Pete LoPresti is a forgotten man, if anyone ever noticed him in the first place. He was a professional athlete in a sport not very popular in the United States in the 1970s. The National Hockey League even today is a regional sport in the U.S.A. LoPresti was an American-born goaltender for a mostly awful team, the Minnesota North Stars. He was called upon in the mid-70s to replace a retiring Hall of Famer named Lorne “Gump” Worsley. The North Stars’ other regular goalie was a solid net minder named Cesare Maniago. Worsley had been playing since the late 1940s. Maniago was also getting old for the position and struggling with injuries.
The young LoPresti got tossed into a role he maybe wasn’t ready for. One night early in his career he gave up seven goals in a match versus Montreal. A reporter told the young goaltender he had given up the 10,000th goal in Montreal history. “At least I only gave up seven,” he quipped. In a historical twist, LoPresti’s father faced the most shots of any goaltender in a regulation game. A staggering 83 and impressively stopped 80 from going in the net. Neither LoPresti was Hall of Fame material. In the late 1970s Montreal was winding down a stretch where the club had won 16 Stanley Cups over a quarter century. For a few funny bounces of the puck it could’ve been 20 championships. The Montreal team of 1976-77 is considered the greatest of all time. For most of the decade the starting goaltender was Hall of Famer Ken Dryden. While playing on six Stanley Cup winners Dryden faced maybe 15 or 16 shots on a busy night. He retired young and probably from boredom. Had LoPresti instead played for Montreal, it’s doubtful he would’ve been great but the team around him would’ve made him look a lot better.
Opportunity is a strange thing in sports and life. In the late 1960s the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks had a big hulking center considered too slow to ever be a serious asset. The big fellow got little playing time. One night when his coach put him into a game late with Chicago down by a 5-to-1 score, the big man got sarcastic. “Do you want me to win it or tie it?” he replied. It cost him a spot on the team. The Blackhawks traded Phil Esposito to Boston. Sometimes a change in environment is opportunity. The muscular Esposito got to Boston and would park himself in front of the net of an opponent. He was difficult to move. Teammate Bobby Orr would fire a shot from the blue line. If it didn’t go in then Esposito would crank the rebound into the net. The tandem shattered scoring records. Esposito racked up season point totals that were double what most top stars were posting just a few seasons earlier. A decade would pass before the arrival of players named Gretzky and Lemieux and the fall of the records established in Boston in the early to mid-70s.
Orr and Esposito represent symbiotic success. Working together they made the best of their combined skills. I’m reminded of my days as a television news director. It’s no exaggeration to claim I would get hundreds of demo tapes when I would post a job opening. Eventually the list would be narrowed to a few and when one person was hired I saved the applications of the remaining best. Later when I might hire one of the other applicants there would be questions. Why didn’t I hire him or her the first time around? Because I didn’t think the skill set matched the position at the time, but I would remember the best for the day when a match arose. Evaluating talent is objective. According to my superiors I had a keen eye for talent. My bosses didn’t toss around compliments well but they did often raid my top staff for larger markets. Many of my hires almost 20 years ago populate large market and network newsrooms today.
Before I got into news management I worked at a medium sized TV market and was considered a good storyteller. For a brief period I was considered for an 11 p.m. anchor slot. Instead it went to a younger co-worker named David Muir. In retrospect it was a great choice by management. He was a rising star and today anchors ABC News. David realized the job title was anchor. I thought it was reporter. While I wouldn’t mind his paycheck I enjoy what I do today far more than reading a teleprompter.
You thought this was a story about a sport you don’t like, right? No, it’s a story about outcomes and differences in abilities and talent. Oh, and life isn’t fair. Ken Dryden could’ve spent large portions of games napping. The LoPresti family always had to hustle and even then, hard work doesn’t always mean success. Without effort there isn’t success. Winning the lottery doesn’t count. A jackpot you’ll blow through in three years isn’t success.
We’ve got a couple of generations (at least) of social engineers, academics and bureaucrats who believe they can enshrine fairness. They believe they can create equality of outcomes. They spend piles of money confiscated from taxpayers in the belief everyone can benefit if we pound a square peg into a round hole. There’s a reason I’m not a mathematician plotting launch trajectories at NASA. Math isn’t my strong suit. I didn’t play professional sports because I’m slow on my feet and nearsighted and skate like I’m stuck in wet cement. No law or regulation would’ve ever made me a talented hockey player or TV anchor or rocket scientist. In the fifth grade I was one of the better players on my Pony League football team. I didn’t get the outstanding lineman trophy. Our tight end got more votes from teammates. He caught four touchdown passes. Memory is fuzzy, but it may have been the only scores we had all year and our two victories came against a single opponent (imagine how they felt).
Life is more often about loss than victory. When I was a boy I was an avid reader of newspaper columns and one of my favorite writers was historian Jim Bishop. When I got to meet him as a teenager I was thrilled. Bishop had no success in life until just before turning 50 years old. Then one day he was in the newsroom when all of his colleagues started giving him long looks. The wires were clattering with news of a book titled “The Day Lincoln Was Shot.” Bishop had spent years writing it, and when it was published he went from breadlines to Broadway. A column Bishop wrote more than 20 after his first big success is still with me. He was watching children sledding on a nearby hill on a snowy day. They would trudge upward in knee-deep powder and dragging sleds. This could take several minutes. The joyous trip downhill lasted but a few seconds. He reminded readers it’s a metaphor for life.
Tomorrow morning I plan to be awake just after 3 o’clock. I’ll feed a big furry cat and brew some coffee and get started on another day. The alternative isn’t at all pleasant.