Sure, sometimes Dave Rost catches himself drifting back to yesteryear and wonders what his hockey career might have been. He could have played for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal after beating Russia, still considered the greatest moment in American sports history.
And there’s the man with whom Rost still shares the NCAA single-season scoring record. He and Clarkson forward Dave Taylor had 108 points in a scoring race for the ages in 1976-77. Taylor later became a winger on the famed Triple Crown line during a career that spanned 1,111 games with the Los Angeles Kings.
“They went their way, and I went my way,” Rost said Wednesday by telephone from Grand Rapids, Mich., where he’s a general manager for a logistics company. “You can do a lot of daydreaming and soul searching. I have no regrets.”
Rost grew up in South Buffalo with a different vision. When he was in eighth grade, a year before enrolling at Bishop Timon, he visited the United States Military Academy with his father. He came home determined to attend, knowing it could lead him to the Vietnam War. As it turned out, it led him to college hockey.
And, man, what a career he had.
You probably don’t know Rost. He’s the best player ever to lace up skates at West Point but largely has been an obscure sports figure. Thirty-nine years after playing his final game, he remains the all-time leading scorer in Division I hockey with 330 points and holds the NCAA record with 226 assists − in only 114 career games.
Rost, inducted into the Hall of Fame at Army in 2005, leads the first class of players who have their jerseys retired above Tate Rink. He will be honored with Dave Merhar and former teammate George Clark before Army plays Holy Cross on Feb. 6. He deserves a spot in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
In a backward world that places too much emphasis on sports and not enough on honor, Rost has spent his life with his priorities in proper order.
While the Americans were winning gold in Lake Placid and spreading patriotism at the heart of the Cold War, he was an American soldier in Germany, a true patriot who was prepared to fight a war. In 1983, a year after Taylor had 106 points in the NHL, Rost earned the Bronze Star for his service in the invasion of Grenada.
Who would you want anchoring your team?
“As people find out about what I’ve done in the hockey world, I’ve done some other things that to me are on a higher scale,” he said. “I had a ball. Hockey was a blast for me. It was a passion. I ate, slept and drank hockey when I was a kid. The Stanley Cup, yeah, but nothing compares to putting soldiers on the ground who died in battle.”
At the same time, his service on the ground shouldn’t diminish his accomplishments on the ice. He scored 104 goals and averaged 2.89 points per game in his career. Not bad for a guy who grew up playing on a backyard rink with his brothers and the old open-air facility at Cazenovia Park.
Gary, the oldest, has coached Erie Community College for years and led the Kats to a national junior-college title in 2011. Tom “Bones” Rost followed Dave to West Point and was another terrific player who had 115 goals and 287 points in 118 career games. They played together for two years on the Buffalo Line, which included Western New Yorker Danny Murrett.
In 2009, College Hockey News named Dave Rost to its all-time team, which included Ken Dryden. He played under Army coach Jack Riley, who cut Herb Brooks and guided the 1960 U.S. team to a gold medal. Riley once told Rost he would have been a lock for the 1980 team that Brooks coached.
“It was all I needed to hear,” Rost said.
Rost could have resumed his career after meeting his five-year military obligation, but instead he signed up for five more years. “It’s just what you do,” he said. He and his wife, Debbie, married a year after he graduated from West Point. They met while she was working the snack bar at Leisure Rinks while he was home on break. They have two daughters and two grandchildren.
As it usually does, life worked out the way it should for Rost. The work ethic that made him a good hockey player applied when he arrived at West Point. The discipline and leadership developed at West Point applied during his military career. The organizational skills he learned from both led him to logistics.
No wonder why he celebrated his 61st birthday Tuesday with no regrets. OK, he didn’t win a gold medal or play in the NHL. He was busy doing more. When his mind wanders toward what could have happened, he embraces what did. The honor he receives next month from Army is just another reminder that he did it right.
After all, how many people came through South Buffalo, played hockey at West Point with their brother, led the NCAA in single-season and all-time scoring, and won a Bronze Star? At last count, there was one: Dave Rost.
He became emotional Wednesday while talking about the family, friends and coaches who helped him along the way without considering the possibility that he had it backward. He didn’t mention the number of people he helped. That alone says plenty about the guy.
“I’m just a poor kid from South Buffalo who skated in my backyard and was having a lot of fun,” Rost said. “I was fortunate to have the right people at the right time that led the way. … I know, when that sweater goes up, I won’t see the number. I’ll see all of their faces. That’s the great thing about this.”
Rost is still involved with amateur hockey. He coached at the youth level for years in Michigan before he turned to officiating. Every now and again, he’ll have some young player or coach whining about a call he made on the ice. Invariably, someone will tell him he knows nothing about hockey.
“You’re right,” he tells them. “I don’t have a clue. I know absolutely nothing about this game.”
And he skates away saying, under his breath, “If you only knew.”