President Obama welcomed the Kings to the White House this week, but — unlike, say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper — he’s really not a hockey guy. In fact, a new book by one of his former aides, Reggie Love, explains Obama’s passion for basketball, which isn’t entirely surprising considering the President was raised in Hawaii – hardly hockey territory. But it begs the question whether we’ve ever had a US president who has been a true hockey guy.
The U.S. president whose sports passions (among many passions) were most celebrated was John F. Kennedy and he apparently knew about hockey being a Bostonian. Touch football was the family game, but while in the White House in March 1963, JFK phoned David Hackett, a friend and presidential aide, complaining about the US National Team getting thrashed by Sweden 17-2 in the ’63 IIHF World Championships.
Kennedy asked Hackett (in the politically incorrect fashion of the era), “Who are we sending over there, girls?” But he demonstrated some familiarity with the U.S. squad, that they were winless in the tournament at the time, and that collegians made up the team. He wanted to know who has assembled the club. This came only three years after the U.S. Gold Medal at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Of course, with the Cold War raging and the Soviets becoming a hockey powerhouse (they won the tourney) at a time when every aspect of life under each social system had grown contentious, Kennedy was concerned by how bad the result looked.
Ronald Reagan was certainly very visible when the 1982 NHL All-Star Game came to the Washington Capitals arena in Landover, MD. He hosted a White House luncheon for the teams, NHL execs and celebrities like Bob Hope. Speaking at the luncheon, the then-71-year-old president remarked, “It was a real thrill for me out there in the reception line to see Gordie Howe this afternoon. I remember my mother used to take me by the hand when I was a little boy…”and the room exploded in laughter.
An ex-president in ‘93, he sat with his wife Nancy at rinkside in LA during Game 3 of the Kings first Stanley Cup Final, but he was not a regular, or even a semi-regular, at Kings games or any games.
Before politics, Reagan had a supporting role in a 1939 film that had some hockey in it, Hell’s Kitchen starring the Dead End Kids. Reagan played a lawyer who coaches the Kids’ reform school hockey team in which rugged pros secretly take the place of their opponents. In fact, the NHL’s New York Americans did those hockey scenes. Reagan’s more famous film roles were as George Gipp, the Notre Dame football player (of “Win one for the Gipper” fame) in Knute Rockne, All American and as the major league pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. As a young man, he played football and was a sportscaster before he became a movie star, although mostly announced baseball. If he liked hockey, it was more because he just liked sports in general as opposed to being a hockey guy.
Gerald Ford had been a collegiate football star, the MVP of the Michigan Wolverines in the ’30s (and his sometimes clueless response to issues in the ’60s while in Congress caused then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to famously say “He’s a nice fellow but he spent too much time playing football without a helmet.”). However, Ford forged an interesting connection with the Oilers – but only after he left office.
Oilers owner Peter Pocklington had engaged Ford to address the Edmonton Junior Achievement organization and they got friendly. So from the early ’80s into the early ‘90s, Pocklington annually flew the Oilers to an in-season retreat in California where Ford delivered motivational speeches and golfed with the team. Pocklington acknowledged that Ford, a Michigan native, really wasn’t hockey savvy, although he grew to like the game due to his Oilers ties. Pocklington considered Ford’s contributions so important that he presented the former President all five of the Oilers Stanley Cup rings. No other president can say that.
George H. W. Bush, (the elder) was an athlete at Yale but he played baseball. His son, George W., also had a big baseball connection, owning the Texas Rangers at one time and, like his predecessors, he had many photo ops with Stanley Cup champions and NCAA Frozen Four winners. Of course, photo ops are what W. did best.
But two men who unsuccessfully ran for president were both bona fide hockey guys.
Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, who ran as an anti-Vietnam War candidate in 1968 but failed to get the Democratic Party nomination, was the leading scorer of his prep school hockey team, St. John’s University in Minnesota, and a baseball player there. When Bobby Kennedy entered the race as an antiwar candidate right after McCarthy had won the New Hampshire Primary, McCarthy said, “He plays touch football; I play football. He plays softball; I play baseball. He skates in Rockefeller Center; I play hockey… If these are the bases on which you are going to make a decision… it’ll become abrasive, I suppose.”
And Secretary of State John Kerry, the former Massachusetts Senator who lost the presidency to George W. Bush, found time to play pickup hockey during that campaign. He had been a New Hampshire prep school varsity player and skated for Yale’s junior varsity. He’s followed college hockey closely, was a regular player in Congressional games and, like many older players, collected his share of injuries and surgeries as the game’s rigors caused wear and tear on his body. He even sported black eyes and a broken nose at the Cup champion Bruins White House reception in January 2012, courtesy of a goalmouth pileup during a friendly game over the Christmas break.
Right before the 2014 Sochi Games, Kerry tweeted this to the U.S. Team:
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) February 6, 2014