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Stars Will Shine on Opening Night

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
On Friday (Oct. 10), one of the most talented classes to ever wear the Red, White and Blue will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The quartet will be formally honored at a dinner set for 7:00 p.m. at Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver.

But before their induction on Friday, Cammi Granato, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter will take part in the Colorado Avalanche’s opening night festivities Thursday at Pepsi Center when the club begins the 2008-09 campaign against the Boston Bruins.

The Avalanche will honor the four legends in a special pre-game tribute prior to face-off.

Cammi Granato will be the first woman inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
Granato, a pioneer of women’s hockey in the United States, will be the first woman inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Downer’s Grove, Ill., native – and sister of Avalanche head coach Tony Granato - was a 15-year member of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

“I’m tremendously honored to be not only inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but to be amongst Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter,” said Granato. “To be the first woman to go in is a huge honor, but to know I’m going in with these guys and knowing how much I watched them and idolized them when they played, it’s really, really special to me.”

Granato also touched on how far women’s hockey has come in such a short time. She remembers sitting in the stands at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, watching Richter, Leetch and her older brother, and hoping to one day slip on a  Red, White and Blue sweater herself.

“I was saying to my mom while watching the opening ceremonies that I wanted to be an Olympian and represent the USA,” said Granato. “But how could I do it? There was no women’s hockey. Here I am, a 15-year-old kid thinking I can conquer the world.”

A decade later, Granato’s dream came true as she captained Team USA to the gold medal at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, the first time women’s ice hockey was a part of the Games.

It was in Nagano that Granato first felt the intense camaraderie between her teammates and their counterparts on the men’s side, including Hull, Leetch and Richter.

Richter, who was making his second of three Olympic appearances that year, also expressed how thrilled he is to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame along with such a talented group.

“It’s flattering to be put into this position, but particularly with this class,” said Richter. “Your career goes by so quick. You can never know it at the time and even shortly after, but the years passed and having an honor like this is particularly gratifying because it’s something you can cling to.”

Richter was a key part of the U.S. program for years, competing in three Olympic Winter Games (1988, 1998, 2002), the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, two IIHF World Junior Championships (1985-86), three IIHF Men’s World Championships (1986-87, 1993) and the 1991 Canada Cup.

The netminder played in 666 games during his 14-year career as a member of the New York Rangers and is the club’s all-time leader in wins (301).

The 1993-94 NHL season was particularly memorable for Richter, along with his teammate Leetch. That year, the pair helped lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup title in over 50 years. And now, the duo will share another honor when they are recognized by USA Hockey this weekend.

Brian Leetch represented the United States three times at the Olympic Winter Games
“Having my teammate for so many years, Mike Richter, going in at the same time is going to be a lot of fun,” said Leetch, a three-time Olympian, like his former teammate. “It’s always been a real pleasure to play in front of him.”

Leetch enjoyed a prolific career along the blue line with the Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. He is one of only five defensemen in NHL history to reach 100 points in a season (102 points during the 1991-92 campaign) and one of seven to accumulate over 1,000 points in his career (247g/781a).

He also represented the United States at three IIHF World Junior Championships (1985-87), two IIHF Men's World Championships (1987, 1989), one Canada Cup (1991) and twice in the World Cup of Hockey (1996, 2004).

The 1996 World Cup of hockey, at which the upstart American squad topped Team Canada in the best-of-three final, proved to be one of the greatest highlights in the careers of Richter, Leetch and Hull.

Leetch anchored the Team USA blue line, Richter was named Tournament MVP and Hull was the leading scorer at the event with 11 points (7g/4a) in seven games.

As one of the NHL’s top all-time snipers, Hull enjoyed vast amounts of personal success during his career, finishing as the league’s third all-time leading goal scorer with 741 career tallies. But a championship was one thing that always seemed to elude him early on.

“The 1996 World Cup was one of my greatest moments in the game. I had never really been a champion, hadn’t had a load of team success,” said Hull. “I remember after we won, I was standing on the blue line next to Chris Chelios and I asked him what I should do because I had never won before. He told me to just go with it.”

Factoring in their success from the international to the NHL levels, Granato, Richter, Leetch and Hull represent four of the best to ever to wear the Stars and Stripes.
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