COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Gary Bettman, Brian Gionta, Neal Henderson, Tim Thomas and Krissy Wendell will be enshrined into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame as the Class of 2019, it was announced today by USA Hockey.
“It’s truly a remarkable Class,” said Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. “Each of the five inductees have their own unique and immeasurable contribution to our great game. They’re extremely deserving of the highest hockey honor in our country and we look forward to formally enshrining them into the Hall in December.”
The 2019 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Celebration will be held Dec. 12 at the Marriott Marquis in Washington D.C. The event is now sold out.
For the last 26-plus years as the National Hockey League’s first-ever commissioner, Gary Bettman (Queens, N.Y.) has not only guided the NHL to unprecedented heights, but also positively influenced the development of the game at all levels. During Bettman’s tenure, hockey has experienced monumental growth and extraordinary levels of visibility and reach around the country.
With a commitment to increasing enthusiasm, interest and involvement in hockey from the youth level and up, Bettman has stressed the importance of access to hockey across the nation. Since assuming his role in February of 1993, Bettman has led the expansion of the league from 24 teams to its current 31-team format (to be 32 in 2021), with the added U.S. franchises helping fuel growth of the game at the grassroots level. In what could be termed non-traditional areas like Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Tennessee where new franchises are in place, participation has enjoyed exceptional growth in the number of players, established a greater emphasis on initiatives to teach the sport locally and cemented an avenue for direct exposure to the game. By example, hockey in Texas, home of the Dallas Stars, has grown from 1,601 players in 1993 to over 15,000 today. Similarly, in just two years since the Vegas Golden Knights made their NHL debut, hockey participation in Nevada has nearly doubled from 1,382 players to 2,574 players.
Bettman also placed emphasis on broadcast initiatives to increase accessibility to the game across the U.S. After securing a five-year deal with the Fox Broadcasting Company for the 1994-95 NHL season, Bettman followed by subsequent agreements with other large broadcasting entities like ABC, ESPN, Comcast and NBC to continue ensuring the coast-to-coast availability of hockey.
Bettman also worked to introduce various creative initiatives, including outdoor contests like the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series, and events like the All-Star skills competition. In addition, Bettman helped pass several rule changes to increase both the quality of the game and player safety, including eliminating the two-line pass, introducing a two-referee system and enforcing Rule 48 to eliminate and punish hits to the head.
A 1974 graduate of Cornell University where he studied industrial and labor relations, Bettman earned his Juris Doctor degree from New York University Law School in 1974. He served in the marketing and legal departments of the NBA, rising to third-in-command before joining the NHL. Currently the longest serving active commissioner in professional sports, Bettman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.
Brian Gionta (Rochester, N.Y.) capped off a storied career that most hockey players can only dream of in 2018. An exceptional skater at every level, Gionta, who was drafted 82nd overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 1998 NHL Draft, enjoyed 16 seasons in the National Hockey League. During his time at the game’s highest level, he captured the Stanley Cup as a member of the Devils in 2003, served as captain of both the Montreal Canadiens and his hometown team, the Buffalo Sabres, and in 2017 became just the 43rd American to skate in over 1,000 NHL games.
Amassing 595 points, including 291 goals and 304 assists in 1,026 regular-season contests from 2001 to 2018, Gionta ranks 43rd among American-born skaters all-time in points. A testament to his offensive prowess, Gionta hit double-digit goal totals in 13 of his 17 seasons and maintains the New Jersey Devils record for most goals in a single season to this day after tallying 48 times during the 2005-06 campaign.
On the international stage, Gionta represented Team USA on nine different occasions, including both the 2006 and 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Team captain in the latter year, Gionta led Team USA in goal-scoring with four tallies in six contests during the 2006 tournament. In addition, Gionta skated in the 1996 Pacific Cup as a member of the U.S. Men’s Under-18 Select Team, both the 1998 and 1999 IIHF World Junior Championships, three IIHF Men’s World Championships (2000, 2001, 2005) and the 2017 Deutschland Cup. In 54 international appearances, Gionta amassed 38 points, including 24 goals and 14 assists.
A four-year standout at Boston College (1997-2001), Gionta kickstarted his collegiate career with a 62-point scoring effort in 40 games, earning Hockey East’s Rookie of the Year award and a place on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team during the 1997-98 season. In each of his final three seasons, Gionta led the Eagles in goal-scoring, ranked among the top two in points, and was named a Hockey East First Team All-Star, an NCAA First Team All-American and Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist. Gionta rounded out his collegiate career with an NCAA national championship in 2001, captaining Boston College to its second national title in program history and first since 1949. The all-time leading goal scorer in program history, Gionta, who helped the Eagles to four straight Frozen Four appearances, finished his BC career with 232 points, including 123 goals and 109 assists in 164 games played.
For the last 40-plus years, Neal Henderson (Upper Marlboro, Md.) has dedicated his life to spreading the game of hockey and using the sport to provide lifelong lessons to youth in America. A natural mentor, Henderson noticed a greater demand for organized hockey in his home of Washington D.C. in the late 1970s. Soon, Henderson starting renting ice time at the local Fort Dupont Ice Arena to accommodate players, and in 1978, he co-founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in the D.C. area.
