For Caps’ Pa­trick, a legacy en­graved

Name on Stan­ley Cup is a fam­ily tra­di­tion

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY BARRY SVRLUGA

In the sum­mer of 2018, the Stan­ley Cup lived a globe-trot­ting life: Moscow and Min­nesota, Swe­den and Den­mark, Man­i­toba and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., just to name a few. In the sum­mer of 1928, the Stan­ley Cup trav­eled west from Mon­treal, where the New York Rangers fin­ished off the Mon­treal Ma­roons for the cham­pi­onship. Lester Pa­trick, the Rangers’ coach, lugged the chal­ice to his home­town of Vic­to­ria, B.C., where he cel­e­brated by putting it in his base­ment.

Lester’s two boys, Muzz and Lynn, were like any two Cana­dian teenagers then or now: They wanted their names on the Cup, too. So they took a nee­dle and carved them in.

“We’d hear sto­ries all the time,” said Dick Pa­trick, son of Muzz, grand­son of Lester. “Hockey was al­ways just kind of per­va­sive.”

Hockey his­tory is Pa­trick fam­ily his­tory. There’s no sep­a­rat­ing the two. And for the bet­ter part of four decades, Dick Pa­trick tried to make hockey his­tory in Wash­ing­ton. When the Cap­i­tals won the Stan­ley Cup in June, there was a pri­mary link to their hap­less past, be­fore they ever made the play­offs, when they were more punch­line than con­tender: Dick Pa­trick, the team’s pres­i­dent. No one else has seen as much with the Cap­i­tals in his pro­fes­sional life. No one else has heard as much about hockey in a life en­twined with the sport for more than a cen­tury and through four gen­er­a­tions.

“The Pa­tricks, that’s like the royal fam­ily of hockey,” said David Poile, the gen­eral man­ager of the Nashville Preda­tors who once held the same job here.

How royal? When Dick Pa­trick joined the Cap­i­tals in 1982, the team played in the Pa­trick Di­vi­sion. When USA Hockey sought a way to rec­og­nize Dick for his role in grow­ing the sport in the United States, it granted him the 2012 Lester Pa­trick Tro­phy. The pedi­gree is so en­trenched that Lester Pa­trick’s name was first en­graved on the Stan­ley Cup in 1906 — more than a decade be­fore the NHL even formed. Dick Pa­trick’s grand­fa­ther (Lester), great un­cle (Frank), fa­ther (Muzz), un­cle (Lynn) and cousin (Craig) all had their names en­graved on the Cup.

And yet, en­ter­ing last sea­son’s play­offs, Dick Pa­trick’s name was ab­sent. This made for easy pick­ings at rau­cous fam­ily gather­ings, el­bow-to-the-ribs stuff. But lis­ten to Dick Pa­trick, the long­est-tenured Cap­i­tals ex­ec­u­tive — hired by the late Abe Pollin — and darned if he sounds not like a mem­ber of hockey’s royal fam­ily but like any Caps fan, pre-2018.

“There were a cou­ple of times where I felt re­ally good about our chances of winning, and we didn’t,” he said. “So I al­most rec­on­ciled my­self to the idea that it might not hap­pen.”

Then it did, fi­nally. And when it did, it came with a bonus.

‘It’s very un­usual’

Maybe, if you’re a Pa­trick, there’s some sort of grav­i­ta­tional pull that en­sures you’ll be sucked into hockey at some point in your life. Lester and Frank Pa­trick were two of the sport’s great in­no­va­tors, build­ing Canada’s first in­door ice are­nas, com­ing up with the idea of putting num­bers on play­ers’ sweaters and spread­ing the game by found­ing the Pa­cific Coast Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion, which they de­vel­oped with their fa­ther.

