Former Player Honors Coaching Legend With $1.5 Million Endowment

John McLennan, George Roll and Clarkson President Tony Collins honor Len Ceglarski (seated) prior to the start of the Clarkson-BC game - photo by Chris Lenney
John McLennan, George Roll and Clarkson President Tony Collins honor Len Ceglarski (seated) prior to the start of the Clarkson-BC game - photo by Chris Lenney

By Miranda Lenning

Len Ceglarski didn't travel to a hockey rink in Cornwall, Ontario, in the winter of 1964 to offer John McLennan an athletic scholarship. On a routine recruiting trip, the Clarkson University head hockey coach simply went to watch a game scout a couple of players. McLennan's impressive performance on the ice earned him a post-game locker room visit from the head coach and a few minutes later, an athletic scholarship to Clarkson University.

"I'll never forget him walking up to me in the dressing room and asking me if I wanted to play hockey at Clarkson," McLennan recalls. "I didn't even know what he was offering me at the time."

McLennan, who retired as the president and CEO of Bell Canada in 1997, said it didn't take him long to realize that Ceglarski had given him the opportunity of a lifetime. Along with a ticket to college and a chance to play hockey, McLennan said Ceglarski taught him life lessons that informed his success both professionally and personally. 

"Lenny made me understand that you have to be prepared to make a commitment to yourself, your teammates and to your school to be at the highest level," McLennan said. "After three years of playing for him, that finally got to me. He had to get through a lot of thickness in my cranium."

McLennan recently honored his former coach with a $1.5 million endowment to the "Leonard S. Ceglarski Chair," funding the Clarkson men's head hockey coach position. Ceglarski was recognized in a ceremony before last Saturday's matchup between Clarkson and Boston College at Clarkson's Cheel Arena with many of his friends and former players in attendance.  

"Lenny has positively impacted so many people as a coach, a mentor and a friend," McLennan said. "I have such respect and affection for him and for Clarkson that I wanted to enrich the tradition of Clarkson hockey by making Lenny a permanent fixture in the program."

Celebrating decades of success for both Clarkson and Boston College, the ceremony brought together former players and coaches that are deeply intertwined with the two collegiate programs.

Ceglarski coached at Clarkson from 1958 to1972. In 1970, he gave current Boston College head coach Jerry York his first coaching opportunity as a Clarkson assistant. When Ceglarski left Clarkson and returned to his alma mater, Boston College, in 1972, he behind left a .717 winning percentage and three national championship appearances. York then succeeded him as the Golden Knights' head coach. Seven years later, in 1979, York took the head coaching position at Bowling Green State University, where he coached current Clarkson hockey coach, George Roll. In 1994, two years after Ceglarski retired, York assumed the head coaching position at Boston College, where he coached John McLennan's son, Mark, from 1997-2001. 

York said it was an honor to return to Clarkson last Saturday, as a current coach of one program and the former coach of another. 

"I was really proud to see Lenny honored like that around all of his friends and family," York said. "It was hard to just coach out there because of all the flashbacks. I was looking across the rink at George and Lenny, and there was just a great deal of nostalgia."

Clarkson defeated 11th ranked Boston College, 4-2 in the Jan. 5th matchup.

Throughout his career, Ceglarski compiled a long list of awards including the1990 Lester Patrick Award; the Spencer Penrose Award in 1966, 1973 and 1985; and a 1992 induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Not to mention that when he retired in 1992, he was the winningest coach in college hockey.

Still, Ceglarski said this was the greatest honor he had ever received.

"Not only is it an honor for me and for John McLennan, but it is something that is going to be in our family history for many years to come," Ceglarski said. "All of those years at Clarkson, I had so many wonderful players and the community members have given my wife and me so much to be thankful for."