Perhaps the most prestigious award that USA Hockey bestows at its Annual Congress, even more than the Bob Johnson Award, is the William Thayer Tutt Award given to “the volunteer who, during many years of service, has displayed a selfless dedication to the enhancement of hockey at the grassroots level.”
In 2017, Dennis Bushy from East Grand Forks, Minnesota, won the award, honoring his more than 40 years as a coach, rink manager and Minnesota Hockey official in various roles. But who was William Thayer Tutt, the man the award is named after?
Quite simply, he was one of the most important visionaries in American hockey history, someone who had a monumental impact on the growth of USA Hockey, and the man who facilitated the relocation of the organization to Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Thayer, as he was known, was the president of the five-star Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, which had the 4,000-seat Broadmoor World Arena next door. In addition to attracting international hockey games (including inviting the Soviet National Team to come play the U.S. during the height of the Cold War and well before the 1972 Summit Series with Canada) and major figure skating competitions to World Arena, Tutt also was instrumental in establishing the NCAA’s annual national championship hockey tournament. The Broadmoor hosted the first 10 tournaments from 1948-57 and another one in 1969.
Tutt also, at various times, served as president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF, hockey’s world governing body), the U.S. Olympic Committee, and perhaps most importantly, as president of the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States (AHAUS; now known as USA Hockey) from 1972-86.
Dave Ogrean, who would later go on to serve as USA Hockey’s executive director from 1993-99 and 2005-17, arrived at age 25 in the newly-relocated AHAUS office in Colorado Springs in May 1978 as the organization’s public relations director, and remembers Tutt as a vibrant, fun-loving man.
“Thayer loved life and he loved people,” Ogrean said. “He was a joy to be around and he made sure life was fun whenever you were with him. … He was a very approachable, very gracious guy who loved life, loved sports, loved hockey, loved travel, loved the Olympics and just really made things happen.
“He’s the reason USA Hockey is headquartered out here and he’s a big reason why this has become, in the last 40 years, such a home and such a capital for amateur sports in general.”
It was after Walter Bush took over from Tutt as president and Baaron Pittenger was serving as executive director in June 1991 that they renamed the organization USA Hockey, while experiencing a period of tremendous growth. But it was the foundation set by Tutt that made all that growth possible.
“We’ve been lucky to have some great leaders in this organization over the years,” Ogrean said. “Certainly Walter Bush, who was a protégé of Thayer’s in many ways, was around for a long time, passed away in the fall of 2016 and he was absolutely someone special. But if you don’t have someone like Thayer at the beginning to really take this from what was a shoebox operation that had two employees when he moved it from Bloomington, Minnesota, in 1976, didn’t have professional staff, and to begin to professionalize it and to give it some resources and to give it a home, really give it a vision of what it could be, then you don’t have the groundwork laid for that next step, which Walter was able to facilitate. But Thayer is so important to the genesis of pushing this organization to be as significant as it is today.”
Besides his impact on hockey, Tutt was also instrumental in having both the U.S. Figure Skating Association and the U.S. Olympic Committee relocate their national headquarters to Colorado Springs.
Many also credit Tutt, who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, for being part of a contingent of influential people that convinced the U.S. Air Force Academy to make Colorado Springs its home.
After decades of helping grow the game of hockey from the ground up in the U.S., Tutt passed away in 1988 at the age of 79. He had already been inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1972, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973 and the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 1978. He was then enshrined in the U.S. Figure Skating HOF in 1991.
Considering what Tutt accomplished and the framework he set for the organization’s future success, the USA Hockey award that bears his name, honoring longtime volunteers that have made a significant impact in their communities and beyond, is a well-deserved homage to his contributions.
The award was first presented in 2003.
“It really is [a fitting tribute],” Ogrean said. “And even though he was involved in a lot of the glamorous stuff, he also knew that the foundation of this sport and the foundation of this organization are the people who do things as volunteers at rinks across the country and who typically don’t get the accolades.
“… We really consider the William Thayer Tutt Award to be kind of like our ‘Best Picture of the Year Award’ — the really big award, the last award presented and the highest honor because the purpose of it is to really put a spotlight on a person who’s just done the work for decades for nothing beyond the love of the game and usually the love of kids and giving them the chance, and who by virtue of that role, doesn’t get the attention that perhaps they ought to get. That’s why every year people look forward so much to the presentation. And Thayer’s name is on it because he knew that, without them, this sport would never thrive.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.