So Dick Pa­trick played the game grow­ing up and through his col­lege years at Dart­mouth. When he grad­u­ated, he knew his play­ing days were done, so he did what prac­ti­cal Ivy League grads do, be they Pa­tricks or not: He en­rolled in law school at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity. The Cap­i­tals be­gan play in 1974, but Pa­trick was prac­tic­ing law and be­com­ing in­volved in real es­tate de­vel­op­ment. Hockey was in his veins. He didn’t think it was in his fu­ture. “I was just a fan,” Pa­trick said. But those early Cap­i­tals teams were un­speak­ably bad. Worse, they seemed di­rec­tion­less. They missed the play­offs in their first eight years of ex­is­tence. Pollin, their owner, was grow­ing frus­trated. David Os­nos, Pollin’s long­time at­tor­ney, knew of Pa­trick’s hockey back­ground. Pa­trick and some of his de­vel­op­ment part­ners ended up in­vest­ing in the Caps — “a lit­tle, not a lot,” he said — and Pollin gave Pa­trick a ti­tle (ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent) and a task (hire a gen­eral man­ager).

“It’s just some­thing that wouldn’t hap­pen in this day and age,” Pa­trick said. “When you think about it, it’s very un­usual.”

But here’s where be­ing a Pa­trick proved to be im­por­tant. In his first days as a sports ex­ec­u­tive, Dick Pa­trick es­sen­tially had an en­tire hockey Rolodex at his fin­ger­tips. For rec­om­men­da­tions, he called his cousin Craig, who then was the gen­eral man­ager of the New York Rangers, be­cause he was blood. He called leg­endary coach Scotty Bow­man, who then was serv­ing as gen­eral man­ager of the Buf­falo Sabres, be­cause he knew Bow­man through his un­cle Lynn. He called long­time player, coach and ex­ec­u­tive Emile Fran­cis, who had worked for his fa­ther. No other newly minted ex­ec­u­tive would have the con­nec­tions a Pa­trick did.

“Dick just knew so many peo­ple in hockey,” Poile said. Enough of them rec­om­mended Poile, then a young as­sis­tant GM with the Cal­gary Flames. Pa­trick made the hire and did what he does best to this day — qui­etly slipped into the back­ground, per­pet­u­ally avail­able for coun­sel, never over­bear­ing.

“The most im­por­tant thing that Dick did for me: He lis­tened to me all the time,” Poile said. “He was the li­ai­son — or the bar­rier — be­tween own­er­ship and hockey op­er­a­tions. Dick had my back and he had my sup­port, and he did some heavy lift­ing with some peo­ple that might not have been as pa­tient.”

The re­sult was 14 straight trips to the play­offs. When the Cap­i­tals fi­nally missed the post­sea­son in 1997, own­er­ship wanted change, and Pa­trick had to ex­e­cute it. It’s not in his na­ture.

“I think peo­ple are too quick, some­times, to as­sign blame and fire peo­ple,” Pa­trick said.

Lis­ten, then, to the peo­ple he has fired.

“Dick is just a hard guy to get mad at,” Poile said. “He’s very lowkey.”

“The best way to de­scribe Dick Pa­trick is he’s a gen­tle­man,” said Ge­orge McPhee, hired as Poile’s re­place­ment — and the Caps’ GM for the en­su­ing 16 years. “Very hum­ble, not a self-pro­moter, an in­tel­li­gent guy. He has a very steady hand, and he’s a great re­source.”

His stamps on the team, though, are mostly sub­tle. He can speak hockey to the hockey peo­ple and busi­ness to the busi­ness peo­ple. But at 72, he isn’t a fig­ure­head. He is in­volved in every ma­jor de­ci­sion the fran­chise makes. In early 2008, the Cap­i­tals were talk­ing about a five-year ex­ten­sion for star Alex Ovechkin.

“Dick is no­to­ri­ously cheap,” Cap­i­tals owner Ted Leon­sis said. “But it was Dick who said, ‘ Why don’t we sleep on this and of­fer him his first five years and then an­other seven years to get to 12?’ That was rad­i­cal. That was a non­hockey move.”

The sides even­tu­ally agreed to a 13-year, $124 mil­lion deal, more money than had ever been guar­an­teed a hockey player. Since he signed it, Ovechkin has led the league in goals seven times (he leads again this year) and won three Hart Tro­phies as the NHL’s MVP.

