Pioneer Coach Lou Vairo Inducted into USA Hockey Hall of Fame
Last week, the United States Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Lou Vairo into its prestigious institution in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for his trailblazing coaching contributions to the sport, which includes introducing the European style to countless young American players.
Remaining modest, Vario took the esteemed recognition in stride. He never thought as a kid playing roller hockey behind a supermarket in his neighborhood and ice hockey on a frozen swap behind the Brooklyn housing projects that lived in that his career would reach the heights it has.
“I feel humbled because I’m just a kid from Brooklyn,” Vario modestly said of the highly regarded
accolade. “It’s overwhelming to me. I’m almost embarrassed by the attention. It makes me think of all the people who helped me get to this point.”
One of those people are Eddie Eskanzi, who helped teach Vairo and his friends the finer points of the game, along with assisting them with forming a team, and getting them into a league.
“I wouldn’t be in hockey if it wasn’t for Eddie,” the 69-year-old Colorado Springs, Colorado, resident admitted. “I wish he was alive today so I could publicly thank him.”
Vairo’s coaching career wasn’t out of design, however. After a two-year stint in the Army, he took a job at an air-conditioning business run by Bart Grillo, who coordinated various leagues that Vairo skated in as a youth.
Grillo asked him to guide a group 15 year olds. Wanting to play instead, Vairo reluctantly accepted, but little did he know that his coaching career would take seed from that point forward.
One day at his grandparents’ home he was watching a game between the Soviet Union and Sweden on television. The Soviet lighting quick whirling style of play fascinated the wide-eyed kid. It prompted him to scribe Soviet coach Anatoly Tarasov a letter, asking him how he could learn their methods.
A few months later, Tarasov wrote him back and invited Vairo to come to Moscow. In 1972, Vairo took out a $3,500 bank loan and boarded a plane to Mother Russia.
He stayed with Tarasov’s family and absorbed the techniques that emphasized finesse and fitness over physicality. In 1975, his team, which used the methods that Vairo learned in Russia, captured the New York State junior championship.
Soon after, Vairo’s system and success garnered the attention of the Minnesota hockey world, a hotbed for the sport. He left New York City for Austin, Minnesota, and spent three seasons as coach of the Austin Mavericks in the United States Hockey League, leading the team to the national championship in 1976.
Once again, the European style that Vairo taught grabbed someone’s attention. This time it was Herb Brooks, who asked him to serve as a scout for the 1980 USA Olympic squad, who went on to capture America’s heart and the gold medal.
In addition to scouting for the 1980 USOlympic gold-medal-winning team, Vairo was the bench boss for the 1984 Olympic club. Plus, he was part of the staff of the 2002 Olympic silver medal squad. In between, from 1984-86, the Thomas Jefferson High School alum held the post as an assistant coach for the NHL New Jersey Devils.
While the game has brought him national and international acclaim, Vario never forgets why he first started playing hockey in the first place.
“We played because we liked it,” the director of special projects for USA Hockey simply said. “The motivation was because it was fun.”