Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Who tops Roenick and Modano's marks? We've got our list
By David Amber
Special to ESPN.com
Within the last week, Jeremy Roenick became the third American-born player to join the exclusive 500-goal club. Earlier this month, Mike Modano surpassed Phil Housley as the most prolific American-born scorer. So it's a good time for 10 Degrees to weigh in with the 10 best American-born hockey players.
10. Tom Barrasso
|Pat LaFontaine still holds the single-season record for points by an American-born player with 148.|
Born: March 31, 1965 in Boston, Mass.
Buffalo's fifth overall pick in 1983, Tom Barrasso was the highest drafted goalie until Roberto Luongo was selected fourth overall by the Islanders in 1997. Barrasso amazingly went straight from high school to the NHL, but it was a seamless transition for the teenager who stood 6-foot-3 and oozed confidence. In his rookie season, Barrasso's perfected butterfly style had shooters perplexed, and the 19-year-old won both the Calder and Vezina Trophies.
Barrasso's quick glove hand was accompanied by incredible puck-handling abilities. While winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, Barrasso often served as a third defenseman, corralling the dump in and feeding a perfect tape-to-tape pass to one of his breaking forwards. Barrasso played 18 seasons for six different NHL teams, and his 369 wins rank second all-time for American-born goalies. He also holds the league record for most points by a goaltender (48 points, all assists).
9. Phil Housley
Born: March 9, 1964 in St. Paul, Minn.
In April 1982, Phil Housley was finishing up his high school hockey career at South St. Paul. Six months later, he was skating for the Buffalo Sabres. Many wondered if this skinny American kid (5-foot-10 and 185 pounds) could handle the pounding of an NHL schedule. Following a career that included 21 seasons, 1,232 points and nearly 1,500 games, it's safe to say Housley didn't just survive, he thrived.
Housley's longevity can be attributed to his smooth skating, incredible vision and versatility. Known for his creativity with the puck, the seven-time All-Star had six straight 20-goal seasons and finished his career with more assists than Gilbert Perreault, Peter Stastny and Denis Savard. Despite all his personal achievements, the Stanley Cup championship eluded Housley. He holds the dubious distinction of playing more games than any NHL player without winning a championship.
8. Mike Eruzione
Born: Oct. 25, 1954 in Winthrop, Mass.
Mike Eruzione is the only player on this list who wasn't an NHL star; in fact, he never played a single NHL game. But his impact on hockey in the United States is incomparable. Eruzione was the captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Never has a group of players been able to captivate and provide the social fabric to bind this country together like that team, collectively remembered for their "Miracle on Ice."
Eruzione was the inspirational leader of the team and epitomized the work ethic and sacrifice needed to become an Olympic champion. He made his teammates accountable, and in doing so, made everyone play their best. Leading by example, Eruzione saved the best for when it counted most; the 25-year-old scored three goals during the tournament, including the historic game-winning goal against the Soviets in the semifinals that propelled the Americans to the greatest upset in hockey history. The team went on to beat Finland for the gold medal.
Despite being offered a contract from the New York Rangers one week after the Olympics, Eruzione retired from hockey, saying he wanted to go out on top. He left the sport as a national icon, helping unite America like few athletes have ever done.
7. Jeremy Roenick
Born: Jan. 17, 1970 in Boston, Mass.
No American-born player has ever been as brash as Jeremy Roenick. And for the past 19 seasons, he has backed up the bravado with the guts, courage and skill of a champion. He has the numbers and battle scars to prove it. In his 1,200-plus NHL games, Roenick has suffered a reported 11 concussions, two broken jaws and a number of knee injuries, and he has taken hundreds of stitches thanks to reckless sticks and well-placed fists. Enough pain to make any man question if it's worth it, but through it all, the nine-time All-Star has maintained a love for the game and an eagerness to win at all costs.
Roenick has always had an unbelievable flair for the dramatic. Whether it's scoring series-clinching goals or delivering game-changing hits, his raw emotion has electrified fans for nearly two decades. At age 37, Roenick is still seeking that first Stanley Cup ring. He may get his chance this season because he is playing on a talented Sharks team.
6. Mike Richter
|Mike Richter's hockey career went beyond the Rangers' Cup win in 1994.|
Born: Sept. 22, 1966 in Abington, Pa.
While Mike Richter is best known for leading the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, his résumé is even more accomplished on the international stage. He twice represented the United States at the World Junior Championship and World Championships and once at the Olympics before ever playing an NHL game.
A true acrobat in net, Richter often made spectacular, seemingly impossible saves. Two years after winning the Stanley Cup in New York, Richter cemented his reputation as a big-game goaltender, leading the United States to an improbable 1996 World Cup of Hockey title. During the tournament, he helped Team USA beat the favored Canadians three times, earning MVP honors along the way. The following season, he took an undermanned Rangers team back to the Eastern Conference finals.
Richter's career win percentage, save percentage and goals-against average were all better in the playoffs than the regular season. Over his 14-year NHL career, he had seven straight 20-plus win seasons, two All-Star appearances and one All-Star MVP honor (1994). He played his entire NHL career with the Rangers and still holds club records for games played (666), wins (301) and wins in a season (42; 1993-94).
