With three Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and countless other accolades as a player, Steve Yzerman should be used to moments of unparalleled success.
Yet tell him he's a Hockey Hall of Famer, and the Detroit Red Wings legend sounded positively giddy. Like, for example, when he let slip that the mysterious fifth member of the 2009 class was New Jersey Devils CEO Lou Lamoriello before the official announcement was made.
"Having Lou Lamoriello going in with us is a tremendous honor," said Yzerman, proudly, during today's conference call. "With Brett, Luc and Brian ... tremendous players. A very special group."
The year's Hockey Hall of Fame class -- players Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Brian Leetch, along with builder Lou Lamoriello -- have 10 Stanley Cup championships between them, but that's the tangible impact they've had on the Game.
Their influence as players, teammates, role models and ambassadors for hockey can't be quantified. Yeah, it's cliché; but can anyone actually measure the influence a player like Yzerman or an executive like Lamoriello have had on hockey in the last 25 years?
Simply put, this is one of the finest quintets ever inducted into the Hall of Fame, in the same class.
(I did my best to squeeze their choices for a fifth player they'd have taken this year from the pool of eligible candidates, but was met with a solid 15 seconds of uncomfortable silence on the line before one of the selection committee guys ended the awkwardness with some stock answer. Oh well; better luck next year, Andreychuk.)
Here's how the 2009 Hall of Fame class found out their were, in fact, Hall of Famers; and some words about their influence.
How He Found Out: Hull was on a flight to Montreal and missed being on the Hockey Hall of Fame media call. So until it's stated otherwise, we'll assume he was on the golf course.
Impact: One of the most lethal goal-scorers in NHL history. He ranks third overall in most career goals including the playoffs (844). For a generation of hockey fans, his was the shot by which all shots were measured as a winger: The nasty snapper from the circle, the one where the goalie could only hope to catch a glimpse of the puck flying by him. The sort of character he was off the ice was best symbolized by the fact that he told the media yesterday he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame before the Hall of Fame could announce it today.
(Stu Hackel, by the way, wants the world to know that Brett and Bobby Hull are the second father/son duo in the Hall after Lester Patrick and Lynn Patrick were both inducted as players.)
Builder; New Jersey Devils GM, President, Occasional Coach since 1987
How He Found Out: Said it was a "complete surprise" when he received the call, and something he hadn't been thinking about. He was in his office with the door closed, on another line. His secretary knocked on the door and said that Bill Hay from the Hall of Fame was on the line. "I was so entrenched in the conversation, I wasn't even thinking anything other than 'I wonder what Bill is calling me for,'" he said.
Impact: There wouldn't be an NHL team in New Jersey right now if Lou Lamoriello hadn't made the Devils into champions and then worked like hell to get them their own arena. He's not flawless; his micromanagement is as legendary as his commitment to a team philosophy that can be anything but fun at times. But there's no disputing his success (three Stanley Cups, four conference titles). There's no disputing his importance to the college game (one of the co-founders of the Hockey East Association, its championship is the Lamoriello Cup). There's no disputing his impact on U.S. hockey, either. Now go find the Devils a coach, will ya?
How He Found Out: He was in his car and was getting a ton of messages from friends and family about whether he had gotten the call yet. "I kept texting back, 'No I haven't, No I haven't,'" he said. He finally saw an area code from Toronto, and breathed a sigh of relief. "I pulled my car over and sat there, and then went home and sat there for another 15 minutes afterwards," he said. "Certainly, at first, I felt a little relief. I can't remember much after that."
Impact: With apologies to Joe Mullen, Chris Chelios(notes) and Pat LaFontaine, Leetch is the greatest American-born player in NHL history; and the first U.S. player to ever win the Conn Smythe when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994. Known for his offense (247 goals, 781 assists, 1,028 points) but he won two Norris Trophies as a total-package defenseman. I hated him as a Devils fan. That's the best compliment I can give.
How He Found Out: Was in his office and saw the '416' area code. He called back right away. "I figured if they were calling me, it wasn't to give me bad news," he said.
Impact: As was pointed out on the media call, he was taken 171st overall by the Los Angeles Kings and is currently 10th all-time in regular season goal-scoring (668). "My goal was always just to play in the NHL and I never dreamed of anything beyond that," he said, and you truly feel that from him. Holds the record for Holds NHL record for most career goals, points (1394), and points in a single season (125, 1992-93) by a left winger.
Played 22 NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings
How He Found Out: Was in a meeting at Joe Louis Arena, talking about how to get the Wings under the salary cap. He said he received a call on his cell phone from a '416' number. "I assumed it was either a call from a reporter about who was coaching the [Canadian] Olympic team, or a call from the Hall of Fame," he said. "I was pleasantly surprised."
Impact: Good lord, where do you start? How about here: The sight of a pristine red Detroit sweater with "Yzerman 19" on the back is known to bring grown men to tears.
One of the greatest captains of all time. One of the greatest competitors of all time. Ranks fifth for most career points, including playoffs (1,940); most career goals (692), assists (1,063), and points (1,755) by a center.
Three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe. Olympic and international glory. The Chief runs the blog Abel To Yzerman. He said it all:
"No doubt he'd get in. No doubt as to the greatest Captain in hockey history. No doubt regarding his status as one of the top 2 Detroit Red Wings of all time."
Congrats to all the inductees.