patrick Award Recipients

The Lester Patrick Award is given annually for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. The NHL announced Tuesday that this year’s recipients include Mark Johnson, a former NHLer, current University of Wisconsin women’s hockey head coach, and of course, the leading scorer for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Team; Jeff Sauer, former University of Wisconsin and Colorado head coach and current U.S. National Sled Hockey Team bench boss; Tony Rossi, longtime USA Hockey executive and a big part of the organizations significant growth over the last five decades; and Bob Pulford, a Hockey Hall of Famer and former coach and GM of the Chicago Blackhawks.

These four honorees will receive their awards Oct. 26 in St. Paul, Minn.

The Patrick is a high honor to all who receive it. Lester Patrick was a big part of the NHL’s early growth in the United States and perhaps set the wheels in motion for what the game has become today in this country.

After the jump, a closer look at the recipients, including a personal story of how one Lester Patrick winner impacted my path in hockey.

There’s always pressure when you’re the son of a legend, but Mark Johnson carved his own path. Despite the numerous accomplishments of his father, “Badger Bob” Johnson, Mark made a significant impact of his own on hockey in the United States.

As a player, Johnson was a standout at the University of Wisconsin, playing for his father. In three years, he never finished with less than 80 points for the Badgers. He was a two-time All-American. In his junior season, Johnson put up a stunning 41-49–90 stat line. The following year, some guy named Brooks picked him for some team that won a thing.

Back in those days, the Olympic team trained year round. Johnson scored 92 points in 60 games with the U.S. National Team. Though he saved his two most important points for the most important game in American sports history, scoring twice as the U.S. upset the Soviets, 4-3, at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid.

Johnson also played 669 games in the NHL, posting 508 points.

These days, Johnson is making his mark behind the bench, just as his father did. As the head coach of the University of Wisconsin’s women’s ice hockey team, Johnson has turned that program into the pinnacle of women’s college ice hockey. Under his guidance, Wisconsin has won four national titles. Johnson also led the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team to the silver medal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

For his significant contributions both on the ice and off, Johnson is an overwhelmingly deserving winner of this prestegious award.

Another legendary Badger is being honored as well. Jeff Sauer, who played for Bob Johnson at Colorado College, followed a similar path as his former coach. After wrapping up his playing career, Sauer became the head coach at CC, where he spent nine seasons at the helm. He then moved on to Wisconsin where he made a significant mark.

As head coach of the Badgers from 1983 to 2002, Sauer became one of the all-time winningest college hockey coaches. He led Wisconsin to national titles in 1983 and 1990. Sauer also has coached numerous U.S. National Teams at various levels.

Additionally, Sauer has made significant contributions to the coaching profession, as evidenced by his being honored with the Snooks Kelley Founders Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association, one of the highest honors bestowed by the organization. Similarly to the Patrick, it is given for contributions to the growth and development of hockey in the U.S.

More recently, Sauer has participated in seven Deaflympics as coach of the U.S. National Deaflympic Team. He led Team USA to gold at the 2007 Winter Deaflympic Games and bronze in 2009. Sauer was recently named head coach of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. He has been active in USA Hockey for decades as well.

Bob Pulford is a Hockey Hall of Famer and made significant contributions on the ice as both a player and coach in the NHL. However, as an executive with the Chicago Blackhawks, Pulford was part of an organization that was dedicated to a flourishing amateur hockey community throughout the state of Illinois.

While the William W. Wirtz era was unpopular among fans, it is inarguable that the organization was dedicated to the advancement of youth hockey in the Chicago area, sponsoring various tournaments including the Blackhawk Cup state high school tournament.

Pulford was a big part of that in his 30 years with the Blackhawks.

Tony Rossi may be an unfamiliar name to most of the people that scanned the news about the award winners, but his contributions to the game of hockey in the U.S. have been significant.

With more than five decades of volunteer service to USA Hockey, Rossi has made tremendous contributions to the game in both time, resources and expertise. A native of the Chicago area, Rossi got involved the same way most people do, because of his kids. He raised two sons that went on to play Division I hockey at Michigan and Miami University, but ensured that it wasn’t only his kids that were given every opportunity to succeed.

The Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois is one of the strongest USA Hockey associations in the country, and Rossi was a big part of it’s formation and growth. Many youth hockey organizations in the state can probably trace some roots back to Rossi.

He currently serves as USA Hockey’s VP and international council chair. He’s served in various leadership capacities with USAH since 1983. Despite his leadership roles, all of it is done on a volunteer basis. Rossi has also forged a highly successful business career.

I know him as Mr. Rossi. His son, Tony, Jr., was my first high school hockey coach, with my dad serving as an assistant, at Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago. It was through Mr. Rossi’s encouragement that I aimed for the Brian Fishman Internship at USA Hockey. Without that internship, I’d imagine things would be awfully different for me. Who knows where I would have ended up and what I’d be doing. It’s been a great experience working in and now writing about hockey. So this is one Lester Patrick winner I owe plenty to, and one I couldn’t be happier for. It is well deserved.

Congratulations to all of the winners and a special thanks to each of them for their contributions to the game.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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