“That was ge­nius,” Leon­sis said. “Dick gets the credit for that.”

Fa­ther and son

In the sum­mer of 1998, Muzz Pa­trick died, and the Pa­trick fam­ily gath­ered at the fam­ily home in Green­wich, Conn. Dick Pa­trick’s son Chris — Lester’s great grand­son, Muzz’s grand­son — had com­pleted his col­lege hockey ca­reer at Prince­ton. He was go­ing to Wall Street. The grav­i­ta­tional pull of hockey wouldn’t af­fect this Pa­trick. McPhee made the trip for the fu­neral and spoke to Chris about his plans after­ward.

“When you’re done with that,” Chris Pa­trick re­mem­bers McPhee telling him, “just give me a call and we’ll get you back into hockey.”

But this was the tech bub­ble, and there was money to be made. Chris Pa­trick went to work for an in­vest­ment bank. He later worked for a ven­ture pri­vate eq­uity firm. He moved to Con­stel­la­tion En­ergy, closer to home. For a decade, he avoided the hockey itch — un­til he couldn’t help but scratch it. Dick Pa­trick was still the Cap­i­tals’ pres­i­dent, but Chris re­fused to play that card.

“My big thing has al­ways been: I didn’t want to be per­ceived, real or oth­er­wise, as us­ing my fa­ther to get a job,” Chris said.

Know­ing that, his fa­ther en­cour­aged him to talk to Poile, who had been hired in Nashville, and to McPhee, who still served Pa­trick and the Caps. Both had played in col­lege and could have gone on to ca­reers out­side the game but ended up with a life in it. McPhee was in­trigued with Chris’s skill set and ex­pe­ri­ence — not his name.

“They both made it clear that they weren’t look­ing for any fa­vors or for me to do any­thing that I didn’t want to do,” McPhee said. “But that one was easy. Chris is very, very bright. He had played the game. That was an easy hire be­cause of his char­ac­ter. The time was right for him and for our or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Chris Pa­trick be­gan work­ing for his fa­ther’s team dur­ing the 2008-09 sea­son. “He started at the bot­tom,” Leon­sis said, “mak­ing no money.” He helped with the de­vel­op­ment of play­ers with the Her­shey Bears, the club’s top mi­nor league af­fil­i­ate. He worked on sign­ing col­lege free agents and eval­u­at­ing am­a­teur prospects. He worked closely with Steve Richmond, still the Caps’ di­rec­tor of player de­vel­op­ment. And on his own mer­its, he worked his way up through the front of­fice.

“He has a good feel for the game, like his fa­ther,” said Brian MacLel­lan, who took over the gen­eral man­ager’s job af­ter McPhee was let go fol­low­ing the 2013-14 sea­son. “And the thing is, he’s got some good work ex­pe­ri­ence. I don’t think a lot of hockey guys pos­sess that. With Chris, you bring in an out­side, real-world busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence to a hockey team, which I be­lieve is in­valu­able.”

When MacLel­lan moved into McPhee’s old job, he needed some­one to re­place him in his for­mer spot as di­rec­tor of player per­son­nel. He chose the most de­serv­ing can­di­date. That can­di­date just hap­pened to be Lester Pa­trick’s great-grand­son, Muzz’s grand­son, Dick’s son.

“Noth­ing’s been given to him,” MacLel­lan said.

The Cup

The morn­ing of June 7, 2018, was un­like any other in the his­tory of the Cap­i­tals: If they won their game that night, they would be Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons. That ac­com­plish­ment would change the ré­sumé and legacy of Ovechkin and fel­low star for­ward Nick­las Back­strom, of Coach Barry Trotz, of so many for­ward-fac­ing char­ac­ters. But maybe no one in the or­ga­ni­za­tion un­der­stood the power of the Cup — what it meant to win it but also what it meant to be de­nied — than Dick Pa­trick.

“I’d heard about the Cup my whole life,” he said.

