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Lamoriello's team-first creed turned NJ into winners

Wednesday, 10.10.2012 / 3:34 PM / Features
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Lamoriello\'s team-first creed turned NJ into winners
Hiring Lou Lamoriello to run his franchise was a risk for New Jersey owner Dr. John McMullen. It paid off so well that Lamoriello is headed for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lou Lamoriello is the first to admit that the late New Jersey Devils owner, Dr. John McMullen, took a gamble when he hired him as team president back in April 1987. It was a move McMullen made with the hope of turning around a franchise that had failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the five previous seasons.

Prior to joining the Devils, Lamoriello, a successful collegiate coach and athletic director at Providence College, had never played, coached or managed in the NHL. That meant nothing to McMullen, who believed in Lamoriello's philosophy in building a winner.

Lamoriello hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2003.

"No one is more important than the logo," Lamoriello told NHL.com. "My philosophy has always been to respect teammates. In order to have success, you need each other. You need your trainers, your equipment people and your scouts. To me, that's what a team is all about, philosophically, and that's what [the New Jersey Devils] are all about."

Despite all that, Lamoriello knew McMullen was treading unchartered waters.

"I don't think it's a question that he was taking a risk in a lot of ways, but it's something he wanted," Lamoriello said. "He felt that when he came into the League, he was given advice by people he thought were trying to help him -- and it turned out, in his mind, to be just the opposite. So he wanted to get out of the old-boy network and get someone totally new."

While Lamoriello was very much looking forward to his new career in the NHL, leaving Providence was still a tough decision.

"The toughest decision I ever made was leaving coaching to become AD [at Providence], but when Dr. McMullen approached me, I knew it was time [to move on]," he said. "I had overseen 24 sports and we had a lot of success with the basketball program and hockey program reaching the Final Four. I was coming into an organization [in New Jersey] that hadn't won or hadn't had success to a certain degree."

Upon his hiring, Lamoriello appointed himself general manager. The Devils would earn their first winning season and advance to the Wales Conference Finals in Lamoriello's initial tenure. His teams have since advanced to the playoffs in 20 of the last 22 seasons and have claimed three Stanley Cups. Two of those titles, 1995 and 2000, came during McMullen's ownership.

"I really trusted Dr. McMullen in how he approached things, and for also giving me the opportunity to be my own person," Lamoriello said. "He would give me, unequivocally, full authority to do what had to be done to try and win. His goal certainly was to win the Stanley Cup, and I'm just glad I was able to be a part of watching him win them."

McMullen realized Lamoriello's commitment to excellence began long before he hired him in '87. It was in the way he worked the bench as a coach and behind the desk as athletic director at Providence.

It's very humbling. But it's a reflection of the people and players at Providence, the U.S. sports festivals, Olympics, World Cup and the Devils. All those people are responsible for whatever recognition is given me. - Lamoriello on entering the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

Lamoriello's son, Chris, who oversees New Jersey's American Hockey League team in Albany as senior vice president and general manager, admits his father never wavered in his desire to succeed at every level.

"I don't want to ever say you expect success, but the biggest thing was his commitment to succeed," Chris Lamoriello told NHL.com. "Whatever he was involved in, he would make sure he put in as much time and work as he possibly could.

"In everything he's done or participated in, he's never changed or treated people any differently, and that's what I'm most proud of."

As the oldest of three children, Chris Lamoriello can also take pride in the fact his father will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 15 in Dallas. He'll enter the Hall alongside players Mike Modano and Ed Olczyk.

"It's very humbling," Lou Lamoriello said of his Hall of Fame nod. "But it's a reflection of the people and players at Providence, the U.S. sports festivals, Olympics, World Cup and the Devils. All those people are responsible for whatever recognition is given me."

He is also quick to note that everything he's achieved, he owes to his mother and father, Rose and Nick. His parents, who emigrated from Italy, never made it past the eighth and ninth grade, but they worked extremely hard to make certain their children had better opportunities.

It's something Lamoriello will never forget.

"I don't know how I could do the justice of what influence they've had," Lamoriello said. "My mom is from Rome, and my father from Naples. They didn't really have an education, but they did a lot of work and knew what integrity was, and they knew what examples they wanted to give their children. All three of us were recipients of everything they did, and their sacrifices. They wanted us to participate in athletics and wanted us to get an education, and they devoted their life to doing that and they left an indelible mark."

The native of Providence, R.I., who turns 70 on Oct. 21, played a central role in the formation of the Hockey East Association and was its first commissioner. Internationally, Lamoriello served as GM for gold medal-winning Team USA at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and for the U.S. entry in the 1998 Winter Olympics. He's also only three years removed from his enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, a class that included players Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille and Steve Yzerman.

"The most enjoyment you get is seeing success that players have when they pay the price and make the sacrifices that are necessary to win," Lamoriello said. "I've always said the greatest satisfaction you can get is looking in the faces and seeing that it was all worth it. Especially in a team sport where you need and care for each other."

In addition to his success in hockey, as a minority owner of the New York Yankees, Lamoriello also owns a 2009 World Series ring.

What would he consider to be his greatest moment?

"All the Cup wins are special … the World Cup was special," he said. "The different streaks and experiences that transpire that weren't expected to happen are special, and seeing young players achieving. There are so many moments that stick out when you take a step back and think about it. I really couldn't pinpoint just one."

Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer | @mike_morreale

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