It’s an award that USA Hockey hasn’t presented in nearly a decade, but according to Dave Ogrean, the organization’s former executive director, the recognition is long overdue.
Ron DeGregorio, a former president of USA Hockey and one of the organization’s most prominent volunteers over the past 50 years, is beinghonored with the USA Hockey Builders Award. The Builders Award was established in 1999 to honor an individual who has made lasting contributions to the long-term growth and success of USA Hockey.
“He has about as long a resume and as lengthy a tenure being a volunteer leader for USA Hockey as almost anybody we’ve ever had,” Ogrean said. “He’s been in so many different positions, and I think he’s always had such high credibility because our volunteers and our board knew that he’s been through all of the roles and never did it for anything but a love of the game and a care about the organization.”
The prestigious Builders Award is presented to the architects of USA Hockey, the leaders who have distinguished themselves through their dedication, vision and love of the game. The award recognizes contributions of individuals who have helped shape the blueprint for an organization that today serves more than one million participants nationwide.
Prior to this year, the Builders Award had only been presented seven times. It was last given to Peter Lindberg in 2015.
“Ron is an absolute legend of the sport of hockey in the United States,” said Pat Kelleher, the current executive director of USA Hockey. “His vision, his leadership and his ability to do the best thing for hockey under any circumstances is, frankly, probably unrivaled. He had incredible foresight and vision to drive our sport and organization to be the best in everything that we do.”
A native of Salem, New Hampshire, DeGregorio played a leading role in several groundbreaking programs for USA Hockey, including the National Team Development Program, American Development Model and Progressive Checking Skill Development Program.
DeGregorio was ahead of his time when he helped found the NTDP in 1996.The program, based in Michigan, identifies elite men’s hockey players younger than 18 and centralizes their training. A lightning rod for criticism when it started, the NTDP has evolved into a revered program and has significantly influenced U.S. success in international competition.
“There were several of us who were frustrated with our performance at international tournaments and really felt that the U.S. should be held in higher standing and ranked higher in the world,” Ogrean said. “Ron wanted to redesign the whole concept, and it was radical and controversial. He was relentless and didn’t want to compromise, but he felt very strongly that it would all come back to benefit us and it has.”
Since its creation, the NTDP has developed dozens of players who have gone on to college and then pro hockey. NTDP alums have also helped U.S. national teams regularly contend in international tournaments.
“It goes back to Ron’s desire to be the best in everything for USA Hockey and provide the best experience for everyone involved in our game,” Kelleher said. “At the end of the day, Ron is a brilliant man. He looked at the problem of not winning enough internationally and not producing enough NHL talent. How do we solve those two things and also benefit the entire organization? He had to take a risk to do that, but he was always driven by doing the right thing and thinking critically about being better.”
Meanwhile, the ADM, launched in 2019, is used as the basis for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s athlete development program and has led to increased growth and player retention at the youth level across the country.
“He was insistent on the fact that Americans could perform at a higher level and we should be doing better internationally,” Ogrean said. “Now, other countries are emulating what we’re doing. Ron was always, if not the architect, a strong advocate for all of the bold moves USA Hockey has made in the last 30-plus years.”
DeGregorio’s career with USA Hockey began in 1973 when he was named registrar for the New England District. As registrar, DeGregorio oversaw the reorganization of the district into several smaller, more manageable affiliates.
“Ron was truly a deeply imbedded, grassroots volunteer who promoted the game and never stopped promoting the game,” Kelleher said. “He always promoted the benefits of hockey participation, he just took on different roles.”
He was first elected to the USA Hockey Board of Directors in 1975 and was the organization’s first vice president of youth hockey. DeGregorio also served as treasurer of USA Hockey, vice president and the international council chairperson until he served as president of USA Hockey from 2003 until his retirement in 2015. He was co-chairman of the USA Hockey board of directors from 2015-21.
“He’s got about as long a resume and as lengthy of a tenure for USA Hockey as almost anyone we’ve ever had,” Ogrean said. “His credibility was always high, and when he wanted to push the envelope he had people who would go along with him because they trusted him.”
DeGregorio has previously been recognized throughout the hockey world for his efforts.
He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015 and distinguished with the National Hockey League’s Lester Patrick Trophy in 2002, recognizing his outstanding service of hockey in the United States.
“He always wanted to do the right thing for USA Hockey,” Kelleher said. “That was most important. It might not have been the easiest, or simplest solution, but it was the right thing to do. He brought a mindset of how we can be bigger, better and stronger as an organization and positively affect the game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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