But he and his fam­ily had also lived the Caps ex­pe­ri­ence, the wash-rinse-re­peat of peren­nial dis­ap­point­ment. Chris’s ear­li­est mem­o­ries were of the team prac­tic­ing at Fort Dupont in South­east Wash­ing­ton. He played for the Lit­tle Caps de­vel­op­ment pro­gram. In a way, fa­ther and son had waited a life­time for this day — the fam­ily busi­ness hav­ing a chance to en­hance the fam­ily legacy.

“It was a re­ally sur­real night for me,” Chris said. “I go back a long way with this team.”

Chris re­mem­bered the days when peo­ple would hon­estly ask, “Who are the Caps?” Now it was as if the na­tion’s cap­i­tal had moved west. When Chris and his wife ar­rived in Las Ve­gas and made their way down­town, some­thing stood out: There were peo­ple in Caps jer­seys and Caps hats and Caps jack­ets ev­ery­where.

“I couldn’t be­lieve how far it had come,” Chris said.

The Pa­tricks sat sep­a­rately at T-Mo­bile Arena for Game 5 against the Ve­gas Golden Knights, Chris high above the ice in MacLel­lan’s box, Dick in the owner’s suite with Leon­sis. With about two min­utes re­main­ing and the Caps hold­ing a one-goal lead, the NBC broad­cast showed Leon­sis. At his side was Pa­trick, hold­ing the rem­nants of a beer. Given the ten­sion of the mo­ment, that beer didn’t stand a chance. Down it went.

“My phone starts go­ing crazy,” Chris said, texts from friends and fam­ily watch­ing at home.

The re­al­ity was this: If the Caps could kill off those fi­nal two min­utes, then Dick Pa­trick would join Lester, Frank, Muzz, Lynn and Craig on the Cup. Ev­ery­one in­sists that was a sec­ondary goal, if it was even ac­knowl­edged at all.

“It’s what you play for,” Dick Pa­trick said. “And ob­vi­ously, I know all my fam­ily mem­bers who were on there. But it was never about want­ing my name there.”

But when Lars Eller’s goal held up as the game-win­ner and the Caps spilled onto the ice . . . well, it was a nice day to be a Pa­trick. Chris made his way from the press box, fly­ing through the hall­ways be­neath the arena to­ward the ice. When he walked out through a tun­nel to the bench, he saw his fa­ther.

“We just kind of stared at each other,” Chris said. “We didn’t know what to say.”

They knew enough, though, to hug.

“That was very mov­ing,” Leon­sis said, “be­cause it’s a fam­ily en­deavor.”

Al­though older bands of the stand that serves as the base of the Stan­ley Cup are re­moved and re­placed by more re­cent cham­pi­ons over time, Lester’s and Frank’s names ap­peared on it so long ago that they’re per­ma­nent, en­graved on the bowl it­self. Craig’s name is still on it from the Cups he won as gen­eral man­ager in Pitts­burgh, but the band that in­cludes Muzz and Lynn’s 1940 cham­pi­onship — both played for the Rangers — has been re­moved and is on dis­play at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Now, nearly seven months af­ter the Cap­i­tals won, the top line of the Cup’s newest panel reads: “Ted Leon­sis Dick Pa­trick Brian MacLel­lan.”

“He de­serves the ma­jor­ity to all the credit for us winning a Stan­ley Cup,” Leon­sis said. “I promised him that he de­served the Stan­ley Cup more than any­one be­cause he’s been at this for his whole life and ca­reer — and he has his fam­ily. I didn’t want him to go to any more fam­ily re­unions and be the only Pa­trick with­out his name on the Cup.”

So there was the sixth Pa­trick with his name on the Cup. But go down to the third line, which be­gins: “Christo­pher Pa­trick . . .”

That’s the sev­enth Pa­trick with his name on the Cup. They span four gen­er­a­tions. And none of them had to scratch their names on it with a nee­dle. They earned it. Qui­etly, they earned it.

BRUCE BEN­NETT/GETTY IMAGES

Dick Pa­trick is a mem­ber of “the royal fam­ily of hockey.”

NICK WASS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dick Pa­trick, right, and Cap­i­tals owner Ted Leon­sis, cen­ter, built a cham­pion with Nick­las Back­strom.

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