U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2011 Announced

USA Hockey announced the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2011 today, which included some names every American hockey fan is familiar with. Among the players, it was Chris Chelios, Gary Suter and Keith Tkachuk. Non players inducted were Flyers owner Ed Snider and legendary broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick.

This is a truly fantastic class for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. These five men will be inducted in Chicago come fall, with an official date and location to be announced within a week or two.

Coming up after the jump a look at each of the inductees.

Just a few general notes on the Class of 2011. All three players inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall were members of the U.S. Men’s National Team that captured the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Each of the three talked about how important the Miracle on Ice was to getting them involved in hockey. I’d argue that the 1996 World Cup team had a very similar impact on youth hockey in this country.

I was 12 years old when that team won the World Cup with a roster stocked full of USA Hockey icons. That team meant more to me than any other hockey team in the world, including my beloved Chicago Blackhawks. I was glued to those games that summer of 1996.

Chelios, Suter and Tkachuk will join fellow 1996 teammates Pat LaFontaine, Phil Housley, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Tony Amonte, John LeClaire, Kevin Hatcher and Derien Hatcher in the U.S. Hockey Hall. That’s 12 players off of that team. More than any other U.S. national team in history, and I promise you they won’t be the last to go in.

Also, Mike Emrick was the play-by-play voice of the 1996 World Cup. My first memories of hearing his passionate calls came from that tournament. His work during that event is absolutely wonderful.

Chris Chelios — Chicago, Ill.

Chris Chelios. America. It’s like the two words are synonymous. You honestly can’t think about USA Hockey without also thinking about Chelios. Well, at least I can’t.

There will probably be debates for years for who the best American player ever to play in the NHL was, but not for me. It begins and ends with Chris Chelios.

He played 26 seasons in the NHL. Chelios won three Stanley Cups and three Norris Trophies. He’s played more games than any other defenseman in NHL history. Chelios was an 11-time NHL All Star. He’s one of only two men to have been a four-time U.S. Olympian in ice hockey. He captained three of those teams, which included the U.S. squad that took silver in 2002 in Salt Lake City. Heck, he even won a national title at the University of Wisconsin. The guy was a winner and one of the all-time greats.

Some choose to recall Chelios as a guy who just couldn’t give it up, but when you realize just how good he was for the bulk of his 26 seasons in the NHL, it’s hard to deny his place in history. Chelios will be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer when he’s eligible (the one in Toronto). No question.

I might be a little bit biased, as a fellow Chicagoan and Mt. Carmel High School alum and I might have worn No. 7 my first year of Learn to Play. No matter the bias though, there’s no doubt Chelios was a special player and will remain one of the most beloved American players in history.

Gary Suter — Madison, Wis.

Suter. America. There have been several great U.S. hockey families like the Clearys and the Christians just to name a few, but right up there with them are the Suter boys. Gary Suter was probably the best of them all. His brother Bob played on the Miracle on Ice team, his nephew Ryan was a 2010 Olympian and perhaps the best American defenseman playing the game right now.

The only problem with Gary Suter is that so few people know just how good he was. Keith Tkachuk even mentioned on the Hall of Fame teleconference that Suter was one of the most underrated defensemen he’s ever played with. I agree with Tkachuk (though I never played with Gary).

When I listed my Top 10 American defensemen of all time, I ranked Suter as No. 4, behind only Chelios, Leetch and Housley (in order).

Suter was the first American to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. He never won a Norris, but when you consider the defensemen of his generation, it’s not hard to understand. He did, however, win a Stanley Cup with Calgary, a team he spent 10 years with.

Internationally, he played on the World Cup team and the 2002 U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team that took silver in Salt Lake City. Though overshadowed by Chelios, Leetch and Housley, Suter is one of the best players ever to patrol the blue line for the U.S.

It is a well-deserved honor for someone who doesn’t get honored enough.

Keith Tkachuk — Melrose, Mass.

Keith Tkachuk is one of only four Americans that played in the NHL to have scored 500 goals. When he scored 52 goals in the 1996-97 season with Phoenix, it was the first time an American led the NHL in goals. There just haven’t been too many Americans more productive than Tkachuk.

Not only was he an outstanding player, but a tremendous leader as well. He was named captain of the Winnipeg Jets at age 20, just his second season in the league. It was rare to see Tkachuk without a letter on his jersey over the course of his career.

He played most of his career with Winnipeg/Phoenix, but finished it out with the St. Louis Blues (interrupted by a brief stint in Atlanta).

Chelios was one of two men to play hockey in four Olympic Winter Games, Tkachuk was the other. As mentioned earlier, he played on the World Cup team and he was also a part of the 2002 Salt Lake City team that won silver.

