WASHINGTON, D.C. – For both the honorees and those in attendance inside the sold-out ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, the 2019 induction ceremony for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, it was a historic night.
The Class of 2019 was as diverse as it was deserving to take their place among the greats of American hockey. In addition to three of the finest players and people to ever play the game, this year’s class includes two individuals who have made great contributions to hockey, one at the grassroots level and another whose leadership and vision have brought the game to new heights.
On an evening filled with so many great memories, here are a few that stand out.
Ted Leonsis, Owner of the Washington Capitals, who accepted the Wayne Gretzky International Award on behalf of Alexander Ovechkin
“Hockey is the most family-oriented and the most team-oriented sport, populated with very high-end integrity people. For USA Hockey to recognize these people, including our commissioner, is just a great event. And having it in Washington, D.C., I feel privileged and honored because maybe 10 years ago if someone were to say ‘let’s have this in Washington, D.C.,’ they would say, ‘D.C. is not a hockey town.’ I think now we’re recognized around the world as one of the best sports towns, and it’s also a great hockey town.”
Jack Blatherwick, recipient of the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the U.S.
“When I see that list [of previous Lester Patrick recipients] with my all-time heroes of hockey and to think that my name is going to go on that list with them it’s an unbelievable honor. I’ll tell you what’s a better honor, the number of calls I’ve had from old friends, and the fact that a hockey team from 50 years ago is here on my behalf. To me, that’s the greatest honor I can have. While it’s tremendous to get this recognition from USA Hockey and the NHL, it’s even better to see all these kids come in from all over the country on my behalf is unbelievable.”
“At first I didn’t want [the award]. I’m not really into honors because there are thousands of others like me. I prefer to be anonymous and working with young kids. I had chances because of Herb Brooks to work with pro teams and Olympic teams. And while that was great, my passion is to work with young kids to help them get to those higher levels.”
Tim Thomas, two-time Vezina Trophy winner and the 2011 Conn Smythe Award winner
“It’s an honor to be recognized for having an impact in the sport and for getting to play hockey until I was well into my adulthood.”
“I don’t want to get into naming names because there were too many coaches, teammates, trainers, media people, cops at the rinks, everybody that I came across who touched my life. Hopefully I touched theirs in a good way.”
Krissy Wendell, two-time member of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team
“It’s special. When I look at the list of females who are in the Hall, and even the list of those females who aren’t in yet and I don’t know where I fit in on this because I looked up to them. “I’m honored to be selected but I also think there are a lot of people who are just as deserving if not more deserving to be in here as well.”
“I think the future [of the women’s game] is bright. We all just have to keep doing what we’re doing and growing the sport. I think we’re all doing our best especially having young daughters and building the game from the grassroots and just being excited about playing hockey and not doing it for awards or teams that they want to make but just play because it’s a great sport to play.”
“My daughters still think dad [former NHL player Johnny Pohl] is the better hockey player so we’re just going to leave it at that. We won’t debate that.”
Brian Gionta, 16-year NHL player and two-time U.S. Olympian
“For me this whole thing is about the journey. That’s what I enjoyed most. The people I’ve met, the people that I’ve been around, the people that I’ve experienced things with, the people that I’ve lived my dream with. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”
“Without my parents’ belief in me and their support along the way I wouldn’t be here today. That holds true for my extended family as well. They were always there from day one.”
Neal Henderson, founder of the Fort DuPont Cannons
“This is the zenith of my life, other than being married and having a son. I enjoy what I have done. I didn’t do it so I could be here today, I did it for the love of kids and the parents who trusted me with their children.”
“I hope that me receiving this award will encourage more people of color to want to play the game. A lot of people don’t know or don’t feel like they have that opportunity, but it’s right at their back door if they just take one more step. If they do they will find that there are people out there who are willing to help them.”
“The kids kept coming to me and I couldn’t refuse them. And now I’m coaching their kids. And for them to come back as professionals and thanking me is the greatest treasure that I could receive.”
Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner
“It’s a great honor to be included in this class. It’s a recognition of effort of so many to grow hockey in the United States to record highs. And as I look forward I remain not only optimistic but bullish about the future of the game.”
“The growth of the game doesn’t just emanate from the NHL. It’s the grassroots and the collaboration and we contribute significantly to USA Hockey and it’s a collaboration because for hockey to grow it has to be strong on all levels. I pride ourselves on having a good relationship with the people of USA Hockey and we’re grateful for all the volunteers who spend so many hours working with young people at the grassroots level.”