The absolute best example of Lou Lamoriello’s forcefulness and resourcefulness is this one, that goes back to his days as hockey coach at Providence College in the early 1980s and reveals the type of person he still is today:
He was preparing for his team’s rivalry game with Brown when he received a phone call from his boss, athletic director Dave Gavitt. The latter said that the Brown band needed admission and that it was up to Coach Lamoriello to find tickets.
Lamoriello was relishing a boisterous partisan home sellout and refused, telling Gavitt, “You’re going to have to order me to do it.” Gavitt did just that and Lamoriello complied with tickets for the dreaded opponent’s band: 35 individual tickets throughout the arena.
It was clear then and it is clear now, when he is a Hockey Hall of Famer just hired to be president of hockey operations for the Islanders: He means business, he knows what he’s doing and you don’t want to question either of those two qualities.
In other words, Lou Lamoriello is the type of person the Islanders need and the kind of leader their fans deserve. He brims credibility and accountability. At 75, he brings a necessary touch of urgency, too, to a team that has kept stockpiling draft picks for some future dream season that never seems to arrive. The future finally is now, or at least is in the on-deck circle.
The person in command has been in charge of something or other since he was a 17-year-old catcher in the Cape Cod League and was pressed into service as manager. He had a long run in that famed summer circuit after that, once harnessing the talents of a hotshot centerfielder from Connecticut. That kid grew up to be a manager in his own right, leading the Mets to the 2000 World Series. Bobby Valentine said years later that Lamoriello “totally made my career.”
Hiring Lamoriello was a great message Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky sent to the fans, essentially saying that they are tired, too. They want a plan, they want direction. Personally, I would be surprised if John Tavares does not stay for the new administration. But if he leaves, so be it. The president will figure something out.
Years ago, when Lamoriello’s Devils were on the verge of their third Stanley Cup, he told this reporter, “I’m not going to make decisions with my heart. I’m going to make them with my head.” That also is welcome news for a franchise that has been burdened by former owner Charles Wang’s allegiance to Garth Snow.
Lamoriello is old school: No fanfare, no facial hair for his players. But he can step into new territory with the best of them. He trudged through the dense old Soviet bureaucracy and came out with Viacheslav Fetisov. He hired a woman, Sherry Ross, to be the analyst on Devils radio broadcasts. He knows potential when he sees it. After having succeeded Gavitt as Providence’s athletic director, he hired Rick Pitino as basketball coach and OK’d the hiring of his graduate assistant, Jeff Van Gundy.
There is no guarantee that he will make an instant contender out of the Islanders, regardless of the “resources” pledged by Malkin. Lamoriello had tremendous resources in Toronto and didn’t win a playoff series. But at least we know he sure will give it a try, and that if people do not deliver, they won’t last.
He eats, breathes and sleeps hockey. He respects what the words “New York Islanders” mean. “Bill Torrey was an outstanding friend to me from day one,” he said of the franchise’s original and iconic general manager, who died this month. “Even when I was in the college ranks, I communicated with Bill. We were friends up until his passing.”
The new boss still carries the competitive fire he had at Providence and the wisdom he had in New Jersey. The Islanders have someone for whom they’ve been waiting a long time.