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Legends Of New York State Hockey: Frank Downing Jr.

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BY RANDY SCHULTZ –

When one enters Frank Downing Jr’s second floor office in Orchard Park, one would expect to see automobile memorabilia. After all, his office is located inside the Ford/Lincoln dealership he owns and operates.

Upon entering the office, the first thing you see are hockey-related photos. Once inside the office you see a painting of Henry Ford hanging behind Downing’s desk.

But scattered between the 1/16th sized models of Ford cars you will see more hockey-related photos along with some pucks and even miniature hockey sticks.

If you are from Western New York and watch any amount of television, you would recognize Downing from the number of hockey-themed car commercials he’s done.

And after talking to Downing for awhile, one realizes that Downing and hockey go together like Henry Ford and automobiles. Downing is a Western New York hockey legend.

No, Downing didn’t play in the National Hockey League. He didn’t even play professional hockey.

All Downing did was play four years of major collegiate hockey with the University of Michigan (1982-86). And before donning a Wolverines jersey Downing starred for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres.

Two hockey coaches that had an influence on Downing with the Jr. Sabres were former NHL’ers Jim Lorentz and Morris Titanic.

“We won a national championship with Morris Titanic as our coach,” remembered Downing. “And Lorentz and Titanic were total opposites with their coaching styles.

“And the style of hockey was good for me as well. It was a big jump for me to go from travel hockey to the Jr. Sabres and junior hockey.

“And that prepared me when I made the to college.”

Despite his hockey talent, Downing’s sites were always set on college and not junior hockey.

“I was focused on getting an education,” remarked Downing. “The college system back then was quite different than it is now.

“When I went to college and began playing hockey, I was an 18-year-old freshman. A true freshman.

“Now you get players in there who are 20 or 21 when they come in as a freshman. And now, even if you come in at 18, some of the players don’t even finish their four years before turning pro.”

Downing was recruited by Boston College, Cornell and Michigan. Besides the Business Program they offered, Michigan also had their head coach, Red Berenson, who was another reason why Downing eventually chose Michigan.

“He (Berenson) was always drawn to academics and athletics,” commented Downing, who was an Academic All-American while playing hockey. “Red was a role model for me, both academically and athletically.”

Berenson obviously saw the leadership qualities in Downing which is why he was eventually named captain of the Michigan team.

Downing also recognized the fact that he wasn’t going to make the NHL. So he headed back home to Western New York and went to work.

He still stayed involved in hockey as a coach and still even plays the game to this day.

“I just love hockey,” concluded Downing. “It’s in my blood.

“I can’t imagine life without it.”