The impact he had on helping to build collegiate hockey in the United States will be felt for generations to come.
Fort Frances native Bruce McLeod had a long and distinguished career as a builder while serving his Alma mater, the University of Minnesota∕Duluth, in varying administrative capacities and as the commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
McLeod will be inducted into the Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame in the builder category on Saturday night at La Place Rendez-Vous.
“It’s a huge honour. I’m in some other, quote, hall of fames or whatever and received these types of awards, some national type of awards in the U.S., but there’s nothing like your hometown,” he beamed.
“I still get there [to Fort Frances] several times a year and I absolutely love coming home.”
The building blocks of McLeod’s career began on the McIrvine rink, playing minor hockey at various levels and often was coached by his father, Jim.
He then went on to play midget hockey in Fort Frances and two years of junior with the Royals–winning awards at all levels.
“All my connections with Fort Frances in the U.S. and the hockey world, we’re constantly talking about whenever we get together–Bob Peters, or Brush Christiansen, or Art Berglund, down in the spring I see all those guys and talk to them quite a bit–and it’s all about the good days and our memories of Fort Frances,” McLeod noted.
“We have so much appreciation for the basis that it gave us. It was wonderful, wonderful opportunity and the commitment of the Fort Frances community to youth and–in our case–especially hockey [was great].”
After his playing days in Fort Frances, McLeod accepted a hockey scholarship at UMD in 1965 where he played for four years. He tallied 81 points in 77 games, finished second in league scoring as a sophomore, and captained the Bulldogs his junior and senior years.
Upon graduating from UMD, he stayed on in the athletic department for 25 years, serving in different capacities–including 15 years as Athletic Director.
“I had some different options and at that point I was just kind of figuring out what I needed to do or where I wanted to go,” McLeod said of becoming the athletic director at UMD.
“I was gonna stay in the U.S., that was pretty clear, although there was some government entities that were trying to recruit native kids back to Canada and I heard some from them. But it was the opportunity, I enjoyed my days going to school in Duluth and it was an opportunity to continue my education, actually, and work there,” he added.
McLeod then moved on to become the commissioner of the WCHA for 25 years. There, he became one of the most influential and successful commissioners in the history of collegiate hockey.
He also served on various NCAA hockey committees and on the boards of College Hockey, Inc. and USA Hockey.
Chosen by the membership to succeed the retiring commissioner Otto Breitenbach in 1994, McLeod led the WCHA to ever greater heights.
He presided over some of the most successful seasons in the seven decades of men’s WCHA history, including eight national championship campaigns by league teams in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2011, and from the get-go had been a vocal and strong proponent of a women’s WCHA that–at one point–had won 14 consecutive national championships since its founding in 1999-2000.
McLeod’s tenure with the WCHA has also seen 10 men’s member team players awarded the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as college hockey’s top player and six women’s skaters win the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. Conference attendance for both the men’s and women’s leagues also grew throughout his tenure, with the men’s WCHA exceeding the 1,000,000 mark in home attendance for 18 consecutive seasons through 2012-13.
“The league was much like a team. I always viewed it that way,” McLeod noted.
“We had a lot of camaraderie and [it was] all about the people and trying to provide the best atmosphere we could for the players in the WCHA and make them proud of not only their teams, but of the league.
“Just all the relationships that were built, we obviously had a lot of success on the national scene and in the league built a–with a lot of help–an unbelievable, terrific championship event at the Excel Center in St. Paul [Mn.],” he continued.
“We were making a lot of money, so the people were happy about it,” he chuckled. “The league was happy about it and it was a great event and great showcase for league.”
McLeod’s 49 years of effort on behalf of amateur ice hockey have seen him honoured nationally. First, with the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, and secondly with the American Hockey Coaches Association Jim Fullerton Award in 2004.
Both of these awards for significant and long term commitment.
McLeod retired in 2014, leaving a successful career in hockey and sports as a player and as an administrator.
What is he most proud of as he looks back on his career and gets ready to enjoy this Saturday’s Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet?
“I’ve received an award from the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder type of person and those types of things . . . it’s not really kind of the specifics, it’s more about the growth and the support and carrying about Division 1 hockey in the United States,” he replied.
“There’s not a lot of us, there’s usually only about 60 teams, but the teams that are there are very passionate. Every team is important to us, at the top of the scale or the bottom of the scale, and there’s a lot of wonderful opportunities for U.S. and Canadian kids to get an education and maybe go on and play at a higher level, too.
“The building of the stature of Division 1 hockey in the U.S., working with the NHL or working with USA Hockey and the NCAA, those are all kind of the entities that kind of have a lot to do with us and getting to know those people and working with them and building the profile of U.S. hockey and collegiate hockey. So just my part in all of that [is what I’m really proud of].”