DALLAS -- It was a big night for USA Hockey Monday night, as three of its most influential figures were celebrated with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame at the sold-out ceremony at the Plaza of the Americas.
With the addition of Mike Modano, Eddie Olczyk and Lou Lamoriello into the Hall, it becomes crystal clear just how far the game has grown in the U.S. over the last 30 years.
Just the fact that the ceremony was held here in Dallas illustrates the impact Modano’s presence had on growing the sport in the middle of football country after the Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993.
“In hindsight now, it’s been a real remarkable transition the way the game has increased down here,” said Modano, who retired as the NHL’s all-time American-born scorer in 2011. “I’m real proud of being part of that when it first started and watching it evolve, see the popularity increase. It was great to see and it was fun to be a part of.”
As for Lamoriello, his influence on the game has been felt at several different levels. First, he played a key role in raising the profile of Division I NCAA hockey in the U.S. in the early 1980s in his dual responsibilities as Providence College Athletic Director and creator/commissioner of the Hockey East conference.
As General Manager of the New Jersey Devils since 1987, Lamoriello has been instrumental in growing the game in that state, while also helping orchestrate one of the country’s greatest moments, when Team USA, with Modano on the ice, defeated Team Canada to win the 1996 World Cup.
But more than anything, it was Lamoriello’s character that impressed everyone.
“We struck up a relationship,” Olczyk recalled, “that was built on trust and respect in all the success that he’s done for college hockey, USA Hockey, for the National Hockey League and, in particular, for the New Jersey Devils, leading them to five Stanley Cups since 1995 and winning three of those.”
Olczyk, a member of the 1984 Olympic Team and a 16-year NHLer, has probably been even more important in helping promote the game since he retired, now that he has grown into one of the most entertaining and insightful commentators on TV, broadcasting for NBC.
“Just a class guy, his approach to the game and professionalism,” Modano said of Olczyk, a teammate on the 1991 Team USA Canada Cup squad. “He was a lot of fun to be around, so we’ve always had that connection since 1991. He’s been remarkable for the game and on TV, and what he’s done with NBC. He’s our face and voice of USA hockey, I feel.”
These men were so respected and revered by their peers that each had their own group of supporters in the audience.
Lamoriello was joined by his old protégé at Providence, and the current GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke, as well as Mike “Doc” Emrick, the longtime Devils play-by-play man and Olczyk’s partner on NBC broadcasts.
Burke, though, was most impressed with the reception Modano received.
“I think these nights are important. I think USA Hockey has to celebrate the greatness that it has produced at the managerial and the playing levels,” Burke said. “Mike Modano was exciting, he was dynamic, he had great foot speed, creative. This guy sold tickets in our league, he was an exciting player, a marquee player, and it’s very appropriate that this dinner was held in Dallas.”
Also in attendance was former New York Islander, Ranger and Buffalo Sabre Pat Lafontaine, who entered the U.S. Hall in 2003. He was there as part of Olczyk’s entourage, as the two were linemates on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team, but he had a lot of praise for Lamoriello as well.
“What can you say about Lou Lamoriello, with the Stanley Cups and just a great architect of the game?” said Lafontaine. “I actually wore my ’96 USA World Cup ring, he was the GM, and I showed it to him and he had a big smile tonight. Just proud to be here and there’s really no higher honor in the United States, so I’m real proud to be associated with them.”
Part of Modano’s cheering section included many of his former Stars teammates, including current Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk, longtime linemates Brett Hull and Jere Lehtinen, and former Stars owner Norm Green, the man responsible for moving the North Stars to Texas.
Modano noted how touched he was when he found out the ceremony would be held in Dallas.
“It was a great call to get, obviously, but then they told me they were having it here, and I was really shocked and taken aback that they would pick Dallas to do it,” said Modano, who holds virtually every Stars franchise record. “It meant a lot for them to pick this city and for me that we made this game popular enough in this city for Texans down south for us to be recognized.”
Also as part of the ceremony, Washington Capitals president Dick Patrick and longtime Fort Wayne broadcaster Bob Chase were honored with the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to U.S. hockey, while Team Canada executive Murray Costello was awarded the Wayne Gretzky International Award for helping promote the growth of the sport in the United States.
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.