On the cusp of becoming the then-winningest college hockey coach in history, Len Ceglarski shrugged off praise to focus on gratitude.
“Records are nice, I guess, but I honestly don’t pay much attention to them,” the former Boston College coach told the Globe in 1987, when he was a win away from setting a mark for victories. “Hockey to me really isn’t numbers and records. To me, hockey is all the fine people I met over the years. And where did all those years go?”
Into the history books, for starters. Mr. Ceglarski, who lived in Duxbury, was 91 when he died Saturday. Upon retiring in 1992 with 673 wins — a record that has since been eclipsed — he was the only hockey coach to have won more than 250 games at two colleges, BC and what is now Clarkson University.
He became a coach after a solid playing career that began in boyhood on ice rinks in Walpole. As a Boston College sophomore, Mr. Ceglarski scored a goal in the 1949 championship game during the second-ever NCAA tournament, helping BC secure its first national hockey title. He subsequently skated for the silver medal-winning US hockey team at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo.
His 20-year overall coaching record of 419-272-27 at Boston College included eight NCAA Frozen Four appearances, four NCAA title games, two Hockey East Tournament titles, and six Hockey East regular season championships in an eight-year stretch.
“Hockey’s lost a true giant, one that a lot of the younger coaches should emulate,” said former Harvard University hockey coach Bill Cleary. “And aside from all the victories, he was a true gentleman and a terrific guy. And that to me is more important.”
Cleary added that “you knew his teams were going to go play the game the way it was meant to be played.”
For Mr. Ceglarski, that meant smart puck handling, lots of passing, and players who placed teamwork above personal glory. “Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room,” a 2014 book by Tom Burke and Reid Oslin, recounts an anecdote from Mr. Ceglarski’s youth, when his father told him: “Lenny, for every goal you score, I will give you a nickel. But for every assist, I will give you a dime.”
Mr. Ceglarski adhered to that approach during 34 years as a college head coach. “Every year, I would tell the kids, ‘If you don’t pass the puck, you are going to sit on your rear end,’ ” he told Burke and Oslin.
Hockey East, a Division 1 collegiate conference, created a sportsmanship award in Mr. Ceglarski’s name after he retired that is given to a player each year.
“His players loved playing for him and he was really a student of the game,” said former Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker. “He respected the game as much as any coach who’s been in the business. He wanted it done the right way.”
Dan Shea of Milton, a BC cocaptain in 1988, said Mr. Ceglarski “was a father figure to all of us. He was an old-style coach who cared about every player who played for him.”
The youngest of eight children born to Stella and Antony Ceglarski, Leonard Stanley Ceglarski grew up in Walpole. His father, a Polish immigrant, worked in the shingle mill for Bird & Son in East Walpole.
Mr. Ceglarski graduated from Walpole High School, where he was a hockey and baseball star. To better prepare for BC academically, he took postgraduate classes at Huntington Prep in Boston. “My brothers and sisters took up a collection to send me there,” he told Burke and Oslin. Lacking tuition money once he was ready for college, Mr. Ceglarski worked seven days a week for two years in a paper mill “from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. doing piece work every day, taking a half hour off, and then working the 3:30 to 10 p.m. shift driving a small truck for the company.”
Attending college was no easier. He received an athletic grant to play two sports, but had no spare funds to rent a room near campus. Leaving home in Walpole at 6:30 a.m., he caught a ride with one of his brothers to Norwood and hitchhiked the rest of the way to BC. After night practices during hockey season, Mr. Ceglarski took a bus to Central Square in Cambridge, the subway to Forest Hills, and another bus to Walpole, arriving home past midnight.
Along with scoring a goal in BC’s 4-3 championship victory over Dartmouth College in 1949, he led the team with 25 assists his junior year, and with 21 goals as left wing his senior year. At the time, his 108 varsity career points ranked fourth-highest in BC history. An All-American, and senior year captain, he played for legendary Boston College coach John “Snooks” Kelley, whom he would succeed as head coach more than two decades later.
Mr. Ceglarski also was a stellar second baseman for BC’s baseball team, hitting .429 his senior year and forming a surefire double-play combination with shortstop Joe Morgan, who also was from Walpole and would later manage the Boston Red Sox.
After graduating in 1951, Mr. Ceglarski served in the Marine Corps and competed in the 1952 Olympics. That same year he married Ursula Murphy, whom he had met during a public skating session at the Boston Skating Club.
Mr. Ceglarski coached high school hockey in Norwood and Walpole, taking his hometown team to the state title game his second year there, and to victory in the New England championship. The following season he began his 14-year run at Clarkson, where his record was 254-97-11. His overall career coaching record for Clarkson and BC was 673-339-38.
A member of the Boston College Varsity Club Athletic and US Hockey halls of fame, Mr. Ceglarski received the Hobey Baker Foundation Legend of Hockey Award in 1996.
“I think he’s right up among the top as you look back at the history of college hockey,” said BC hockey coach Jerry York, who previously was Mr. Ceglarski’s assistant at Clarkson for two years, and whose more than 1,000 wins is now the highest among college coaches. “Certainly you’re talking top five in anybody’s book. He was remarkable.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Ceglarski leaves six sons, Mark of Bristol, Conn., Leonard Jr. of Byfield, Peter of Westlake Village, Calif., Paul of Darien, Conn., Michael of Marion, N.C., and Timothy of Quincy; 16 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
Family and friends will gather to celebrate Mr. Ceglarski’s life at 10 a.m. Tuesday in James H. Delaney & Son Funeral Home in Walpole. The family will hold a private memorial service afterward.
“I’m a pretty lucky guy,” Mr. Ceglarski said in the 1987 Globe interview, looking back on a career that included 16-hour days at Clarkson, where he coached the freshmen and varsity teams, and even sharpened the skates.
“I loved the game of hockey since I was a kid,” he said. “I loved it as a player, a high school coach and a college coach. I can say there never was a day when I didn’t want to go to work.”
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