Phone A Friend

Olympians Reach Out To Thank Those Who Paved The Way On Their Olympic Journey

The path to the Olympics is not traveled alone. Nobody gets here by themselves. It takes more than a village. For the members of the U.S. Men’s Team, it takes an entire hockey community of caring people who unselfishly gave up their time and themselves to help each of the 25 players get to where they are today.

 

Nobody knew that better than Jim Johannson, a two-time Olympian who has made those Olympic dreams come true for so many others.

Prior to the recent IIHF World Junior Championship, Johannson teamed up with U.S. National Junior Team head coach Bob Motzko to create a program designed to have each team member call at least one person – not a family member – to thank him or her for helping them get to where they are today. Then players had to share how those phone calls went with their teammates.

 

Brian Gionta was in Buffalo at the time and thought it would be a great way for this U.S. Olympic Team to follow suit.

 

“When I first heard of it at the World Juniors I was extremely excited about it and thought it was an awesome thing,” the U.S. Team captain said. “Not only does it help you reflect on those who have been a big part of your life and your career but it makes you reach out to those who have touched your life and show them how much they mean to you.”

 

U.S. players talked on Monday about who they called and how they thanked those who helped them get to where they are today.

 

Chad Billins / Marysville, Mich.

I called Billy Cirillo from the Little Caesars organization. When I played in Port Huron Hockey Association, I was never a triple A kid.  I was a little naïve to triple A hockey and he gave me the opportunity to play midget major to play for him and I learned so much. I called to thank him for giving me the opportunity to play for him. He said he was having a tough day and that my call made it much better. It was a little emotional for both of us. It was pretty special. I actually called a lot of my coaches to thank them, including my college coach at Ferris State. The list could go on. There are a lot of people who influenced my career and he was one of the big ones.

 

Will Borgen / Moorhead, Minn.

I called Dennis Bushey from Moorhead Youth Hockey; he’s the manager and has played a big part in the lives of everybody there. He’s kind of a legend there. He always gives us ice time when we want it and he’s just a good guy to have at the rink. It’s pretty cool to share the stories and hear who called.

We’ve been sharing the stories a little bit in the locker room a couple guys at a time so it’s cool to hear the stories from my teammates.

 

Brian O’Neill / Yardley, Pa.

I actually called Ray Giroux, a former teammate at Yale. He was a defenseman who also played in Russia. I was going through a stressful first couple of years as a pro and was thinking about pursuing a different career path. He was in a similar position when he was my age and he gave me some really good advice. I wouldn’t have made my NHL debut and would never have played in Europe and I definitely wouldn’t be on the Olympic team if Ray wasn’t there to help me make some important decisions. He’s a big reason why I’m here.

 

John McCarthy / Boston

I reached out to a high school teammate of mine. His name is Pete Frates. He was a great baseball player at BC, and at age 27 he was diagnosed with ALS. I just told him that he inspires me every day. He was basically given a death sentence and he’s dealt with it through all the work that he’s done. He was the guy behind the Ice Bucket Challenge that raised so much money for ALS research. I just told him that I look up to him and he has inspired me to keep going.

 

Chad Kolarik / Abington, Pa.

I made the phone call to Jerry Domish. He was hard on me when I was younger but he made me into the player and person I am today. He also helped my family out by getting my mom a job within the Valley Forge Minutemen organization. It made it easier on us to afford the ice times and be able to get rides and things like that. So I called him to thank him and he was very appreciative of the call. He wanted to see if when Ryan and I were back in town if we could all get together once everything is over and settles down.

 

Bobby Butler / Marlborough, Mass.

I called my trainer back home, Jeff Oliver. I’ve known him since I started to work out when I was 12 years old. He was a big part of where I am today, maybe not so much from the hockey side but because he taught me what it would take to become an athlete. I don’t know if he ever watched me play hockey but he knew that it wouldn’t be just skill that would get me to the next level. It would be what I did off the ice. He kind of taught me what it would take by instilling in me good habits, such as sleep and nutrition. He was a big part of me playing in college and then playing in the pros. He’s a big part of where I’m at today. I also called my coach at the University of New Hampshire, Dick Umile. He’s retiring after this year so I called to thank him for turning me from a boy into a man and helping me become a pro hockey player.

