Patrick proud of family's Ranger legacy

Former coach and GM has followed in father and grandfather's footsteps

Monday, 02.22.2010 / 11:10 PM ET / History
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Patrick proud of family\'s Ranger legacy

By Jim Cerny,

When the United States Olympic hockey team won the Gold Medal at Lake Placid in 1980, Craig Patrick’s influence on the team was clearly evident. Fourteen years later, his fingerprints were also to be subtlely found on another hockey champion, the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning New York Rangers.

In 1980, Patrick, then 33 and a former National Hockey League player, served as the assistant coach to Herb Brooks for Team USA. He also was as the club’s de-facto general manager, and filled the important role of go-between between the collegiate players on the roster and the intense, demanding head coach, Brooks.

Craig Patrick's career at both the professional and amateur levels earned him a 2001 induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder's category.
“At times it seems so long ago, and other times it seems like yesterday,” Patrick said last week on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the famed Miracle on Ice. “We were just trying to win a medal, not trying to influence history. But I am very proud that we inspired lots of people in the United States, and not just hockey people.”

While clearly defining Patrick’s role in the success of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team is relatively simple due to his up-front position within the organization, his influence on the Rangers first Stanley Cup in 54 years is not as easily recognized, but, arguably, just as important.

As general manager of the Rangers -- a position he held from Nov. 21, 1980, nine months after the Miracle on Ice, until July 14, 1986 -- Patrick selected two of the most important players in franchise history, a pair who were both part of the backbone of that ’94 Cup-winning squad.

With the 28th overall pick in the 1985 NHL draft, Patrick selected goaltender Mike Richter, who won 16 playoff games in ’94 and became the Rangers’ all-time leader in victories. And with the ninth overall selection in the 1986 draft, Patrick chose defenseman Brian Leetch, the 1994 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and future Hockey Hall of Famer.

“I was real proud of those guys, that they were able to win the Cup,” Patrick said of Richter and Leetch. “They were both outstanding athletes and outstanding people. There are a lot of great athletes, but not as many with great character. These two were great athletes with great character.”

Patrick was long removed from the Rangers’ organization by time the 54-year drought finally came to an end in the spring of 1994. In fact, as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Patrick already had secured a pair of Stanley Cup rings himself from the time he had left the Rangers.

“I didn’t feel a part of the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup,” said Patrick. “But I was proud of what some of our draft picks had done.”

Of course it seems only fitting that somehow someone named Patrick would play a role in the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup. Craig Patrick’s grandfather, Lester Patrick, was the first general manager and coach in franchise history, and the architect of the first three Rangers’ Stanley Cup championships. Craig’s father, Lynn, also coached the Rangers for several seasons, lending a real family legacy for the Patricks over the long storied history of the Rangers.

“I was very, very proud to be a part of the Rangers,” said Patrick. “There were so many Patrick footprints in that organization, and it was just a wonderful place for me to be.”

After spending six years in the front office of the Rangers -- while also twice stepping behind the bench to serve as head coach -- Patrick moved on to Pittsburgh, where he built the pre-eminent team of the early 1990’s featuring superstars like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, and Ron Francis.

Patrick joined the Rangers as the team's Director of Operations as a 34-year-old in July 1980, just five months after serving as assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic hockey team that won gold at Lake Placid.
Along the way, Patrick’s Penguins twice eliminated his former club, the Rangers, from postseason play. In 1989 the Pens swept a first-round series, and in 1992 Pittsburgh eliminated the Rangers in a dramatic six-game second-round series, which featured the crucial 100-foot goal by Francis in Game 4 with the Rangers on the verge of moving ahead three-games-to-one in the series.

“We got lucky with that Francis goal, the Gods were on our side,” remembered Patrick. “But it was a confidence booster for us, a real turning point for us. There was just some great hockey played in that series. It was a very intense series with lots of animosity.”

Of course, even with his great success at the NHL level, Patrick will always be linked to another great series of games back in 1980 when the United States shocked the world by upsetting the seemingly-unbeatable Russians en-route to winning the gold medal.

Patrick says now that he firmly believed heading into the ’80 Winter Games that the U.S. squad would earn a medal, though he admits winning the gold was a reach. He also vividly remembered that the final minute of the semifinal victory over Russia seemed to last forever.

“I watched every second tick off that clock,” recalled Patrick.

Patrick also has high praise for how the late Brooks, who also coached the Rangers during the 1980s, created a successful master plan centered on the team unifying in its dislike of the head coach.

“Herb told me ‘there are two factions on this team that don’t like each other, the east and the west’,” said Patrick. “He said ‘I don’t know how else to do this except to be a tough, tough guy and have them come together and universally hate me. So you’re going to have to be the shepherd, and herd them together, and just let them hate me’.”

It was a master stroke, albeit an uncomfortable one, for Brooks. And Patrick emerged as a true quiet leader of that 1980 team as a result, though he believes the ultimate responsibility for winning the gold lay with the kids who got the job done on the ice.

“I always think about how hard those guys worked, those players,” said Patrick. “I’ve never seen a team as prepared in my life, but my hat always goes off to the players. They deserved to win the gold medal that year.”