5. Chris Chelios
Born: Jan. 25, 1962 in Chicago
Three years before Sidney Crosby was born, Chris Chelios broke into the NHL. With an NCAA championship at Wisconsin already under his belt, Chelios captured an NHL title with Montreal in 1986. The defenseman is the only player from that 1986 team still in the NHL. It's that unique combination of longevity and greatness that puts Chelios on our list.
Chelios, 45, is the oldest active player in the NHL and the third-oldest to ever play in the league. A self-described fitness freak, Chelios routinely rides a stationary bike for 45 minutes, in a sauna. The 11-time All-Star could play until he's 50 (don't be surprised if he does). The three-time Norris Trophy winner has barely slowed down. Sixteen seasons after winning his first Cup, he led the league in plus/minus and won his second Stanley Cup in 2002 with Detroit.
On the international stage, no one has led his country as often as Chelios. He is a four-time Olympian and was captain of three of those teams. He also played in three Canada Cups and two World Cups.
4. Joe Mullen
Born: Feb. 26, 1957 in New York, N.Y.
No other player on this list defied the odds like Joe Mullen. Born and raised in Manhattan's notorious "Hell's Kitchen," Mullen started skating at age 10. With a father who worked at Madison Square Garden, Mullen was exposed to the game and developed a passion for it. Despite not being heavily recruited to play college hockey, Mullen was awarded a partial scholarship to Boston College, where he quickly emerged as a star.
Every other player on this list was drafted to play professional hockey, and six of them were top-10 overall picks. Mullen, meanwhile, was barely a footnote to pro scouts and GMs and he had to claw his way to the NHL. Undrafted at age 22, he signed a free-agent deal with St. Louis. Two years later, after scoring 25 goals in 45 games, he was in the NHL to stay. Mullen was a key part of some great teams in St. Louis, Calgary and Pittsburgh, and he never missed the playoffs. Mullen's Hall of Fame numbers include 17 NHL seasons, three Stanley Cups and two Lady Byng Trophies, and he was the first American-born player to score 500 goals and collect 1,000 points. If hockey had a "Rudy," his name would be Joe Mullen.
3. Brian Leetch
|Chris Chelios has appeared in the NHL playoffs a record 22 times.|
Born: March 3, 1968 in Corpus Christi, Texas
Brian Leetch was destined to be a star athlete; the only question was in which sport. As a sophomore, Leetch led his Connecticut high school baseball team to a state championship. Baseball scouts were drooling at his 90 mph fastball. Fortunately for the New York Rangers, Leetch choose to follow a career in his true love -- hockey.
After being drafted ninth overall by the Rangers, the defenseman immediately lived up to the hype and drew comparisons to Bobby Orr when he captured the Calder Trophy after a 23-goal season. The awards kept coming because the two-time Norris Trophy winner established himself as one of the game's best defenseman and helped the Rangers end their 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994. That team featured Mark Messier and Richter, but it was Leetch who had a team-best 34 points in 23 playoff games and picked up the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The nine-time All-Star, who captained the Rangers from 1997-2000, finished his career with five 20-goal seasons and 1,028 points.
2. Mike Modano
For nearly two decades, Mike Modano has been the heart and soul of Stars hockey. Just three years after being selected first overall by last-place Minnesota at age 17, Modano helped the North Stars reach the Stanley Cup finals. During that playoff run, Modano showed he was destined to be the next great American-born hockey player, tallying 20 points in the postseason. Throughout the 1990s, Modano proved to be one of the game's most gifted offensive players, recording at least 75 points in seven of those 10 seasons. Despite taking incredible abuse on the ice, Modano has been extremely durable, playing at least 75 games in 14 different seasons.
Born: June 7, 1970 in Livonia, Mich.
What has been most impressive about Modano is his ability to reinvent his game, never showing complacency, always looking to improve. Despite all of his natural goal-scoring talent, the six-time All-Star developed into one of the NHL's premiere two-way players, an offensive force with the puck and a solid defender without. It was that team-first attitude that helped Modano finally win a Cup in 1999.
1. Pat LaFontaine
Born: Feb. 22, 1965 in St. Louis
There has never been an American-born player as talented as Pat LaFontaine. If it weren't for a head injury that forced LaFontaine to retire at age 33, he could have recorded 600 goals and more than 1,300 points. Consider this: In his only season playing major junior hockey in the Quebec League, he recorded 104 goals and 234 points in just 70 games. That season, he outscored Mario Lemieux and shattered league records set by NHL stars like Mike Bossy and Guy Lafleur.
His prolific scoring continued in the NHL; LaFontaine averaged 48 goals per season from 1987-1993. No other American player has ever had as dominant a stretch as that. Mullen averaged 37 goals per season during his best six-year stretch and Modano topped 38 goals in a season only once. Not blessed with great size, LaFontaine compensated with incredible strength, quickness and playmaking ability. He was the 15th fastest player to reach 1,000 career points (847 games); Roenick (961) and Modano (965) needed at least 100 more games to hit that milestone.
A five-time All-Star and member of the 1996 American World Cup championship team, LaFontaine holds the single-season record for points by an American (with 148). Known for his gentlemanly play, LaFontaine was smart and fearless as well as courageous, winning the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1995 after returning from a serious knee injury. A series of concussions would prematurely end LaFontaine's career, robbing the game of one its all-time greats.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.