"I was so blessed to play hockey in college. I only had two years there, but it was a perfect stepping stone to the Olympic team and onward into minors and the professional ranks."
-- Mike Richter
The college experience certainly was an influential part of the careers of four of the most decorated players in United States hockey history.
Cammi Granato of Providence College, Brett Hull
of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Brian Leetch
of Boston College and Mike Richter
of the University of Wisconsin will share one other impressive honor when they are enshrined into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame during an induction dinner Friday at the Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver.
"There's no question college hockey has played a big role in helping players reach that next level," said New Jersey Devils
President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello, a former coach at Providence College who was a co-founder and commissioner of Hockey East. "I think we can thank the 1980 Olympic men's team for that because that's when college hockey players were first recognized and really given an opportunity. Since then, we've had some tremendous players coming out of college who have continued into the pro ranks and it's not only great for college hockey, but hockey in North America. All four of this year's inductees are certainly exemplary of that."
Granato, the first woman to be inducted into the U.S. Hall, scored a school-record 139 goals and won ECAC Player of the Year each season from 1991-93. She led the Lady Friars to back-to-back ECAC championships in 1991-92 and 1992-93 while ending her career with a school-record 256 points.
"Not only did I become good friends with my teammates at Providence, but I also became really good friends with the players from all the teams we competed against because I eventually started playing on national and Olympic teams with them," Granato said. "You start making these friendships with a lot of the girls and many even became my roommates, so we lived like sisters. We were constantly e-mailing and text-messaging each other during road trips."
Because her brothers Tony, Don and Rob, all played at Wisconsin and were one-time captains, Cammi was raised on the collegiate game.
"Because of my brothers, I grew up idolizing the (Wisconsin) Badgers and I was always watching games and waiting outside the locker room for a brief two-minute conversation with any player," she said. "I watched my brothers constantly at Wisconsin, went to games and saw, first-hand, what they went through each week and that was really beneficial because my goal at that time was to play college hockey.
"They would bring home their training regimen and I would see my brother Don doing plyometrics in the yard with a weight vest and I said, 'Hey, what's he doing?' or I'd see Rob on the slide board and I would think, 'OK, I want to try this too,' " she said. "So I was really lucky to have all that stuff coming right to me."
Richter spent two seasons at Wisconsin, where he roomed with Tony Granato
. As a freshman in 1985-86, he went 14-9 with a 3.96 goals-against average. In 1986-87 he finished 19-16-1 with a 3.54 GAA and was named a Second-Team All-Star before leaving school to join the U.S. national team in preparation for the 1988 Olympics.
"I was so blessed to play hockey in college," Richter said. "I only had two years there, but it was a perfect stepping stone to the Olympic team and onward into minors and the professional ranks. There are so many good teams and players across the nation and my only regret is I couldn't play more than two years, but the timing is such that you move when you should.
"The foundation in college was fantastic, the competition was great, I had great coaching and it's really a memorable time in your life. Playing college hockey makes that jump to the pros a little easier, and for me it was a great proving ground and improving ground to get to the next level. I owe a lot to the college game."
Hull spent two seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth before making his international debut for Team USA at the 1986 World Championships in Moscow. "The Golden Brett" totaled 84 goals and 144 points in 90 games.
"College was a real good place for me to go to mature and the program they had at Duluth was perfect because they offered the Olympic skating program and skating was something that was a weakness of mine at the time," Hull said. "But in those two years at Duluth, the program helped me work on my skating and I guess become a good enough skater to eventually play in the League."
Hull said the college game can offer even more to today's skaters.
"I really think the NCAA must develop more of an NHL game," he said. "From when I played to what I see now, the college game is not nearly as wide open or fun because of the hooking and holding. It seems kids coming out of college take a little longer to adjust to the NHL game now, so I don't understand why colleges wouldn't want their game to be as exciting as possible. I do feel, though, that college is a great place for kids to mature."
Following in the footsteps of his father Jack, Brian Leetch
enrolled at Boston College in the fall of 1986 and became an All-American defenseman for the Eagles. Leetch posted 38 assists and 47 points in 37 games at Boston College in 1986-87 before beginning an illustrious international and NHL career.
"I think we can thank the 1980 Olympic men's team for that because that's when college hockey players were first recognized and really given an opportunity. Since then, we've had some tremendous players coming out of college who have continued into the pro ranks and it's not only great for college hockey, but hockey in North America." – Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello
"When I was younger I was looking forward to a comfort level and, fortunately, college hockey presented that," Leetch said. "I had good coaching and having a 35-game schedule would eventually prepare me for that Olympic-type season. The competition and practice facilities were great and I was fortunate.
"I remember my dad taking me to college games and the thing that also impressed me was how loud the crowds were and the excitement with the band playing inside the arena. The energy I experienced going from prep school hockey (at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut) to the atmosphere at B.C. was so much fun."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com