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100 Greatest Players

Legends in awe of each other at NHL100

Gathering of greatest players connects generations

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

LOS ANGELES -- Even they were in awe. Even the legends themselves couldn't believe the company they were keeping. Over here were Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr. Over there were Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews.

"Every time I see a face," Bryan Trottier said, "it's like another wow."

When a blue-ribbon panel selected the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian, it formed the most exclusive club in hockey history, more exclusive than even the Hockey Hall of Fame. When the League revealed the full list at "The NHL100 presented by GEICO" at Microsoft Theater on Friday, it gathered more hockey talent than ever before, with more than 60 of the players in attendance.

Total the numbers. This group has combined for 34,821 goals, 56,394 assists, 91,215 points and 5,445 wins by goaltenders in the regular season. It has combined to win the Stanley Cup 307 times, the Hart Trophy 68 times, the Art Ross 58 times, the Vezina 49 times, the Norris 46 times, the Conn Smythe 36 times, on and on, and counting.

Video: NHL's best talk about being named to 100 Greatest

"To link the history together like this in one room, on one stage, on one night, has been quite incredible," Mark Messier said.

But the best part wasn't on stage with John Legend, Jon Hamm, Keanu Reeves and Alyssa Milano. It was backstage, in the green room, at the hotel. Not only was the history linked, it was mixed -- old teammates, old rivals, the older and younger generations -- catching up, talking hockey, sharing stories.

"We're fans as kids, and we're fans as players," Gretzky said. "We're all kids. We all idolize the game. We all grow up. And that's been the most interesting thing for me about this top 100, is whether it was Doug Harvey or Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier or Gordie Howe, we all have 'Hockey Night in Canada.' We all follow the National Hockey League."

Sergei Fedorov and Jari Kurri relaxed on the sofa together in the hotel lobby. Orr and Eric Lindros rode the elevator together. Crosby and Dave Keon chatted in the hall. Keon said he was "thrilled" because Crosby's "the man."

Video: Teemu Selanne discusses being named to the NHL100

"The hockey world is a small world," Crosby said. "Even though you play at different times, everyone has a passion for the game. It's clear just the way everybody interacts. Whatever generation it is, everyone's just so enthusiastic about the game and so excited to spend time with each other."

Ovechkin spotted Lemieux 20 or 30 feet away and rushed up to take a photo. Bobby Clarke introduced himself to Ovechkin, and Ovechkin told him, "I know who you are."

"I'm in awe," he told a friend. "Just legends here."

In the hallway of the theater before the show, Marcel Dionne walked with his arm around Patrick Kane. Brett Hull and Mike Modano were together again. So were Dominik Hasek and Nicklas Lidstrom. Others met each other for the first time.

"Mr. Kelly? Mike Bossy," Bossy said with a smile, sticking out his hand.

Video: Lidstrom on NHL100, All-Star Weekend

"Oh!" Red Kelly said, shaking Bossy's hand. "Used to watch you."

In the green room, Bossy took a selfie between Toews and Crosby. Archrivals acted like old friends. Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche chatted with Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings.

"When you see people who brought the best out of you as a competitor, regardless of how much blood you spilled with each other a couple decades ago, you appreciate those guys," Shanahan said. "I appreciate the Roys and the Sakics and the Forsbergs."

And they appreciate the Shanahans and Yzermans.

"It was something we were all proud to be a part of," Sakic said. "Regular-season games were like playoff games. I think we all feel pretty privileged to be a part of such an intense rivalry for so long."

Video: Messier talks about legends being honored at NHL100

Every face, another wow. Groups of legends stepped on stage to be introduced, then came off and autographed a posterboard. Gretzky leaned over Bobby Hull's shoulder as Hull signed, and when Hull realized it was him, he let out his gravely laugh. As they waited their turn, the legends watched the show -- Toews, Kane, Lindros, Martin Brodeur and Joe Nieuwendyk here; Fedorov, Lemieux, Shanahan, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille over there. Wow, wow, wow ...

If you know Yzerman, you know he's prone to understatement. Rarely is anything a big deal. But he looked around at his heroes: Bossy, Orr, Trottier, Gilbert Perreault.

"You know," he said, "I read half of these guys' books when I was a kid."

He looked at the current players he admires and wishes he could acquire now that he is general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was not the time for understatement.

"This," Yzerman said, "is awesome."

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