HOCKEY: THE PATRICK FAMILY BUSINESS
Three generations of Patricks – from Lester and Frank to Lynn and Muzz to Craig, Glenn and Dick – have shaped the way hockey is played in the past 100 years. The Patrick family is credited with many hockey innovations: player numbers, artificial ice rinks, line substitutions, and the establishment of both the playoffs and the minor league farm system.
The branches of that tree continue to grow.
Curtiss and Ryan represent the fourth generation of Patricks trying to earn their place in hockey history as members of the Wheeling Nailers, Pittsburgh’s minor league ECHL affiliate. Both 26 years old, the two cousins hope different career paths will take them to the NHL: Curtiss is trying to make it as a player, while Ryan hopes to make strides off the ice as the Nailers’ Assistant Director of Hockey Operations/Media Relations.
“It’s pretty neat to read all about the things they did back then,” Curtiss said. “It’s exciting to be part of professional hockey. My goal is to try to someday work my way up there to the NHL so I can be part of a fourth generation.”
“My family has accomplished great things in the past. I could only dream that, some day, I could do something like that,” Ryan said. “It’s an honor to have this name, but I am just going to try and keep up with some of the stuff they have done. Maybe some day, I will be there [in the NHL].”
They are joined in Wheeling by head coach Glenn Patrick, who is the father of Curtiss and uncle of Ryan. This is a unique situation for all three.
“It’s a thrill to come to the rink every day and be able to coach Curtiss. He has a great attitude and is an easy guy to coach,” said Glenn, who last coached his son 14 years ago when his son was as a 12-year-old. “Having Ryan here as part of the deal has been an added bonus.”
It was a surprise to all the Patricks that Glenn is behind the bench in Wheeling. He is in his 12th year with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, including four as head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Glenn spent the last two seasons as a Penguins scout before the Wheeling coaching job opened in the summer.
“Glenn is actually under contract to be a pro scout for us. When Wheeling lost their coach this summer, they contacted him to see if he was interested in coaching, which he definitely was,” said Pittsburgh General Manager Craig Patrick, Glenn’s brother. “They called to see if we had any problem with that. He can do some scouting for us, but it’s really limited. They took him on as a coach and I think it’s great for him because he likes to coach. It’s worked out well for Wheeling because they are doing pretty well.”
The Nailers (29-14-4) are atop the ECHL’s American Conference North Division standings.
“We’re in first place, so we’re pretty excited about that,” Glenn said. “I am excited just getting the opportunity to coach again. Everything else is a bonus.”
Ryan and Curtiss were pleasantly surprised to have Glenn take over as head coach.
“This summer, the owners [James and Robert Brooks] here told me they were looking for a new head coach [to replace Pat Bingham] and my uncle’s name came up,” Ryan said. “It’s just great to work with family. He’s very experienced and knows what it takes to get to the next level. He’s kind of helping me out getting started in my career, too.”
Ryan wouldn’t mind following in his father’s footsteps. Craig Patrick is in his 16th season as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He also was an assistant coach on the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic team and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, joining his grandfather Lester (1947), his father Lynn (1980) and his great-uncle Frank (1958).
“I think I always wanted to be an NHL player, but once that dream passed you by you start looking at what you can do. I definitely wanted to do this,” said Ryan, who has worked in Wheeling the past two years. “In college, I had to do a report on a career I’d maybe like to get into. I interviewed my dad for that paper. I knew a lot about his job already, but he went into more detail about it and I decided that was a pretty good job.”
Craig is happy to see his son involved with hockey.
“It’s nice for my son. The Brooks family hired him to do a lot of different roles down there,” he said. “He has been able to help on the coaching side with video and other things. It’s a quick way to learn how a whole organization works because I think there’s only nine employees and they all do a little of everything. It’s a great learning experience for him.”
Indeed. Ryan gets a chance to work with every aspect of the Nailers’ organization.
“I have probably done everything you could possibly do working for a team – I even wore the mascot outfit. Everyone in the office has to do it at some point,” he said. “Some of the jobs I don’t enjoy, but it’s nice to get to learn the entire business. You get to learn how the whole hockey team is run because you have done a part of every role of that organization. It really helps you out.”
Ryan, who lives in Pittsburgh, realizes that being an NHL general manager isn’t easy.
“I would love to do it, but it’s pretty tough to make it in this business,” he said. “I am going to keep trying and see where it leads me.”
In addition, Ryan knows his father is just a phone call away if he needs any guidance.
“I could call him anytime if I have a quick question,” he said. “He will be happy to help me out, which is kind of nice.”
This isn’t the first time Ryan and his cousin Curtiss have been on the same team. Both attended Penn State University and played hockey there.
“It’s great. I only got to see him about once a year until we went to school together,” said Curtiss, who is in his second year playing for the Nailers. “Now, we go out to lunch quite a bit. It’s fun to have him around here.”
Curtiss is a physical presence for Wheeling. As a defenseman last year, he had one goal, two assists and 99 penalty minutes in 47 games. He was shifted to forward this year and has one goal and two assists in 28 games.
“I am still learning a lot of things about playing forward,” Curtiss said. “It’s fun to be able to learn every day and get a little bit better. It’s a lot different mind-set being. For me, it’s better. At forward, I can go in and hit a lot and get the pucks in the corner, whereas, on defense there is a lot more pressure on you to handle the puck well.”
Curtiss has racked up 88 penalty minutes this season.
“He’s a gritty guy who sticks his face in there all the time,” Craig said of his nephew.
There is one potential drawback to the aggressive style Curtiss brings to the ice: injuries.
“I broke my hand in a fight and missed 15 games in December,” he said. “I am just going to keep trying to get better and work my way up and see how far I can go.”
Curtiss feels fortunate he is surrounded with good teachers, including his father.
“I am still learning a lot every time we play a game. My dad is helping me a lot,” he said. “I love it. We get along great. He’s really a positive coach. That helps me a lot and gives me confidence. He’s not too hard on me.”
Now, Ryan and Curtiss can add their own stories to the discussions when the Patricks get together for holidays or vacations.
“We always go to the beach in the summer for a week. The whole family gets together,” Curtiss said. “There are a lot of funny stories about things from now and in the past. It’s nice hearing all the stories about guys [Craig and Glenn] played with in the NHL.”
It all started for the Patricks in 1911 when brothers Lester and Frank Patrick started the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and introduced the use of blue lines and the penalty shot. In addition, they opened the first indoor ice arenas in Canada at that time. Both had long careers as players, coaches, innovators and executives. And, both won Stanley Cup championships.
Lester fathered the next generation of Patricks – Lynn and Muzz. The two brothers grew up in hockey and won a Stanley Cup together with the New York Rangers in 1940. Lynn coached the Rangers and served as general manager of the Boston Bruins. Muzz coached the Rangers, as well, and served as their general manager for many seasons.
Dick Patrick, Muzz’s son and a cousin to Glenn and Craig, is the president and minority owner of the Washington Capitals. Meanwhile, Craig and Glenn, Lynn’s sons, both played in the NHL. Craig became the fourth Patrick to serve as the Rangers’ head coach and third to serve as their GM. He has been in Pittsburgh for 16 seasons and guided the franchise to its only two Stanley Cup victories.
Craig hopes Ryan is the next Patrick to make an impact in an NHL front office.
“I take a lot of pride in our family heritage. I think there have only been a couple years in the NHL that there hasn’t been a Patrick around,” he said. “It’d be nice if Ryan could climb the ladder and get there, too.”