USA Hockey announced the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2012 earlier Tuesday. The class includes former Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Star great Mike Modano, longtime NHLer and current NBC color analyst Eddie Olczyk, and New Jersey Devils president, CEO and GM Lou Lamoriello.
The Class of 2012 is certainly a deserved one. Each has had a significant impact on American hockey in their own ways and all have been involved in USA Hockey in some capacity internationally.
I thought we’d see a bit of a bigger class this year due to the sheer volume of worthy candidates, but I think the committee came up with a very strong group. These three men will be inducted some time in the fall, as a date and location for the ceremony have yet to be revealed.
Coming up after the jump a look at the three inductees and some of the “snubs.”
Mike Modano, a native of Livonia, Mich., is clearly the headliner as the all-time leader among American-born players with 1,374 points and 561 goals over his 21-season NHL career. Modano was the second American-born player in NHL history to be selected with the first-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft (by Minnesota in 1988). He played all but one season with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars organization.
Modano was also a key player for the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, USA Hockey’s most significant victory since the Miracle on Ice, having posted six points in seven games. He was also part of three U.S. Olympic teams including the silver-medal squad in 2002, as well as the 1998 and 2006 teams.
Modano won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999 and has been a key figure in the growth of hockey in Texas, which has ballooned from 868 registered hockey players in 1990-91 to 11,531 as of 2011-12. He announced his retirement last summer, signing a symbolic contract with the Dallas Stars to retire as a member of that club.
Lou Lamoriello, of Providence, R.I., is easily one of the most decorated American executives in the history of the National Hockey League. He has built the New Jersey Devils into an annual contender and was the architect of three Stanley Cup champion teams. It’s pretty rare for an American to go into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto before getting into the U.S. Hockey Hall, but Lamoriello was enshrined in 2009. To be honest, I actually thought he was already in the USHHOF.
While Lamoriello’s exploits at the NHL level are well documented, Lamoriello was also a key figure in the growth and development of college hockey both as a head coach and administrator. Lamoriello was head coach at Providence College from 1968 to 1983, when he moved into the athletic director’s seat full time at the school. In that role, Lamoriello helped form Hockey East, which has grown into a power conference in the college game. The league’s championship trophy is named for him.
Lastly, Lamoriello was the general manager for that 1996 World Cup team that defeated Canada in three games to claim the tournament title. It was a landmark event for USA Hockey and that crop of players. Of course, Lamoriello had the greatest collection of talent to choose from, but not every player selected was an obvious choice.
Chicago-native Eddie Olczyk might be the least decorated of the group, but who wouldn’t be compared to Modano and Lamoriello? It should be known that in his time, Olczyk was one of the best Americans in the game. He was a third overall selection by his hometown Chicago Blackhawks in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, a rare feat for an American at that time to go that high.
Olczyk put up 794 points over his 16-year career, with his best season coming as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988-89 when he put up 90 points. Additionally, Olczyk was a member of the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup team, though he appeared in just one game in the playoffs.
Olczyk was an Olympian at age 17, making the 1984 team. He played on the “Diaper Line” which featured fellow youngsters Pat LaFontaine and Dave Jensen. Olczyk posted seven points in six games in Sarajevo that year. He also played in several IIHF World Championships and two Canada Cups.
Of course now, Olczyk is best known as a TV analyst, serving as NBC’s lead color commentator, while also fulfilling color duties for the Chicago Blackhawks. After a bit of a rocky start to his TV career, Olczyk has grown into one of the better analysts in the game, breaking down plays and explaining in a way that is accessible to all fans. Olczyk is unafraid to give his opinions on air and has been a terrific match with Doc Emrick on NBC and Pat Foley for Blackhawks broadcasts.
Now NBC’s broadcast booth is filled by a pair of U.S. Hockey Hall of Famers, as Emrick was inducted in 2011.
Now, a look at the folks that just missed the cut:
There is only a one-year waiting period for eligibility, and with the litany of top American-born players that have retired over the last few years, it’s going to tough to wittle that group down, but here are a few players I expected to see put through this year:
Doug Weight — With 1,033 points over his 19-season career, Weight is the sixth leading scorer among American-born players in NHL history. He was a key player for the U.S. on that 1996 World Cup team and a three-time Olympian. I thought he’d be a sure-fire first-ballot guy as one of the premier set-up men in the NHL over his career.
Bill Guerin — Guerin’s had a bit of a wait since retiring in 2010. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion and posted 856 points over his NHL career. Guerin is a three-time Olympian, playing a key role on the silver-medal squad in 2002, and was part of the 1996 World Cup team. I doubt he’ll make it past next year without going in.
Brian Rafalski — Though he may be hurt by the brevity of his NHL career, Rafalski was one of the elite puck-movers of his era. He finished with 40 points or more in all but two of his 11 seasons in the NHL. Rafalski is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and three-time Olympian. Rafalski was named the best defenseman at the 2010 Olympics in which Team USA was within a goal of the gold medal. He had eight points in that tournament at age 36. I thought he might get first-ballot consideration, but understand why he might need to wait a bit.
Due to the success of American players throughout the 1990s, it’s been a good problem to have for the selection committee. There are simply so many good quality eligible players and administrators that there will always be some notable omissions from classes. I wouldn’t call these egregious snubs by any means. All three of those guys will get in soon, just thought this year might be the year for them.
All in all, the Class of 2012 is another good one as the walls in Eveleth, Minn., continue getting crowded with truly remarkable individuals who have given a lot to the game in the United States.