On Friday, June 9, Minnesota Hockey District Director and long time youth hockey volunteer Dennis Bushy was honored with the William Thayer Tutt Award at the USA Hockey President’s Awards Dinner.
Bushy’s infectious love of the game and caring personality has made a positive impact on countless people at the local, district and state level in Minnesota. After returning home from a three-year tour in the U.S. Army, including a period in Vietnam, it took only a short time for the nearly tireless worker who has always had a passion for hockey to volunteer to help start a youth hockey program in Benson, MN. The East Grand Forks, MN native hasn’t stopped since, spending more than 40 years enhancing the experience of youth hockey player, parents, coaches and other volunteers.
Upon moving to Moorhead, MN in 1977, Bushy became a coach at the bantam level, a position he continues to hold to this day. He would eventually move into a number of other positions including 20 years serving USA Hockey as associate coach-in-chief for Minnesota, 18 years as a coach in Minnesota Hockey’s player development programs, more than 15 years as the general manager of Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena and is approaching 10 years as District 15 director.
With such a record of service, it’s no surprise USA Hockey chose to recognize Bushy with the William Thayer Tutt Award. The award is dedicated to honoring volunteers who, during many years of service, have displayed selfless dedication to the enhancement of ice hockey at the grassroots level in the United States.
When you talk to the people who interact with him regularly though, Bushy’s legacy will be much more about the manner in which he’s served than his various titles and longevity.
“Dennis has always had a passion for not just making the players better, but he’s always wanted to make coaches better and make each organization better,” said USA Hockey coach-in-chief, Mike MacMillan. “To get any award, you have to go above and beyond the role you serve in, and he’s always done that.”
A Coach’s Coach
As a bantam coach in Moorhead, Bushy groomed a number of high end hockey players including NHLers Matt Cullen, Mark Cullen, Jason Blake, Chris VandeVelde, Brian Lee and Ryan Kraft. Moorhead’s high school team, of which nearly all of the players were influenced by Bushy in some capacity, has made 15 appearances in the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament over the past 25 years.
Yet, the quality of Bushy’s coaching went far beyond player development. Whether it was giving kids a nickname or providing a piece of equipment at just the right time, he made a point to develop a personal connection with each player.
“You can tell he cares about every kid,” said former player Rob Gramer, who now serves as Moorhead Youth Hockey Association’s executive director. “He tries to connect with them in a special way where the kid feels like he really cares about them. It’s really one of the greatest qualities that he has.”
Pittsburgh Penguin center and now three-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Cullen echoed the same sentiment:
“I just remember him being a really good coach, and he cared about the players so much. He helped me a lot. We had some really good teams. We were able to win a State Tournament under him.”
Bushy carried the same dedication into developing coaches during his time as an instructor and associate coach-in-chief for USA Hockey’s Coach Education Program (CEP).
“He’s extremely passionate about the game,” said MacMillan. “He believed in CEP, and he championed it. He was able to exude that passion for the game and for coaching the game as an instructor.”
That passion, as well as his reputation for looking beyond borders and helping coaches of all communities, led to USA Hockey recognizing Bushy with the Walter Yaciuk Award in 2014 for his contributions to the CEP program.
Moorhead’s Main Man
There are a number of communities in Minnesota known for their rich hockey tradition and local legends. Ask any former Spud who they would include in that story for Moorhead and the list will certainly include Bushy.
“He’s the heart and soul of Moorhead hockey,” said Cullen. “He has been for quite a long time.”
“He’s been so involved in every aspect of it. He’s been a coach for a long time. He’s been involved with the behind the scenes work, and obviously, he’s at the rink every day. Everybody that plays Moorhead youth hockey knows Dennis Bushy, and I would say everybody that plays Moorhead youth hockey loves Dennis Bushy.”
Having been so involved with Moorhead hockey for an extended period of time, Bushy is often the reference point for any alumni who reach back out the program.
“When you walk in, he remembers you, he’s happy to see you, and he usually does something that is unexpected and above and beyond,” said Gramer, who experienced it himself upon returning to Moorhead and now sees it regularly while working alongside Bushy.”It makes you feel like Dennis remembers me, Dennis cares. It’s remarkable how consistent it is.”
Another great example of how beloved Bushy is in Moorhead comes from Cullen, who returns to Moorhead each summer and trains at Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena:
“It was my first year winning it in 2006. We brought the [Stanley] Cup to the rink so all of the youth hockey kids could get a picture with it. We brought it to the back door, and Dennis was there. I handed him the Cup, and I’ll never forget it. He had tears in his eyes lifting that thing up over his head…. It’s to this day one of my favorite memories that I have with the Cup.”
“You just feel fortunate,” said Gramer, whose sons are now in MYHA and being coached by Bushy. “You’re lucky if you have one or two of those guys in your community, and we have one.”
All About the Kids
With common challenges such as volunteer turnover, differing opinions, unrealistic expectations and more, being a long term leader of a youth sports program isn’t easy. Many programs and communities struggle to consistently maintain the level of excellence they strive for.
One of the reasons Moorhead has been able to sustain a high level of numbers and performance is a specific strength of Bushy’s and a core value of the association.
“Everything that he does around here is with the kids in mind,” said Gramer. “Decisions aren’t based around what’s best for him or best for the agenda of the board or the hockey committee. It’s always around what’s in the best interest of our kids.”
“The thing that sets him apart is how much he cares,” said Cullen. “He cares so much about each kid, and it’s not just me as a professional. It’s every kid.”
Perhaps, the most important part of it though is how genuine it is. Stories of Dennis keeping a candy jar available to surprise young kids who come into the rink or driving in from the lake in the summer, even on holidays, so alumni can train display his deep-rooted ambition for serving others.
“He served our country as a kid in the military,” said Gramer. “He came home and never stopped. He’s been serving his community in the same way, with the same commitment ever since. It’s just who he is.”
Minnesota Hockey would like to congratulate Dennis Bushy on the William Thayer Tutt Award and thank him for his many years of outstanding contributions to the game of hockey at all levels in Minnesota!