Known as the Cannons, Henderson’s developmental program is designed to provide local and inner-city youth skaters with the opportunity to both learn the game of hockey and participate in an organized league. The oldest minority hockey club in North America, Fort Dupont offers young hockey enthusiasts aged 8-to-18 a chance to hone their skills as hockey players while also using the sport to establish a sense of community, self-esteem and purpose. Since its inception, Henderson’s league has successfully established hockey as a medium to build character, teach life skills and instill positive values in thousands of youth skaters in the D.C. area. Henderson also uses the club to provide players the chance to explore new cities and attend college visits while traveling for games.
In addition to growing the game locally with the Cannons, Henderson was integral in laying the foundation for the NHL’s early Hockey is for Everyone program, a nation-wide initiative that seeks to drive positive social change and inclusivity throughout the hockey community. A finalist for the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in 2018, Henderson and the Cannons were celebrated by the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals for their contribution to the spread of hockey in Washington, D.C.
At age 82, Henderson is still going strong and making an impact on the lives of young people. And the Fort Dupont program he started more than 40 years ago has inspired others in major metropolitan areas to follow suit and positively influence youth in their communities.
Tim Thomas (Flint, Mich.) spent nine successful seasons in the NHL, many of those star-studded with milestones and accolades. Selected 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 NHL Draft, Thomas played the majority of his career with the Boston Bruins, and was integral in the Bruins’ 2010-11 playoff run that culminated in a Stanley Cup. At age 37, Thomas became just the second American and the oldest player to receive the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 2011 playoffs. A two-time Vezina Trophy recipient, Thomas finished his NHL career with 214 wins and a .920 all-time save percentage in 426 games.
Before reaching hockey’s grandest stage, Thomas’ winding path to the NHL began with a four-year stint (1993-97) at the University of Vermont, where he recorded an 81-43-15 career record with a 2.70 goals against average and .914 save percentage. He helped UVM to NCAA tournament appearances in his final two seasons, including the program’s first-ever berth in the NCAA Frozen Four in 1996, a year in which he led the nation in save percentage at .924. Thomas, who today is Vermont’s all-time career leader in games played (140), wins (81) and saves (3,950), was both a two-time All-ECAC and All-America selection during his collegiate career.
After capping off his collegiate career with a strong senior season, Thomas took his talents overseas to the Finnish Elite League where in his first season he was named to the all-star team and received the Urop Ylonen Award, significant of the league’s top goaltender, after leading HIFK to the league championship. Following short stints in the International Hockey League, Swedish Hockey League and American Hockey League, Thomas made the NHL his permanent home at the start of the 2005-06 season. In addition to winning the Stanley Cup and the Vezina Trophy in both 2009 and 2011, Thomas was a four-time NHL All-Star and recipient of the William M. Jennings Trophy. Following his storybook tenure in Boston, Thomas split time between the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars before retiring from the league following the 2013-14 season.
On the international stage, Thomas represented the U.S. on eight occasions, including in seven world championships (1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2005, 2008, 2014) and also in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. He officially hung up his skates after backstopping Team USA in eight games at the 2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship.
Krissy Wendell (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) has excelled at every level of hockey during her career. From youth hockey in the Twin Cities suburbs, to her standout collegiate career at the University of Minnesota, to the international stage, Wendell’s skating tenure is marked by glowing achievements and broken records.
A skilled forward with a flair for clutch goal-scoring, Wendell tallied a Minnesota record 24 game-winning goals, including the deciding tally in the 2005 WCHA championship game against Wisconsin. In the same season, Wendell became the first Minnesota player and WCHA member to win the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award after being named a finalist in both 2003 and 2004. Throughout her time as a Gopher, the two-time NCAA national champion, earned All-America honors three times and was a two-time WCHA Player of the Year. Wendell continues to rank among the top-15 on the NCAA’s all-time points list (237), is fourth all-time in points per game (2.35) and shares the record for most shorthanded goals in a single season after notching seven tallies during the 2004-05 season. In 101 career games over three seasons (2002-05), she registered 106 goals and 131 assists, good for 237 points. She is second all-time at Minnesota in career points per game at 2.35.
As prolific a goal-scorer on the international stage as she was at Minnesota, Wendell represented the United States in 147 total games and registered 247 points, including 106 goals. She played in six IIHF Women’s World Championships, including in 2005 when she helped the U.S. win its first-ever gold in the event with an MVP performance that included leading all skaters in the tournament with nine points. In addition, Wendell donned the Team USA jersey at both the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Winter Games, serving as captain in the latter tournament. She earned two distinguished USA Hockey honors during her nine-year stint (1998-2007) as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team program, including as the Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year in 2001 and as the recipient of the Bob Johnson Award for international excellence in both 2000 and 2005. All total as a member of Team USA, Wendell earned one gold medal, six silvers and one bronze in major international competition.
In Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, where her love for the game blossomed, Wendell led her Park Center Senior High School team to its first ever girls state championship in 2000. Wendell remains today the all-time scoring leader at Park Center and among the top 10 in Minnesota State High School League history.
Notes: U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees are chosen on the basis of extraordinary contribution to the sport of hockey in the United States … The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame was incorporated in 1969 and inducted its first class in 1973. The Class of 2019 will be the 47th installed to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. To date, there are 182 enshrinees. For information on the members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, visit USHockeyHallofFame.com ... The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum, located in Eveleth, Minnesota, is open daily. For hours of operation and admission prices, visit USHockeyHallMuseum.com or call 800-443-7825.