On Sept. 22, 2016, Walter L. Bush, Jr., the man who made women’s ice hockey a reality for the Winter Olympic Games, passed away at the age of 86.
His legacy, however, lives on and continues to grow in the world of hockey.
Bush, who helped found the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League and who served as chairman of the board of USA Hockey from 2003 until his passing, was a beloved figure and a brilliant negotiator who helped grow the sport he learned to love as a boy growing up in Minneapolis, and later played at Dartmouth College.
“Everybody who met Walter liked Walter,” said Dave Ogrean, the former executive director of USA Hockey. “His contributions to USA Hockey and the sport of hockey imbues our organization with a sensibility that is uncommon. His demeanor, personality and views prevented it from blowing up.
“He was an excellent negotiator because he always kept people talking. He was not a man who practiced brinksmanship or used a take-it or leave-it approach. He very much espoused the idea that, when we were in hockey meetings, they would be very much like a hockey game with everyone espousing their views, taking their shots, and then, just like in hockey, when the meetings were over, we’d be at the bar with our arm round each other, buying a beer for each other.”
Bush’s approach to taking action required a commitment and passion for the greater landscape of the game of ice hockey.
For more than 60 years, Bush had a hand in developing American hockey, from his stint as the first president of the Central Hockey League (1955-58) to serving USA Hockey until his death, including a role on the selection committee for the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Team.
In 1956, a request from the amateur team he played for led to Bush’s long journey that included election to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000 and the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2009.
“As the only lawyer on the team, I was asked to find out why we were paying two percent of our gate receipts to an organization called the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States,” Bush told USA Hockey Magazine.
By 1959, he joined the board of directors of the AHAUS, known today simply as USA Hockey.
That same year, he was named team manager for the U.S. National Team and was instrumental in convincing the Soviet Union to send a team to the U.S. for the first time, leading to his role as a U.S. Olympic Committee director for the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, and later as general manager of the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team.
He helped put together a successful bid for NHL expansion, founding the Minnesota North Stars in 1966, serving as team president through 1976 before becoming chairman of the board through 1978. He also owned the Kentucky Thoroughblades of the American Hockey League from 1996-2001.
But his passion extended to growing the game at the amateur level, and he visualized rapid expansion of the women’s game worldwide.
“In my view, the women’s game is in the Olympics because of Walter Bush,” offered Ron DeGregorio, who succeeded Bush as both president of USA Hockey back in 2003, and now as chairman of the board.
“He was on the IIHF Council at the time, a position I hold now, and was vice president and the driving force behind having women’s hockey in the Olympics in the 1990s. That moment in 1998, in Nagano, Japan, it was a very big moment for him, and fortunately, we won. They can never take away being the first gold medal winner in women’s Olympic hockey, and it wouldn’t have happened without Walter.”
Ogrean feels Bush’s successes were all rooted in his demeanor.
“His willingness to listen and stay calm and the respect he showed other people, those were the attributes that allowed him to accomplish goals. I think that’s what allowed a lot of good things to happen with hockey in this country, like our relationship with the National Hockey League, the growth of our game.
“Walter often called the job of president of USA Hockey as a job herding cats. There are a lot of people who have been around for a long time, a lot of volunteers who take ownership of the game where they live. Walter was very much the one to listen to them.”
The Walter L. Bush, Jr. File
Born: September 25, 1929, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died: September 22, 2016, Naples, Florida
Dartmouth College, Class of 1951
University of Minnesota Law School
Founder/President Central Hockey League, 1955-58
Board member AHAUS (now USA Hockey), 1959
Director, USOC Winter Olympic Games Squaw Valley, 1960
General Manager, U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey, 1964
President, Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association, 1961-63
Owner/President, Minneapolis Bruins (CHL), 1963-65
Founder/President/Chairman of the Board, Minnesota North Stars, 1966-1978
Owner, Kentucky Thoroughblades (AHL), 1996-2001
Council member, International Ice Hockey Federation, 1986-2008
Vice President, IIHF, 1994-2008
President, USA Hockey, 1986-2003
Chairman of the Board, USA Hockey, 2003-2016
NHL Executive of the Year, 1972
Lester Patrick Trophy (contributions to the sport of hockey in the U.S.), 1973
U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, 1980
Hockey Hall of Fame, 2000
Olympic Order, 2002
IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame, 2009
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.