March 2008

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One of the joys of being president of an institution like Middlebury is to meet many of the College’s alums while on the road.  Fundraising trips can get stale quickly, but having the opportunity to meet interesting people makes being on the road enjoyable. Last week, my wife Jessica and I met several alums of note, but one meeting stands out: a lunch meeting with Phil Latreille, class of 1961.

Latreille is a legend for his prowess on the ice.  He holds the collegiate single season scoring record of 80 goals—this is not just a Middlebury record, but a record for collegiate hockey.  Those 80 goals translate into four goals per game (the 1960-61 Panthers played 21 games, going 19-2).  For comparison sake, the entire Middlebury hockey team this past year scored 96 goals, and those were scored in 27 games.

Because I have been an avid hockey fan since the age of 5, the first half hour of our lunch, not surprisingly, was all about hockey.  Latreille played for the New York Rangers right out of Middlebury, and though he had a short stint in the NHL, one needs to remember that major league hockey back then had only six teams as opposed to the 30(!) today.  That means if each team carried 20 players, one had to be among the top 120 players to make the NHL in Latreille’s day, while today one would need to be one of about 600.

What stands out most in our conversation was Phil’s clear recollection and telling of his time at Middlebury, and how, he said, it was the right place for him to have gone to college, as opposed to the large D-I institutions that had recruited him to play hockey.  He mentioned the importance of meeting his wife at Middlebury, he spoke about his relationship with his coach, the legendary Duke Nelson, about the friends he developed on the hockey team (the five other freshmen who, along with Phil, changed the face of Middlebury hockey), and he commented on the faculty, who he remembered as being genuinely caring and involved with him and other Middlebury students.  He noted two faculty members in particular—John Clagett and Horace Beck.

Phil began his studies at Middlebury more than 50 years ago, yet the things that were most important to him about the College were the same things I hear from students today: the close and meaningful relationships one develops with fellow students, faculty, and staff, and the freedom one has to delve as deeply as one wishes into one’s academic interests with faculty willing to help in those pursuits.

Though Phil’s historic 80-goal season was 47 years ago, one could feel the magic of such a talent so many years later, and simply over a lunch.  It was a pleasure to have finally met and engaged him, and it was most meaningful and gratifying for me to have heard that the core values of a Middlebury education—what one experiences here—have not changed.

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