Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Four big names in U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame's 2008 class
By Terry Frei
Special to ESPN.com
The four-person United States Hockey Hall of Fame's class of 2008 -- announced on Tuesday morning -- is appropriately Olympian, given the events of the day.
It is also groundbreaking.
Former Olympians Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Brett Hull and Cammi Granato will officially be inducted at a dinner and ceremony on Oct. 10, held in conjunction with the next night's University of Denver-Notre Dame Hall of Fame Game at DU's Magness Arena. The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum is in Eveleth, Minn.
A maximum of four can be inducted each year, and the three former NHL stars were obvious choices for the selection committee, a group assembled by USA Hockey in the wake of its takeover of the voting process last year. (Editor's note: Frei serves on the panel.)
The choice of Granato recognized her play and her trailblazing efforts on the women's hockey front in the U.S., and that went far beyond her role as captain and the star of the 1998 U.S. Olympic team that won the first women's gold medal. She will be the first woman inductee in the U.S. Hall.
Her older brother, Tony, was Richter's roommate at the University of Wisconsin. Tony Granato also played with both Richter and Leetch on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team at Calgary and with the Rangers, and he also played with Hull in the 1986 World Championships.
"I'm tremendously honored to not only to be inducted in this Hockey Hall of Fame, but to be amongst Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter is really big for me," Cammi Granato said Tuesday afternoon on a USA Hockey conference call. "To be the first woman to go in is also a huge honor. But to be going in with these guys, knowing how much I watched them and idolized them when I played, it's really, really special to me."
The Belleville, Ontario-born Hull first played for the U.S. in major international competition in 1986 at the World Championships. After he left the University of Minnesota-Duluth to sign with the Flames, he was on the American team twice in the World Cup and twice at the Olympics.
Hull, the current Dallas Stars co-general manager, won the Hart Trophy in 1991, and his 741 NHL career goals are behind only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe on the all-time list -- and 131 ahead of his father's NHL total, although Bobby Hull tossed in an additional 303 in the World Hockey Association.
"It's an honor to be inducted with you three," Hull told the other inductees on the conference call. He also noted, "Cammi being the first woman inducted, I don't think there could have been anyone else ... It was always a joy playing with Mike and Brian on the Team USAs and the Olympic teams, and this is just a big thrill."
Hull said he "appreciated everything USA Hockey ever did, because I'm not sure I ever would have been an NHLer without the opportunity they gave me. So I'm honored and thrilled to be a part of this class."
Leetch was one of the prototypes of the hybrid defenseman, winning the Norris Trophy twice and finishing with 247 goals and 781 assists in an 18-season career that ended with the Bruins.
Leetch also took note of his fellow members of the 2008 class, mentioning his years with Richter at New York and getting to know Hull while they were teammates on USA teams. He said he came to realize that Hull "didn't just score goals and he could actually pass better than just about everybody else I'd ever played with. He was a fun guy to be with off the ice."
"Having my teammate for so many years, Mike Richter, go in at the same time is going to be a lot of fun. It always was a pleasure to play in front of him in net for both teams," Leetch said. "And certainly Cammi, I've been following her, because of my relationship with her brother, since she was at Providence College in the '90s. To have her go in at the same time and to be able to watch her kind of lead the way with women's hockey in the U.S. and follow that up with the gold at Nagano and continue being such an ambassador, it's a great honor and I look forward to a fun [induction] weekend."
Richter, born and raised in Pennsylvania, had 301 wins in his Rangers career, which ended prematurely because of concussion problems. He and Leetch were cornerstones of the 1994 Rangers team that finally broke through to end a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.
"It's flattering to be put in this position to go in, but particularly with this class," said Richter.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."