-- Ed Belfour didn't have to wait long to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. "The Eagle" got his phone call in his first year of eligibility.
Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe and Joe Nieuwendyk had to sweat it out, but like Belfour, they were also selected for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
No builders, females or officials were voted in by the Selection Committee. The induction ceremony for the Class of 2011 is Nov. 14 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
"Obviously it's a real honor and it's even more of an honor to be picked right away," said Belfour, who still lives in Dallas, where he won the Stanley Cup in 1999. "I was just flabbergasted when I heard about it."
Nieuwendyk, who is currently the GM of the Dallas Stars, has a championship link to two of his class members as he won the Stanley Cup with Gilmour in Calgary in 1989 and then with Belfour in 1999. He said the common bond with both players makes this an extra special honor.
"You always look back to what it took to go all the way and ultimately win the Cup, a lot of the pain and sweat you went through to get there, and I was fortunate to go through it with both of those guys," said Nieuwendyk, who also won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003. "These two guys were ultimate competitors."
Nieuwendyk also said Tuesday was a big day for the Stars' organization with both him and Belfour getting the nod from the Hall.
It's also a big day for the Toronto Maple Leafs considering Gilmour, Belfour and Nieuwendyk all wore the blue and white in their careers.
Gilmour is one of 15 former Leafs whose number is hanging in the rafters at Air Canada Centre. He spent five and a half seasons in Toronto, calling them the best of his career, and finally returned to retire as a Maple Leaf on Sept. 8, 2003.
"The opportunity to play in Toronto is something I'll never forget and never regret," Gilmour said. "Yes, the media is there, but you accept that. You accept the role and compete each and every day.
"If you ever have a chance to play in Toronto, I'm the first to say go for it."
There was the sting of criticism for the Hockey Hall of Fame not selecting anyone in the builder's category for the first time since 1981. Many thought former Stanley Cup-winning coaches Pat Burns or Fred Shero would be inducted posthumously, but that was not the case.
Hockey Hall of Fame CEO and Chairman Bill Hay would not discuss the reasons for why no builder was selected, citing the 18-member Selection Committee's confidentiality bylaws. To get selected the eligible candidate has to find his or her way onto 75 percent of the Selection Committee ballots.
"We are not at liberty to discuss the process or who was or who was not involved," Hay said. "We as a Board have put the bylaws in place and they work very, very good. The discussion in the meeting is very strong and the debates are very strong mainly due to the confidentiality. What is said in the meeting room stays in the meeting room and it works for us."
Howe had to wait the longest of the four inductees. He has been eligible since 1998 after retiring in 1995 following 16 seasons in the NHL, which were preceded by six seasons in the World Hockey Association. He compiled 742 points in 929 NHL games with the Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings.
"Having my father be Gordie Howe, I just know what a tremendous day this is for my dad," Howe said. "It makes me very emotional and it brings a tear to my eye. I'm very grateful."
Howe, who is still a scout with the Red Wings, said he believes Scotty Bowman and Mike Emrick, two members of the Selection Committee, lobbied heavily on his behalf. Emrick was the broadcaster for the Flyers during Howe's days in Philadelphia in the 1980s.
"To get the phone call today took my breath away," Howe said. "I never expected that call. I don't consider myself in the class of the Gordie Howes, Wayne Gretzkys and Bobby Orrs. It means the world to me.
"When I was trying to call dad and I called my children, I began to tear up. It is just a tremendous honor."
Belfour is third all-time in career wins with 484 and he won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, posting a 1.67 goals-against average in the playoffs. He played for Chicago, San Jose, Dallas, Toronto and Florida over his career, which included 963 appearances and 76 shutouts.
Belfour won the Vezina Trophy twice, the William M. Jennings Trophy four times and the Calder Trophy.
He said he still plays in two men's leagues in the Dallas area and was actually taking a pre-game nap when the phone call from the Hockey Hall of Fame came.
"It really surprised me actually," Belfour said. "There's a lot of mixed emotions. You always have it in your heart that you want to continue to play, but there is a point where it has to come to an end. But, it's a great honor to be amongst the Hockey Hall of Fame and be inducted."
Gilmour, who has been eligible for induction since 2009, won the Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989 and the Selke Trophy with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993, when he was also a runner-up for the Hart Trophy. He finished the 1992-93 season with 127 points and finished his career with 1,414 points over 1,474 games. He also had 188 points in 182 playoff games.
"It's quite an honor," said Gilmour, who is the general manager of the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. "I'm still shaking at this time."
Nieuwendyk got the phone call in his second year of eligibility. He was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when he helped the Stars win the Cup in 1999 and he finished his career with 564 goals and 562 assists for 1,126 points in 1,257 games. He also won the Calder Trophy in 1988 and an Olympic gold with Team Canada in 2002.
"We play the game because we love it and we compete hard, and a few years later you get recognition like this," Nieuwendyk said. "It really is overwhelming."