Keith Tkachuk was a fantastic hockey player, who was tough as nails and scored a bunch. The closest thing we’ve seen to a guy that plays like Tkachuk is Ryan Kesler. Those are the types of guys you need to have on your hockey team to win games at the international level.

A great competitor, a prolific scorer and a heart as big as anybody’s, Tkachuk will be remembered fondly by anyone who saw him play.

Mike Emrick — La Fontaine, Ind.

If you’ve watched hockey for any amount of time over the last 20 years, you’ve heard Mike Emrick’s voice. “Doc” has been the voice of hockey in America for at least the last 15 years, having called each of the last 13 Stanley Cup Finals.

Emrick was recently honored with a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Play-by-Play, for his work on NBC’s NHL broadcasts. In 2008, he received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions in broadcasting. However, he goes in the U.S. Hockey Hall not as an award winner, but an outright Hall of Famer.

Emrick ridden the buses in minor league hockey with the likes of the Ft. Wayne Komets and Maine Mariners. Anyone that’s ever ridden a bus to far-flung small towns knows it takes a fair amount of passion to put up with it. If you’ve ever heard Doc call a game, you know he’s got plenty of that. It was at a Komets game in 1960 that got Emrick hooked on hockey… I think we can all thank his parents for taking him to the game that night.

SI’s Richard Deitsch brilliantly captured the essence of Doc Emrick and how he’s cultivated his love for hockey and broadcasting.

There may be no broadcaster in any sport that is as passionate and knowledgeable about the game. Not only does he bring insight and excitement to every broadcast, he is a promoter of all things American hockey.

He’ll drop in USA Hockey-related anecdotes. When a player touches the puck he might say “Ryan Kesler, who played his college hockey at Ohio State, picks up the puck in neutral ice…” or “Former Sioux City Musketeer Max Pacioretty digs the puck out of the corner…”

Mike Emrick is keenly aware of his outlet and his platform. He doesn’t have to throw in those little promotional lines, but he does because he wants people to know about the USHL or college hockey or where a kid played in the CHL. He thinks that’s important. He makes us think it’s important, and it is.

Mike Emrick is first and foremost a broadcaster, but he is a promoter. Every time he has the eyes and ears of the American public, he sells them on the game of hockey through his passion and his knowledge.

We, as American hockey fans, are lucky to have him. He’s simply the best at what he does and couldn’t be more deserving to be the first media member to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ed Snider — Washington, D.C.

Some people may not realize the importance of Ed Snider’s role in the growth of American hockey. He’s been the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers from the very beginning. How many owners have stuck it out as long as Snider? Not too many.

While his founding of the Flyers and long-time ownership have been hugely important for hockey in the U.S., it’s his work with youth hockey and his passion for the game that makes him that much more deserving.

In 2005, he formed the Ed Snider Hockey Foundation which is helping make the game more affordable for thousands of kids in the Philadelphia area. In 2008, the foundation rescued three of Philly’s inner-city rinks, ensuring that local kids have a place to play.

Snider talked about how much hockey has grown in the U.S. and also in Pennsylvania during the teleconference, never once inferring he had anything to do with it. But he has.

It’s tremendous to see an owner take an interest in his business like he has, but more importantly to see that same owner take an interest in the community and its people. He’s helped thousands more kids play the game of hockey in one of the largest cities in the U.S. That’s an incredible contribution in and of itself.

The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame seems to have more star power with each class it inducts. That’s showing just how far hockey has come in this country. Before the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the number of Americans playing hockey wasn’t exactly too high. That team inspired thousands of kids just as the 1996 World Cup inspired kids of my generation. Same as the 1998 Women’s Olympic gold medalists inspiring a generation of girls’ hockey players and hopefully how the 2010 Olympic silver medal teams inspired yet another generation.

Every historic moment in USA Hockey history propels the game forward. This class is another reminder of what kind of impact those historic moments can have. Tkachuk even said today he may have never played hockey if it wasn’t for that 1980 team. So one of the most productive American players in NHL history may never have played had it not been for that seismic event in USA Hockey history? Good thing those kids found a way to beat the Soviets.

The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame has become a shrine of extraordinary hockey talent, but it is most importantly a place to honor people who have advanced the game in this country some way. Guys like Chelios, Suter and Tkachuk advanced the game by proving Americans can be elite players at the highest level of hockey. Doc Emrick advances the game by educating and entertaining a nation about the sport he’s most passionate. Ed Snider advances the game by giving kids an opportunity and running a team its city can get behind year in and year out.  Each inductee has done something that goes beyond what they do (or did) in their everyday profession. That is extraordinary.

Congratulations to the Class of 2011, a most deserving group.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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