Thursday, April 24, 2014

McLeod leaving WCHA helm after 20 years

“Once a job has begun,
Be it big, be it small,

Do it well
Or not at all.”
Bruce McLeod’s tireless work ethic hearkens back to that little sign posted near his father’s workplace toolbox while he was a millwright at the local paper mill.
“You don’t realize it at the time,” said the Fort Frances native, who will retire June 30 after 20 seasons as commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“But, certainly, the way I went along in life was truly a reflection of my dad, for sure,” he stressed.
McLeod, who turns 67 next month, starred for the Fort Frances Royals and, later, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the 1960s.
But his greatest contributions to the game began after he hung up the blades.
McLeod rose to the ranks of athletic director of UMD during his 25 years there before taking over for retiring WCHA commissioner Otto Breitenbach in 1994.
“There has been ups and downs with the league in my 20 years,” McLeod admitted about what is now a 10-member circuit that stretches from Alaska to Alabama.
“But things like the success we’ve had with the creation of the WCHA Final Five [the league’s championship tournament], and the overall success of the league on the national scene, have been highlights for me,” he added.
That success includes eight NCAA national men’s championships won by league members between 1997 and 2011, including five-straight from 2002-06.
“[Five] teams in the national championship in 2004 were from our league,” McLeod stated proudly.
“I don’t think that had ever happened before and I don’t think it will ever happen again.”
The women’s edition of the WCHA has been even more dominant, having won all 14 national titles up for grabs since its inception in the 1999-2000 season.
Meanwhile, 10 men’s players from the WCHA have won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, and six women the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, as the best U.S. college male and female hockey players, respectively, during McLeod’s tenure.
He also has served in a long-term capacity with USA Hockey’s board of directors, and has been a key figure in the hierarchy of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
McLeod’s efforts have been recognized many times over.
Among his most notable acknowledgements include being named the Hall’s first-ever President’s Award winner in 2003 for his significant and long-term commitment to the Hall, as well as the Jim Fullerton Award for dedication to the game from the American Hockey Coaches’ Association in 2004.
McLeod recalled fondly the people from his Fort Frances days whose selfless dedication to the betterment of the game had such a deep emotional impact on him.
“I remember when I was with the Royals how guys like Jim Witherspoon, Clarence Graham, and Joe Lambert used their own personal money to keep the team going,” he lauded.
“They just wanted to create opportunities in the game for us young guys.
“I have a lot of good memories from the Fort,” he added.
McLeod, who currently lives in Denver, said he wasn’t alone in terms of Canadians having an effect on the evolution of the game south of the border.
“I think a lot of guys brought a lot to the table at that time,” he remarked.
“Guys like [Keith] ‘Huffer’ Christiansen really helped elevate the level of play in U.S. college hockey.
“It made them down there look at themselves to be not only more competitive when it came to what was happening on the ice, but to also increase their expertise levels on and off the ice,” McLeod explained.
“I hope we were a good positive influence.”
McLeod plans to continue in a still-undetermined minor role in the WCHA, but is ready to take his foot off the gas pedal.
“We’ve got a lot of new people on the scene in the WCHA and I wanted to leave the WCHA in the best shape possible for them,” he reasoned.
“But it’s been a good year so far and I believe this is a good time to do this, both for me and the league.
“I’m looking forward to the reduction in responsibilities and certainly the travel,” McLeod admitted.
“I have probably 100,000 air miles every year and I understand that’s part of what I do because this is not a regional league.
“But that’s definitely something I’m not going to miss.”
While he’s accomplished an enormous amount in his time in hockey, McLeod is firm in his belief that all of his achievements were never intended to be a means to an end.
“I never viewed anything as a ‘career goal,’” he stressed.
“With my background of my father working at that paper mill, like him, I just wanted to do a good job in whatever I did,” McLeod said.
“I’m extremely blessed to have been part of hockey.”
Editor’s note: Bruce McLeod is the son of Jane McLeod, recent co-recipient of the 2013 Fort Frances “Citizen of the Year” award.

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