Murray Costello makes sports hall of fame,
Costello enters Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
If there was a crossword puzzle associated with Murray Costello’s upcoming gala evening, the first clue would go like this:
Across, 1 — This is his passion. It’s a six-letter word. Didn’t Costello emerge from the northern Ontario mining community of Porcupine, play junior hockey at St. Michael’s College in Toronto and spend four years in the National Hockey League in the mid-1950s? Wasn’t he the first paid head of Hockey Canada for two decades following a 15-year career as an executive in the defunct Western Hockey League? Seems he also was a highprofile figure in the International Ice Hockey Federation and exited after serving as its vice-president.
Time to fill in the boxes: ho-c-k-e-y.
From the time Costello was a young boy playing outdoor hockey until he resigned as International Ice Hockey Federation vice-president at age 78, hockey was the durable thread that wove through his life, which included a wedding to Denise Marie Lancop, six children and becoming a lawyer at age 45, but only practising for four months. Blame that on hockey.
Whether he was wearing the equipment, which in the 1950s didn’t include a helmet, and carrying straight-bladed wooden sticks, or his best suits for formal on-ice IIHF presentations, Costello, 79, has experienced most aspects of hockey as player, executive, scout, arbitrator, administrator and visionary.
“I often say, maybe it’s selfserving, that I feel among the modest few who have taken a childhood passion, turned it into a lifelong livelihood and in the end been rewarded for it,” he says near the end of a two-hour interview at a Westboro bagel shop.
Eight years after being inducted as the 93rd builder into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Costello’s contribution to Canada’s national winter sport will receive a far greater recognition on Oct. 16, when he will receive the country’s greatest sports honour by being inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
He’ll be joined for the ceremony in Toronto by one other builder — Dr. Jean-Guy Ouellet, volleyball/national sports and nine athletes: Russ Howard, curling; Joe Sakic, hockey; Alison Sydor, cycling; Kirsten Barnes, Brenda Taylor, Jessica Monroe-Gonin, Kay Worthington and Jennifer Walinga, all rowing.
Costello is a reluctant hall of famer, though. That’s why, whenever he has received honours such as the Wayne Gretzky International Award from the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 for contributions to the growth and advancement of hockey, he always gives significant mention to the thousands of volunteers who have worked with him.
“It’s nice being recognized, but I had a mixture of feelings,” the somewhat embarrassed Costello says about his most recent honour. “This is a team game. One should not be singled out.”
However, Costello’s all-encompassing résumé had hall of famer written all over it as a builder.
As a forward, he skated in three championship finals: Ontario Hockey Association with St. Michael’s in 1953, American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears in 1954 and NHL with the Detroit Red Wings in 1956. He never got to touch the trophy, though. He played in the NHL for Chicago, Boston and Detroit, skating in 162 games over four seasons and producing 13 goals and 319 assists.
Costello says he had the skills to play in the NHL, but not “the mindset to be an NHL player, the way they sacrificed their bodies. They were so dedicated to succeed at it. I didn’t have that drive. There must have been a better way to make a living.”
There certainly was for him, and Costello followed his passion for an education to Assumption University (now University of Windsor), where he earned a bachelor of arts degree. After graduation, he travelled west to join the WHL’s Seattle Totems for a year (which coincided with his honeymoon) and he stayed 15 years, serving in many key roles and winning league championships in 1967 and 1968.
‘The law degree was really key. It gave me the confidence to do something.’
Sports Hall of Fame inductee
In 1973, he brought his family to Ottawa, where he not only received his law degree at the University of Ottawa at age 45, but also earned a salary as a scout in the World Hockey Association. After becoming a lawyer, he worked for four months with the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission.
The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada) cut short his legal career when it decided to make the presidency a fulltime, paid job. Costello, who had worked for the CAHA for six months on its first national corporate sponsorship deal before entering U of O, was asked to apply for the job, which he won and held until 1998.
“The law degree was really key,” he says. “It gave me the confidence to do something. There wasn’t a day that would go by that I didn’t use my law degree. It really, really helped.”
It also was valuable in 1994, when Costello and Hay hammered out a deal to merge their respective CAHA and Hockey Canada operations into today’s Hockey Canada, forming one group for the development of the game.
Costello also negotiated with major-junior hockey head Ed Chynoweth to change how Canada was represented in the world junior championship, which it hadn’t yet won since the event began in 1977 and in which it hadn’t won a medal at all in 1979 through 1981. They spearheaded the national junior team program that replaced sending the previous year’s Memorial Cup champions, and, in its next attempt in 1982, Canada won the first of 10 gold medals over 16 years.
A huge proponent of hockey equality, Costello also oversaw the first world women’s hockey championship in Ottawa in 1990, but he says he never forgot the people he worked with, including Ottawa’s Frank Libera, who “worked night and day to make it happen; he had no ego.”
As president of the CAHA, Costello started representing Canada at IIHF meetings. He also worked on various committees, spent 12 years on the IIHF council and finished with four years as vicepresident. No presidency, through.
“My job was busy and fulfilling. The IIHF is very much a European organization. I don’t think they would give it (presidency) to a North American or Russian. It would give Canada too much power. That’s my read on it.”
He would have been a good one, though, using his legal background in a unique way.