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By BOB YORK
The National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild hired a new general manager this spring. It will be his task to transform what has been a consistent winner during the regular season into a franchise that will continue to be a force once the postseason begins. If successful in finally bringing a Stanley Cup … or two … or three … to this region recognized as “The State of Hockey,” who knows, maybe future generations of Wild fans may grow up convinced that their beloved hometown of Saint Paul derived its name from the team’s productive GM: Paul Fenton.
Fenton’s ascension from assistant GM with the Nashville Predators to the Wild’s GM job marked at least three recent NHL transactions that raised some eyebrows throughout the Northeast. The other moves featured head coaching jobs, as the New York Rangers hired David Quinn away from Boston University to become the club’s new man behind the bench, while the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals replaced Barry Trotz, who resigned, with former assistant coach Todd Reirden.
While all three have achieved positions in the NHL hierarchy, they also share a common bond as far as their playing days are concerned – the trio prepared to play Division I collegiate hockey by competing at New England Prep School Athletic Council schools. Fenton played his hockey at Vermont Academy (78), with Quinn earning his stripes at Kent School (84). Reirden, meanwhile, competed at Tabor Academy (90). On the collegiate level, both Fenton and Quinn played at Boston University, while Reirden attended Bowling Green University.
“The Wild got a real good guy when they got Paul Fenton,” said Jim Frey, who was an assistant hockey coach at Vermont the year Fenton spent there as a postgraduate. “ I remember him as a hard working kid who was so well respected by his peers they elected him team captain despite being a postgraduate. He was an outstanding athlete but I think what really set him apart was his sheer determination ... he wouldn’t be denied.
“He was our leading scorer that season,” remembers Frey of a Wildcat team that went 12-2 during the 1977-78 campaign. “Back in those days, prep school hockey teams played about half the games per season that prep teams play today and I’d like to think what Paul might have done had he had the opportunity to play another dozen games or so that season.”
Nevertheless, what Fenton accomplished in just 14 games was still good enough to earn him induction into the academy’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Frey, who recently retired from Vermont Academy following a 41-year career teaching science and coaching “just about every sport we have here at one time or another,” pointed out Fenton’s goal in life in his senior yearbook.
In the yearbook Fenton wrote that goal was “to work to achieve a high standard in life.”
“I think he’s already done that,” quipped Frey.
“I’m thrilled to be able to take the helm and be able to make the decisions, “ said Fenton. “All the information you gather from your people helps you make those decisions and for me, it will be satisfying to do that.
“My year at Vermont Academy actually helped me not only from a hockey standpoint but from an academic standpoint, too,” added Fenton. “It showed me a different way to prepare … to make sure you got your work done academically. Before, in high school, you just sort of got through it, so it was a great tool for me to go there. “
As for the school’s hockey program, on the 40th anniversary of his graduation, Fenton couldn’t remember a lot about that season, but he did recall “we were mostly a postgraduate team … we were older than typical high school teams and although I don’t remember our record (12-2), I do believe we were quite successful that year.”
Quinn, meanwhile, turned in a strong showing for Kent in just two years there and – like Fenton – was later rewarded for his efforts by being inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The Cranston, R.I., native didn’t have to wait until his induction, however, to realize how successful his prep career had been as shortly after graduation, the Minnesota North Stars made him the 13th player chosen in the 1984 NHL Draft.
Quinn’s early selection in the draft and hall of fame induction can easily be explained by a simple glance at what he and his team accomplished during his two years with the Lions. During Quinn’s two-year stint, Kent won back-to-back Housatonic Valley League championships and went 21-3-1 before falling in the finals of the New England Prep School Tournament.
Individual plaudits were numerous as well, as Quinn produced 62 points in 48 games on 12 goals and 40 assists and earned a pair of first-team berths on the New England Prep School All-Star Team. He served as co-captain of the hockey team both his junior and senior years and was named captain of the football and baseball teams his senior year.
Reirden has the distinction of having competed for two schools during his prep school career. He spent his sophomore year at Deerfield Academy, before moving on to play his junior and senior campaigns at Tabor. Despite playing defense, he, like Quinn, posted some pretty serious offensive figures. In total, Reirden surpassed the century mark in points, reaching 111 on 35 goals and 76 assists. He collected 60 points at Tabor on 16 goals and 44 assists, while he produced 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points for the Big Green.
