A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of being invited to a season-ending banquet for the Williamsville North Spartans, as they celebrated their New York State Public High School Division 1 hockey championship.
This north Buffalo suburb has a history of producing the best teams in the state and North has found its way to the winner’s circle four times in the past 11 years, all under the guidance of Coach Bob Rosen.
And one thing we know about good coaches is that they don’t become great coaches without taking a little something from the leaders who’ve crossed their paths along the way.
Throughout the reception, the players came up to the front and made brief speeches, acknowledging their parents, coaches and teammates and then took varying amounts of hardware back to their tables.
Somewhat standard end-of-season items, except there was a specific reason behind the pen/penholder that was part of each trophy presentation and it certainly caught my attention.
E.J., a Buffalo native, had been a player, coach and assistant athletic director at Brockport College back in the 1970s and early ‘80s. During his incredibly influential days with that Institution (he was the first hockey player/coach inducted in the Brockport Athletic Hall of Fame) he was a teammate of Brian Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh had a long run as coach at Canisius College and at one point was assisted by Rosen.
E.J. believed that a pen/penholder provided something practical for day-to-day use, but at the same time, given it was a gift in honor of a championship season, would also serve as a reminder to never forget your teammates or the success you had together and how you achieved it.
Now this is not to suggest E.J. invented what is a common ornament on many office desktops. But it is interesting to note how an idea that came to him (the origin of which is unknown) was then passed on to those who played at Canisius through Cavanaugh and now at Williamsville North through Rosen.
It’s such a fitting tribute to E.J. It’s not flashy. But it’s full of character and value.
I was hoping to relay this story over the course of our weekend coverage of the NHL Entry Draft from Minnesota on the NHL Network. But as any of you who tuned in would know, a little bout of laryngitis kind of got in the way of some good storytelling.
Thankfully my colleagues Craig Button and E.J. Hradek were able to do more than their share in the absence of my voice.
The league paid a wonderful tribute to its fallen vice president of Central Scouting with a video montage of his career. It went one step further with a touching invitation to have E.J.’s wife Terry and daughters Jacqueline and Erin come up on stage to invite the Edmonton Oilers to make the first selection.
Knowing that this year’s draft was the first of forever without E.J. in attendance was incredibly sad for any of us who were fortunate enough to have known him or called him a friend.
At the same time, it was quite appropriate to look up at the draft board and see “EJ” in big letters beside the names of all the young men who have perhaps unknowingly benefited and will continue to benefit from his tireless work ethic and years of dedication to the game he loved so much.
Brian Duff is a host of On The Fly on the NHL Network. Like his minor hockey days (playing goalie, defense and forward) his broadcasting career has been all over the map. In radio and TV from Medicine Hat to Edmonton, Toronto to Ottawa and back, Brian has been with the NHL Network since 2007 and has been covering the game for nearly 15 years. Read more of his THN.com Blog HERE.