This is Part 1 (3 Parts in total) of my conversation with Dean. As many of you know already, Dean can be very philosophical in his thought process and I believe he goes “deep” in many of his answers. Most of the questions deal with the hockey side at some point, but some of the questions also deal with a more “personal side” of Dean. In Part 1 he talks about his relationship with his father and his respect and admiration for members of the military and lessons that can be learned and applied to sports…
JF: Anyone involved in sports, any walk of life, usually the relationship with your father is very important. Talk about how your relationship relates to sports or any of the fundamentals that your father built up in you…that may not be a sports issue, but ended up being a sports issue and then how that helps you build a team, with those principles?
DL: Simple. Number one, my father was all about work ethic. You’re talking about a guy that worked two jobs, eight hours in a factory then eight hours as a janitor so it was really hard to be exposed to that type of work ethic and it would be awfully hard for it not to have an influence on you. I can still see him coming home from his first job and then go and work as a janitor and then basically getting sleep and then doing it again. When I started getting older, he actually started taking me with him when he did his janitor route, to learn some of life’s lessons. I remember him telling me things like…he’d clean the office buildings after work at the factory…’you know you’ve got to get an education because you want to be working in this office’…that type of thing…it was also because I was raised partly by my grandmother in a family of fourteen when I was really young, and my grandfather was the same way. He set the record at the Uniroyal Rubber Company, for not missing a day of work for like forty years and so that clearly was put into me at an early age, about work. Secondly as far as the influence on the “team things”, my father first off, he’d probably go to my grandfather, because again a big family…I was an only child, I grew up, like I said, I think there were twelve of us in that house and my grandfather was actually a great leader as far as making sure everybody was together and that feeling of tightness that he felt, was crucial. I guess a classic Italian family. My father, as far as team, the one thing he used to…I was probably much better a baseball player than I was a hockey player and he coached little league baseball. Probably two things—he was a “big time team guy”. I think part of it…working the factory-…he was a strong union guy and again it was all about staying together and there were times he was on strike and he would say things about those guys who would cross the line and not sticking together. He did time in the Air Force reserves which is “BIG”…again he worked weekends, there was an Air Force base not far from us so I was exposed to that and that was a “big time team setting” and I still remember to this day I think I was eight years old and I was a top baseball player at a young age and we were playing in one of Western Mass. tournaments and I probably should have been pitching, when you’re young it’s shortstop or pitcher and I said a not flattering comment about the guy who was pitching and that it ‘should be me’ and he hit me so hard at that age…I‘ve never forgot it and he put his finger up and he said ‘don’t you ever say anything about a teammate like that again’ and I don’t think I ever did. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. And I often wonder because people say that about me, why you such a team guy, “team, team, team” and again I think it was the whole influence but there’s also those critical moments and I think from that day forward…“message received”. You never say anything about a teammate again no matter how right you are. So that’s pretty much it in a nutshell…but he was “big time work ethic”…”big time team”.
JF: What you just touched on leads to my next question. We certainly have a great deal of respect for the military and what they do, you said you grew up near an Air Force base and I know you use military analogies all the time and parallels all the time, is it because you know it’s a “unit”?
DL: Yeah, no question.
JF: …And a hockey team is a unit. The word that comes to me when I think of the military is “discipline”. I know I am leading you here…but…how do you think that works in sports?
DL: It’s all there. I once looked that up too. If you go back in history where sport came from, there is that school of thought re the Olympics…the Olympics were all war events, chariot riding, throwing spears, throwing discus…hey had to find a way to train when there was nobody to fight, so that’s where sport came from. How can I keep these guys battle ready and then turn it in to a competition? So the essence of sport goes right back to war? Again, you think of the original Olympics, they were military events so its “seeds” are in war and I’ve always said that sports stands on its own but for those who say its entertainment, I think the athlete aspires more to the military man than the entertainer. They’re totally different, the athlete, his values in being “true to himself” is totally different from an entertainer, who in essence makes his living “being someone he’s not”. If you look at an actor, it’s being someone you’re not, where with an athlete it’s all about being “who you are”, so for those who say it’s entertainment, I don’t see a connection at all, where you can clearly see it, is in the military.
I was exposed to uncles who went to Vietnam, that’s where my interest first really took root, I went through a period, where I wanted to see what my uncles went through and the more I read, the more I became fascinated with it, because that generation that was older, that was their war. And to talk to those guys in what they know about team and “team together”, it’s something that you and I will never understand because they understand if that guy next to me is not “truly my brother”, I’m not going to survive. That’s very different from going out and scoring goals. Their essence of “teammate” is way beyond anything that the athlete has to go through…it’s life or death. And if you read the history of Vietnam, it goes all the way back, but it’s always about your wingman and making sure your flanks are covered…depending upon every part of an operation…depending upon the guy next to you…or it’s going to fail. And so if you can get your team to operate with those values, I mean you’ve got such a leg up and when it gets harder and harder I guess at times today with the money and the emphasis on entertaining and those things but those core values are critical and they’re all military traits. From there I went to studying guys like Lee, Grant, Rommel…Rommel was off the charts for strategy and preparation.
So the thing about the military, again, a lot of my uncles went through basic training and things…the whole thing about “stripping the individual down”, you see that in the movies sometimes when that guy gets on going ‘hey maggot.’ There’s a conscious thing you strip away the individuality and then build him back up as a teammate. They have to go to that extreme because it becomes life or death but I find those men fascinating from so many angles, from how you bring a group together, leadership qualities, having attachment. I tell players, even guys in San Jose, want to hear the ‘Hamburger Hill’ story? I mean, I’m amazed, I got some close attachments to that part of Vietnam and to tell the story the way it’s been told to me, I’m amazed that even those guys, they ask me…’Did you tell your team the Hamburger Hills story’? So it clearly resonates with your players too and it should, because then look at everything that you guys use when a game is going on, you know ‘that guys a warrior’…’kill’em’. Those are all terms that we see in war efforts. I’m also amazed by the bonds. I know you’re a former player and you like to think that the bonds you had of guys you played with, but the bonds these guys have, particularly guys that have been together in ‘life or death situations’, you talk about your name being on the Cup…being joined for life…these guys names will not be on the Cup but you’re going to bet they’re joined together for life.