Reirden’s prep school production got him selected by the New Jersey Devils with the 242nd pick of the 1990 NHL draft. He opted, however, for four-year tour of duty at Bowling Green, where he chalked up 76 points on 24 goals and 52 assists before turning pro.
Fenton’s trek to the NHL wasn’t as ceremonious as Quinn’s or Reirden’s, as the Springfield, Mass., native went undrafted and signed with the Peoria Prancers of the International Hockey League in 1981 following his junior year at BU. Fenton, who chalked up 63 points in just 57 games for the Terriers on 31 goals and 32 assists, made a name for himself in the IHL his rookie year. That season, he tallied 60 goals and 51 assists for 111 points in 82 games and was named the winner of the Ken McKenzie Trophy, which the IHL annually presents to its most outstanding America-born rookie.
In 1985, Fenton joined the Hartford Whalers and began a decade’s worth of skating time throughout the NHL. When his career came to a close in 1992, Fenton had logged a total of 411 games among the Whalers, Rangers, Kings, Jets, Maple Leafs, Flames and Sharks. During that span he collected 183 points on 100 goals and 83 assists. His career was highlighted by a 32-18–50-point performance for the Jets in 1989-90 and a 43-point effort on 20 goals and 23 assists for the Kings in 1987-88.
Prior to attending Vermont Academy, Fenton proved to be one of the premier high school hockey players throughout the western Mass. area during a highly decorated four-year career during the mid 1970s at Springfield Cathedral High School. The highlight of which was helping lead the Panthers to the 1976 state championship game, where they fell to Winthrop High School, 4-1, at the Boston Garden.
“Paul is uniquely suited for this job having played 10 years of professional hockey and holding 25 years of management experience in the NHL,” said Wild owner Craig Leipold, in a statement prior to Fenton’s introduction as the team’s new GM in May. “His gift of evaluating talent is obvious in Nashville’s roster and recent success … he’s the right person to deliver a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.”
Leipold knows of what he speaks. As assistant general manager of the Predators, Fenton, who takes over a Wild roster with one former NEPSAC player – Charlie Coyle (Thayer Academy) – on it, oversaw amateur player development, managed the team professional and amateur scouting staff and oversaw drafts that produced such NHL mainstays as Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, Roman Josi and Seth Jones.
Quinn logged six goals and 42 assists for 48 points over a three-year career playing with the Terriers’ blue-line crew before returning a decade later as their head coach. In just five years behind the BU bench, he rang up a 105-67-21 record, won a pair of Hockey East championships, one Beanpot Tournament title and took the school to four NCAA tournament appearances, including the 2015 title game.
“David is the ideal choice to bring our loyal and passionate fans the kind of team they deserve,” said Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton of Quinn, who will have at least three former NEPSAC skaters on his Ranger roster this fall: Chris Kreider (Phillips Andover), Jimmy Vesey (Belmont Hill) and Rob O’Gara (Milton Academy). “During a coaching career that has spanned more than two decades, he has helped his teams achieve success while also teaching the game and helping his players develop on the ice as well as off it.”
“Everything just aligned … this is really the only situation I would have left BU for,” Quinn told the media during introductory press conference. “This was a fit I couldn’t pass up.”
This will mark Reirden’s 26th season in the professional ranks, as he spent 13 years as a player and will now be entering his 13th as a coach. All but three of those years coaching have been spent in the NHL, as he paid his dues by serving two of those years as head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He served as an assistant coach for the Penguins for four years before moving on to be an assistant coach with the Capitals for the 2014-15 season, where he has been in charge of the defensemen and the power play that has consistently been among the league’s best. Now, he has inherited the top job.
“We feel that the time is right for Todd to lead our hockey club,” said Brian MacLellan, the Caps’ general manager. “Based on his coaching experience, communication abilities, his approach to the game and the respect he commands in our locker room, we feel he has earned this opportunity.”
Reirden’s NHL career consisted of 183 games, which were spent with the Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes, posting 11 goals and 35 assists for 46 points. His minor league ports of call were numerous, as he played 250 games in the American Hockey League, 192 in the International Hockey League and 91 in the East Coast Hockey League.
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