Gino leaves lasting impression on amateur hockey
I've long been a fan of TV crime shows such as Law & Order and the various CSI programs. So I've learned a thing or two about the importance of forensics in nailing the culprit. It's why this week's column is about a man who has left his larg...
I've long been a fan of TV crime shows such as Law & Order and the various CSI programs.
So I've learned a thing or two about the importance of forensics in nailing the culprit.
It's why this week's column is about a man who has left his larger-than-life fingerprints all over amateur hockey, namely one John "Gino" Gasparini.
At the recent United States Hockey League all-star game, the league's Distinguished Service Award was renamed the "Gino Gasparini Award" in recognition of his 14 years of leadership as commissioner of the league.
He was at the helm as the league grew from a struggling eight-team circuit when he arrived in 1995 to a vibrant 14-team league now, and the No. 1 developmental league in the United States, without question.
His role as commissioner has ended. He's serving as executive vice president this year as he phases into retirement.
His contributions will last forever and not just in the USHL.
He was a former Sioux player and a captain of the 1968 Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship team.
Where he made a bigger mark, though, is as coach at UND. He took his first team at UND to the WCHA title in 1979 and to the NCAA tournament championship game.
He won more NCAA titles (3) and games (392) at UND than any other coach.
He did much of that at a time when the talent level of college hockey was at its glorious peak. When the Sioux beat Wisconsin in the 1982 NCAA title game, for example, 21 players on the rosters of those two teams eventually went on to play in the National Hockey League. We'll not see that again.
Gasparini not only recruited great players, he recruited potential leaders, and certainly left his fingerprints all over their development.
He hired Rick Wilson as an assistant coach and he later became an associate head coach in the NHL. He recruited Dave Tippett as a player and saw him rise to become a head NHL coach, first in Dallas, now in Phoenix.
He brought in young assistants Dean Blais and Cary Eades, too. Blais followed Gasparini as coach at UND in 1995 and won two NCAA titles himself and the recent World Junior Championship with his U.S. team.
Eades was a captain of that 1982 championship team and is a valued assistant coach at UND now.
Gasparini recruited Dave Hakstol as a player and named him captain of the 1992 Sioux team. His fingerprints are all over Hakstol, too, now UND's head coach.
You can make a strong case that Grand Forks' Steve Johnson is the most successful coach in the history of the USHL. Johnson, now coaching the Fargo Force, was recruited to UND by Gasparini, too, and was a captain of the 1987-88 team.
Gasparini served a dual role as hockey coach and athletic director at UND from 1985-90, perhaps diverting some of his attention from hockey. Three straight losing seasons led to his dismissal as coach by UND athletics director Terry Wanless in 1994 and an uproar from a legion of players who swore by him and stood with him.
One can go on and on with the legacy Gasparini is leaving behind in amateur hockey in the United States as he prepares to leave the game.
He took over a struggling program at UND in 1978 and brought it to national prominence in short order. He, more than any other, stamped the tough, gritty style of hockey and pride in the program all over the Sioux brand.
Not bad for a guy from Fort Frances, Ont., who was never a great player, but was a great coach and a tremendous developer of leaders and players.
In accepting his award from the USHL recently, Gasparini said he was "proud and very grateful" for the tremendous honor bestowed upon him by the league.
We -- those who love hockey -- should feel that way, too, grateful for what he built at UND and in the USHL and is leaving behind for others to carry forth.
Well done, Gino, well done.
Virg Foss, who wrote sports for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years until his retirement, writes a weekly column for the Herald. Contact him at email@example.com or at (701) 772-9272.