Former USA Hockey president Walter Bush passes away at 86

walter_bushWalter L. Bush, Jr., passed away Sept. 22 at the age of 86, just three days shy of his 87th birthday.

USA Hockey’s co-chairman of the board, former president and namesake of USA Hockey’s national headquarters – The Walter L. Bush, Jr., Center – in Colorado Springs, Bush played an integral role in the growth of hockey in the United States since beginning his service for the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States in 1956.

“Walter Bush has been the single most influential person in the development and evolution of the structure of amateur hockey in the United States,” said Ron DeGregorio, co-chairman of the board of USA Hockey, in a statement. “He was a leader in the Olympic movement and his passion for sport was evident each and every day. We’ll miss him dearly, in particular his wisdom and wit.”

“Walter’s a big reason why our sport is as strong as it is today,” added Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. “He’s been a mentor to so many, including myself. USA Hockey and the sport overall are so much better because of Walter Bush.”

“Walter’s passing is a tremendously sad moment not only for our organization, but for the entire hockey community,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “He helped create opportunities for so many because of his unending passion and commitment to advancing our sport. He’ll be missed more than words can describe and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family.”

Born in Minneapolis on Sept. 25, 1929, Bush learned to play hockey at a military school before attending Dartmouth from 1947 to 1951. He went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota’s law school and skate for a pair of United States Hockey League teams – the Minneapolis Culbertsons and the Minneapolis Millers – before turning his focus to the administrative side of the sport.

From 1955 to 1958, Bush served as president for the newly created Central Hockey League before signing on as a member of the AHAUS’s (now USA Hockey) board of directors in 1959. That year, he served as a team manager for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and helped convince the Soviet Union to make an appearance in the United States for the first time. He went on to serve as a director for the United States Olympic Committee during the 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., and later served as general manager of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team in 1964.

The Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association’s president from 1961-63, Bush helped run the CHL’s Minneapolis Bruins as owner and president from 1963 to 1965 before turning his sights to the National Hockey League. He successfully bid for an expansion franchise in his home town, and served as president of the Minnesota North Stars for over 10 years (1966-76) and chairman of the board from 1976-78.

“Walter Bush was a formidable presence at all levels of the hockey world,” stated NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “Walter made important and lasting contributions to the sport. His impact was felt, nationally and internationally, in the professional and the amateur ranks, in women’s hockey as well as men’s. Most important, Walter was a wonderful man – loved and respected and a delight to be with.”

In 1972, Bush became the first-ever U.S. born official named to the Hockey Hall of Fame Board of Directors, and was honored with the Lester Patrick Award in 1973 for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States. In 1980, he was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and, 20 years later, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

In 1986, Bush was named president of AHAUS, a role he would take on for 17 years until his retirement in 2003. During that span, he also served served on the U.S. Olympic Committee Board of Directors from 1989 to 1993 and again from 1996 to 2003, was named the U.S. Olympic Foundation secretary in 1997 and was an owner of the American Hockey League’s Kentucky Thoroughblades from 1996-2001. Bush received the Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee in 2002, the highest honor of the Olympic movement.

Additionally, he served on the International Ice Hockey Federation Council from 1986 to 2008, and played a key role in instituting the first-ever IIHF World Women’s Championship in 1990. Bush went on to serve as the IIHF vice president from 1994 to 202008, and was elected to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2009.

“International hockey wouldn’t be what it is today without his impact,” said Rene Fasel, president of the IIHF. “I doubt women’s hockey would be an Olympic sport today had Walter not pushed so hard for it in the mid-90s.”

In 2003, Bush was named chairman of the board of USA Hockey, a role he held until his passing.

Funeral arrangements are pending.