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When Lou Vairo moved from New York City to Austin to coach the Austin Mavericks in the late 1970s, he was just looking for an opportunity.

Vairo got that opportunity and he cashed in — big time. Vairo, who is being inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame in Minneapolis/St. Paul Dec. 4, coached the Mavericks for three seasons and went on to coach in the Olympics, the NHL and all over the world.

Vairo had his hands full with the Mavericks as he was the team’s coach, general manager and sometimes served as the team chef or team bus driver.

“I loved every minute of it,” Vairo said. “That was my big opportunity to move up in hockey.”

Vairo led the Mavericks to the USHL national championship in 1976, but he also did plenty of work behind the scenes. The Mavericks weren’t exactly drawing big crowds when Vairo first arrived in Austin, so he did everything in his power to let people know about the team.

“We built it up,” he said. “The ownership was great, and we went door to door. We did whatever we could to get people on our side.”

Jim Webber of Austin was one of the eight owners of the Mavericks and he made Vairo’s hiring official with a handshake back in 1976. Webber said Vairo’s impact was felt all over the city of Austin.

Vairo, who is a master chef, taught cooking classes in town, lived with and fed a group of players who couldn’t find housing in town, and was generally a positive presence.

“Everybody that knows him knows what a great guy he is and he’s a great family man,” Webber said. “He’s really, really a special person and that’s evidenced by the fact that he’s been nominated into the Hall of Fame.”

Vairo remembered the joy of developing players at a young age and helping them land on college squads. He also remembers how hard it was for American players to make it before the 1980 Olympics when team USA won the Gold Medal after it beat Russia in the ‘Miracle on Ice’ in the semifinals.

“In those days, it wasn’t easy for American players to get recognition,” Vairo said. “We hadn’t yet proven ourselves as a hockey nation.”

Vairo was a head coach of the US Junior National team from 1979-1982 and he was a scout for the 1980 Gold medal winning team. Vairo was the head coach of the 1984 US Olympic hockey team, he spent time as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Devils, and he coached six seasons in Holland and Italy.

Vairo learned much of his tactics by studying with legendary Soviet coach Anatoly Tarasov, and he brought what he learned to the Mavericks and the other teams he coached on.

“He coached a European style of hockey,” Webber said of Vairo. “For the most part, there was no fighting. He didn’t go for that and he didn’t allow his kids to fight. He was a no-nonsense guy who was tough on his players. He was kind of a father figure to them.”

Vairo has lived around the world and he’s coached in a lot of places. Through it all, he said he’s never been happier than he was when he lived in Austin. Although he didn’t like the mosquitoes, the hot summers or the cold winters, Vairo looks back on the people of Austin very kindly.

“I enjoy people more than anything else,” he said. “When I lived in Austin, you didn’t have to lock your house and everybody was so pleasant. They were decent, honest, hard working people. You can’t find better people in the world, and I’ve been all over the world.”

Webber has kept in touch with Vairo over the years and he said you can’t say enough about how good of a person Vairo is.

“You almost have to meet him and spend a little time with him to see what kind of human being he is,” Webber said. “Our family is really close to him.”

The other USA Hockey Hall of Fame inductees include Jeff Sauer, a St. Paul native, who coached 40 years of college hockey, Brian Rafalski, who played 11 seasons in the NHL, and Karen Bye Dietz, a River Falls native who was one of the elite forwards on the US women’s team from 1992 to 2002.

 

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Growing up in Canada I was a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't until the 1972 summit series and the 1976 Canada Cup that I became a big fan of international hockey. The best players in world all playing on a sheet of ice. 
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