When he accepted the job in the late 1970s, it was with the personal
understanding that he would provide a five-year commitment. After that he
would likely move on again, perhaps falling back on his law degree or even
pursue other ventures.
Let’s just say that plan didn’t materialize and the five years evolved into
a lifetime career.
Now, after decades in the game and countless contributions to the execution
of initiatives and achievements as Canada’s former top amateur hockey
administrator, Murray Costello will receive the Order of Hockey in Canada.
Certainly, it’s an honour Costello is proud to accept, similar to his
Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 2005, but in the case of both he doesn’t
feel comfortable basking solely in the glow of reverence.
“I’m not trying to feign any false modesty,” Costello admits. “But I feel
guilty about it all because so many people worked so hard to make it
happen. The way I see it is hockey is a team game on the ice, but it’s also
a team game off the ice.”
Costello served as president of the Canada Amateur Hockey Association from
1978 to 1998. He oversaw and helped nurture unprecedented growth in the
game, both nationally and internationally that included advanced female
participation and the merging of the CAHA and old Hockey Canada groups into
one unified and robust governing body now known as Hockey Canada.
Now at 83, Costello uniquely has spent his life in the game of hockey.
“I’ve led a rather privileged life. There’s a small number of people that
can take a boyhood passion for a game and turn it into a lifelong
livelihood and then be recognized for doing so when it’s all over. That’s
what I feel my life has been about. Because working in hockey was not
Growing up in South Porcupine, Ont., Costello pursued and realized a
childhood dream so many hockey-loving Canadians possess, which is to play
in the National Hockey League.
After a stellar junior career with the St. Michael’s Majors, he eventually
ascended to the NHL, playing 162 games with three different teams, the
majority of which came with the Boston Bruins from 1954-56.
When his professional and senior careers were done, he ventured into the
management side of the game, working in Seattle with the old professional
Western Hockey League for 15 years before heading home to Ontario and
settling in Ottawa.
Upon returning east, he completed his law degree at the University of
Ottawa, graduating in 1977. As he was working toward a career in law, he
was also teaching and working on coaching certification programs in hockey.
At the same time, with the hockey business expanding nationally, it was
decided by the CAHA board that it needed a permanent executive
administrator to move away from a volunteer base of operations.
Costello was encouraged to apply for the job, and was eventually hired as
the first full-time CAHA president. That’s really where his legacy in the
game started to unfold.
Looking back at his time as president, Costello can’t pick just one
highlight – he goes with three.
First, he convinced the late Ed Chynoweth in the early 1980s to include the
best Major Junior players on the Canadian roster for the IIHF World Junior
Chynoweth was the president of the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella
organization for the three major junior leagues in Canada, the Western
Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“That was a hard sell,” said Costello. “They didn’t want to give up their
best players over the holidays because that’s when most of the teams would
experience their best crowds. We worked hard at trying to convince them
because they could show what their league is to the world, not just
Eventually Chynoweth agreed and the Program of Excellence was born. The
decision paid immediate dividends, as Canada claimed its first World
Juniors gold at the 1982 tournament in Minnesota.
“From that point, we never really looked back,” he said.
Costello is also extremely proud of the growth and fostering of women’s
hockey during his CAHA tenure. In 1990, he guided the association into
hosting the first IIHF World Women’s Championship in Ottawa.
That event and its overwhelming success both on and off the ice in the
nation’s capital helped energize and pave the way for the acceptance of the
women’s game into the Winter Olympics.
“It was really well received,” said Costello. “That kind of kicked off the
women’s game. And that has grown beyond anything we thought would happen.”
But perhaps his most cherished accomplished in the game, something he
called “the biggest of them all” was the merging of the two different
Canadian hockey organizations.
When he started with the CAHA, it was one of two groups to regulate the
game in Canada. The other was the old Hockey Canada organization, which was
more to facilitate larger, profitable events like the Canada Cup and other
After operating cohesively but independently for the most part, Costello
was able to unite them into one association in 1994 as the Canadian Hockey
Association, and eventually Hockey Canada.
The move allowed for the proceeds of major events to trickle down to the
grassroots level. It also played a key role in ensuring development on the
minor hockey side while also integrating top professional players in the
NHL into international competition like the IIHF World Championship and
eventually the Olympics.
“I’m very grateful we were able to do that,” said Costello. “Today our
educational programs are taken all over the globe. We’ve really helped to
grow the game in all parts of the world.”
After leaving Hockey Canada in 1998, Costello joined the International Ice
Hockey Federation as a council member and a decade later became an IIHF
vice-president until his retirement in 2012.
Today he is an IIHF Life Member and remains a member of the Hockey Hall of
Fame board, all while working on 57 years of marriage to his wife, Denise,
whom he shares six children and six grandchildren with, although he says
he’s ready to really pull back from the game and enjoy full-time
“Retirement is good once you learn how to slow down and enjoy it,” he said.