The Life and Legacy of Walter Bush

USA Hockey Pioneer’s Contributions To The Game Will Impact Generations To Come

Whether it’s a municipal rink in suburban Minneapolis or an international arena, few people have had more of an impact or given more to the game than Walter L. Bush, Jr.

And few have garnered more respect and admiration than the man who left a lasting legacy on the game for generations to come.

Those who knew him best, his hockey friends as he often referred to them, feel a deep sense of loss with the passing of one of the most beloved figures in the game, who died on Sept. 22 in the Twin Cities. He was 86 years old.

No matter what his role, Bush always displayed integrity, vision, expertise, knowledge and a deep commitment to the game, the organization and those who worked so tirelessly to make it go.
Over the course of more than 50 years, Bush was the heart and soul of American hockey, playing an integral role in the growth and development of amateur and professional hockey on the local, national and international levels.

 

“His impact on hockey in Minnesota was felt at every level from Mites to the pros. He was one of the game’s great visionaries, and more importantly, a wonderful human being.”

-Minnesota Hockey


Growing up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Bush found success in hockey as a prep school player, college and amateur player, amateur coach and Olympic manager, before moving into the executive side of the professional aspect of the sport.

After graduating from Dartmouth College, Bush returned home to work on his law degree at the University of Minnesota. He kept his skates sharp by playing senior hockey and helping to organize the U.S. Central League.

It was by pure accident in 1956 that Bush would find his true calling as a hockey executive.

“As the only lawyer on the team I was asked to find out why we were paying two percent of our gate receipts to an organization called the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States [today known as USA Hockey],” Bush recalled with a laugh.

He soon attended an AHAUS meeting in Duluth, Minn., and it started a relationship that would forever change the course of hockey in America. Bush quickly hit it off with men such as pioneering administrator Walter Brown, international hockey guru Robert Ridder and Wm. Thayer Tutt, whom he would eventually succeed as the organization’s president.

Before long, Bush became active on the international scene, managing the 1959 U.S. National Team and the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team, serving on the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1963, and later a four-year term on the USOC’s Hockey section. He was also a member of the selection committee for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team that resulted in the “Miracle On Ice” in Lake Placid, N.Y.

 

“I don’t think anyone’s given any more time than Walter to the growth of the sport in this country.”

-Bill Cleary, 1960 U.S. Olympian

 

Closer to home, Bush served as president and vice president of the Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association and as a director with AHAUS. And when NHL expansion appeared on the horizon in the mid-1960s, Bush teamed up with several local businessmen to bring an NHL franchise to his home state in 1967. Bush would go on to serve as president of the Minnesota North Stars from 1966 to 1976, and as chairman of the board from 1976 to 1978.

When he was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s board of governors in 1972, Bush became the first-ever American member. He was later added to the Hall of Fame’s selection committee. He would also serve on the NHL’s pension and international committees, the owner-player council and was secretary of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Committee.

Walter Bush’s impact on the game has been felt by players at all levels, from the smallest mite to the mightiest pro. over the years his contributions have earned him numerous accolades, including his induction in the hockey hall of fame in 2000.Walter Bush’s impact on the game has been felt by players at all levels, from the smallest mite to the mightiest pro. over the years his contributions have earned him numerous accolades, including his induction in the hockey hall of fame in 2000.

Bush “retired” from hockey in June 1984. It proved to be a short-lived hiatus that quickly evolved into a three-decade blur of expanded responsibilities and remarkable accomplishments. In 1986, Bush was elected as only the third president of USA Hockey, a post he would hold until 2003.

Through his work with USA Hockey, Bush was tabbed to serve on a number of IIHF panels as chairman—including the Women’s and Inline Hockey Councils, and the selection committee for IIHF Hall of Fame—while carrying out his responsibilities as a vice president of the organization.

While serving in this role, Bush made the bold prediction that women’s hockey would someday become an Olympic sport; it was all that some hockey leaders could do to keep from laughing. He recalled receiving a letter at the time from a representative at the International Olympic Committee when it was considering the idea of women’s hockey.

 

“Being a Minnesota kid with his connections in bringing the North Stars here, which of course my dad played for, you could say he had a big impact on my family.”

-Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild and two-time U.S. Olympian


“We appreciate the inquiry,” the letter read. “But women’s hockey will never float in the Olympics. Perhaps you have this mixed up with field hockey.”

Following the first-ever IIHF Women’s World Championship in 1990 in Ottawa, Ontario, Bush brought videotape of the action to a Women’s Council Meeting. While some members were impressed, Rene Fasel, the incoming IIHF President, was somewhat skeptical.

“That’s very clever, Walter,” he said. “You sped up those films, didn’t you?”

“Not so,” Bush replied.

Less than 10 years later, Bush was on hand in Nagano, Japan, to witness a courageous group of Americans bring home the first women’s ice hockey gold medal in Olympic history.

“Rene and I are very good friends,” Bush said afterwards. “Although he didn’t believe in it at the time, he’s a big supporter of women’s hockey now. I like doing things people say can’t be done.”

The accolades followed as quickly as items were added to his hockey resume. Bush was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980 and to the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. He was the first “grass roots American” to win the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1973; and was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2000.

In 2001, Bush was honored as recipient of the Olympic Order, the highest individual honor in international athletics. And in 2009, he was enshrined in the IIHF Hall of Fame.

 

“His impact was felt, nationally and internationally, in the professional and the amateur ranks, in women’s hockey as well as men’s.”

-Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner


While the accolades earned over the course of a half a century were appreciated and richly deserved, Bush derived his greatest satisfaction from seeing more Americans having an opportunity to play the game, whether it was at the grassroots level or competing against the best in the world.

“Who can ever forget our three Olympic gold medals? But I will remember how proud I’ve been of the players I’ve seen come through the USA Hockey program and have made it in the NHL. It’s great to see that all our labor is not lost,” he said during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

“Overall, I’d like to be remembered for the longevity—over 50 years with USA Hockey.”

View a timline of some of the most significant achievements, awards and honors in the hockey career of Walter L. Bush, Jr.

Issue: 
2016-11

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