 

Broc Little / Phoenix

I called Bill Troy. He’s an assistant coach at Cushing Academy, where I went to prep school. I came in there as probably the smallest guy on campus and had to work my way up to the varsity team. He’s a guy that supported me along the way and has supported me since then. I just wanted to thank him for all that he did for me. He’s still there to this day and I’m sure he’s still molding kids. It was a cool conversation.

 

Mark Arcobello / Milford, Conn.

I called my first American Hockey League coach, Todd Nelson who is with the Grand Rapids Griffins now. He was in Oklahoma City when I first started out. I told him that he gave me an opportunity in certain situations and playing with certain players that I probably didn’t deserve at the time. He put me on the ice a lot and he trusted in me at a time when I probably didn’t deserve it. I was opportunistic and was able to take advantage of that first introduction to pro hockey.

 

Brian Gionta / Rochester, N.Y.

I called my old Junior coach, Chris Hicks. He’s a such a great guy and a great mentor for me. He was very impressionable on me about doing things the right way. He set the path to my pro career and really made it what it is. I’m extremely grateful to have had him in my life.

 

Troy Terry / Highlands Ranch, Colo.

I grew up playing in a local roller hockey tournament and started getting a little more serious but didn’t really know where to go with it. For whatever reason Dave Fromm liked me and he asked me to play for his top level roller hockey team. Later, he started working with me and eventually I started with ice hockey. He’s kind of just been by my side and kind of my mentor but more importantly my good friend and been by my side through my entire hockey journey. He always texts me and tells me how proud he is of me. So when I got the opportunity I called him and just let him know that if it wasn’t for him who knows if I would’ve done the hockey thing. He helped me and stayed with me the whole time, and I told him that I couldn’t have done it without him. He’s a pretty emotional guy so he got pretty emotional on the phone call. It was fun just to be able to do it and sit back and think about how far I’ve come, and he’s been a major part of it. I can’t thank him enough.

 

Ryan Gunderson / Bensalem, Pa.

I called Bob Klein, who was my agent in North America. He was excited to hear from me. By the end of the call it felt like he was thanking me. I said, ‘Bob, I’m calling to thank you.’ I was just an average college player and after my senior year he was really eager to represent me. He was a full-time lawyer at the time and doing this on the side. He wasn’t trying to make a dime off me, it was just a matter of trying to help me. He knew I was from the area and believed in me. It gave me a little more confidence to try and take hockey a little bit further. Coming out of college I was bound for the East Coast League and you don’t really know where you’re going from there. Maybe you get to a second league and then you’re out. He kept saying, “The NHL is in your future.” We kind of laugh about that because it’s a little tough at my age. He just kept telling me to keep doing the little things right. His advice helped me take a step back and think that maybe I can go a little bit further than I thought. 

 

Brandon Maxwell / Winter Park, Fla.

I called a couple of people. One was Marco Marciano, a goalie coach who worked with me a lot. There was some times when I didn’t have a contract going into a season and tried to give him a check to pay him and he’d write on it “earning a contract is paying me back enough.’ I also called Rick Pracey, a scout with the Colorado Avalanche. He’s always had my back and actually helped me get my first job in Europe. If it wasn’t for him, who knows where I’d be right now. I also called Joe Exeter. He’s been huge throughout my hockey career, playing at the [National Team Development Program]. He took my mental game to another level. He’s a great guy and I talk to him just about every week.

 

Ryan Donato / Scituate, Mass.

I talked to two people. The first person I called was my uncle, Danny Dexter. He’s been with me since I was a freshman at high school. He started at Salisbury prep school and then went over to Dexter. He got me in there at a time when I don’t know if I should have, but academically he helped me through the whole process of being a good student but also playing great hockey. He took me under his wing and gave me a chance to play varsity hockey and gave me all the opportunities to be on the power play and do everything I did. We’ve had mornings when we’d wake up at 4:15 and we’re at the rink five days a week during the season. I couldn’t thank him enough. He was very thankful to hear from me and happy for the opportunity that I have here.

The other person I called was my grandmother. My grandfather passed away when I was younger and he was a big inspiration through my whole career, so far. He hasn’t been with us for a very long time but I use him every day to motivate myself. I know that he’s looking over me and know that he’d love to hear that I was thinking about him throughout this whole process.

