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Hall of Famer Walter Bush, founder of North Stars, passes away at 86

Walter Bush helped change the game on several levels, from the formation of a minor league and birth of an NHL expansion franchise to acceptance of inline hockey on the world stage and inclusion of women’s hockey in the Olympics.

Walter Bush, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2000, passed away Thursday at 86.

Bush’s impact on the game was far-reaching, and in some way, shape or form he had touched many levels of the sport. However, he is best known for his work in bringing the North Stars to Minnesota during the 1967 NHL expansion.

After helping to found the Central Hockey League as a 26-year-old, Bush became an important part of the Minneapolis Bruins franchise, spending time as owner, manager and coach for the club. But it was during his time with the Bruins that he turned his focus to getting Minnesota, his home state, an NHL franchise. 

With expansion on the horizon, a group, led by Bush, put in a bid — one of seventeen for that expansion period — and won the rights to one of the NHL’s new expansion clubs thanks to his promise to have an arena in place by the time the 1967-68 season came around. 

During his time with the North Stars, Bush was named Executive of the Year by The Hockey News in 1972, and he would help oversee one of the most unique situations in league history, the merger of the North Stars and Cleveland Barons, in 1978.

Bush’s other great achievement came outside the realm of the NHL, though, and beyond the scope of the men’s game. 

Bush was named to the IIHF Council in 1986, during which time he worked to help create the Women’s World Championship, and by 1994 he was the vice president of the IIHF. As vice president, Bush would help to change international hockey forever with his efforts to get women’s hockey introduced to the Olympics, an effort that became successful with the inclusion of women’s hockey in the 1998 Nagano games.

“International hockey wouldn’t be what it is today without his impact,” IIHF President René Fasel said, according to the IIHF. “I doubt women’s hockey would be an Olympic sport today had Walter not pushed so hard for it in the mid-‘90s.” 

Bush retired from his post with the IIHF in 2008, was named a Life Member of the organization the same year and elected to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2009. Before retiring, Bush represented the IIHF as chair of the Inline Hockey Committee, Women’s Committee and Hall of Fame Selection Committee. 

Beyond his achievements with the IIHF, Bush was also the first American named to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Board of Governors, won the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1973 for his contributions to the game in the United States, was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980 and was awarded the Olympic Order in 2002. He also owned the AHL’s Kentucky Thoroughblades, managed the 1959 and 1964 U.S. Olympic teams and served on the Olympic committee in 1963.

“His impact was felt, nationally and internationally, in the professional and the amateur ranks, in women's hockey as well as men’s,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “He helped launch the Minnesota North Stars, helped found the Central Hockey League, worked tirelessly to get women's hockey into the Olympics, and properly earned global respect for his devotion to the growth of hockey everywhere. Most important, Walter was a wonderful man -- loved and respected and a delight to be with.”

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