 

Noah Welch / Boston

I called two people. Paul Vincent, a skating coach, and Neil Sheehy. They had two different roles in my life. Neil really kind of helped me as an advisor and ended up being one of the guys who really believed in me. And with Vinnie I was a big, slow-footed defenseman who turned me into a decent skater for a big guy. I didn’t come from a hockey family. It was just me and my mom and brother and we didn’t know anything about hockey. We didn’t have money, either. So Vinnie would let me go to his camps for free as long as I worked at it. The same with Neil, who took my family under his wing and said as long as you work hard and you’re coachable you can come in. It was a big break for me. Those are the two guys I called, but honestly I could’ve called 20 other people as well.

 

David Leggio / Williamsville, N.Y.

 

I’ve actually reached out to a bunch of people, college coaches, junior coaches, some youth coaches and goalie coaches. The guy I called is Pete Marchant. I also called Ken Hanson, but we’ve been playing phone tag. Pete and Ken were my coaches with the Amherst Knights Peewee teams. Pete’s father is Todd Marchant, the former Olympian and NHL player who is a Stanley Cup champion. Those two coaches laid the groundwork for our group on how to be hockey players, how to work hard and be good teammates. We worked harder than any team I’ve ever been on. We were very successful and that kind of made a good example that I continued to follow in my life. I’m hoping to talk to Ken soon so I can thank him for everything he did for me.

 

Matt Gilroy / North Bellmore, N.Y.

It was pretty cool to be able to reach out to people who are important to us, and I called Jack Parker at BU. If it wasn’t for him I don’t know where I would’ve been. He gave me a chance when no one else did. I’ve talked to coach a bunch but it was great to call him again and thank him for everything he did for me. To see how excited he was made it even more special. He thanked me for coming to BU. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He’s done so many amazing things all around the Boston area, and he is BU hockey. That was just a special phone call. 

 

Ryan Zapolski / Erie, Pa.

I called my high school coach, Peter McCormick. I was a little bit of a late bloomer and never really wanted to leave home when I was younger so I stayed in high school. High school hockey in Pennsylvania maybe wasn’t the greatest level of hockey, and they always say that you have to move away from home to get a better chance. But Pete was there for me when I was 13 or 14. I didn’t really understand the process of going to Junior hockey and then on to college hockey. I don’t think I would’ve continued playing if it wasn’t for him. He introduced that to me and made me believe in myself and pushed me to continue after high school. So I owe him a lot and he was appreciative of the phone call. I never really got the chance to tell him how much he meant to me so it was a special phone call.

 

Chris Bourque / Boston

I called Bill Troy, the same guy that Broc [Little] called because we both went to same high school. He was my advisor and assistant hockey coach at Cushing Academy. It was a pretty  emotional phone call. I just told him how much I appreciated him as a person. He helped me on the ice but off the ice he made grow up. Moving away from my house at 15 and living at school on my own he showed me what it took to become a man and mature. I still keep in touch with him and he remains one of my good friends.

 

James Wisniewski / Canton, Mich.

I called my uncle, Bill Day. He played 400 games in the NHL and was in the league for 50 years as a player, coach and scout. He was part of the Original Six. Growing up I got go to Red Wings games and meet Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. I got to really see the greats. I remember when I was 5 years old him getting me into the Bill Gadsby Hockey School, who was one of his close friends. My parents were the biggest influences in my life, obviously, working two or three jobs to pay for my ice time, but my uncle was a big key to my success, showing me what hockey is like at the highest level. He’s a man of little words, he’s old school and 84 years old now, but he was very thankful to get the call.

 

Jonathan Blum / Long Beach, Calif.

 

I called Jack Bowkus, my hockey coach with the California Wave. He was my coach for eight seasons down in Southern California, and at that time there weren’t many programs to play in or rinks to skate at. He was very hard on me at times and made me cry a couple times when I was young. Now that I look back on it, it made me a better player. I owe a lot to him for all the time and lessons he gave me and the belief he instilled in me that I could play hockey, especially being from a non-hockey market like Southern California. I think the call came out of the blue but he was happy that I called.

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