O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, and Bettman, who has been Commissioner since Feb. 1, 1993, are going into the Hall in the builders category.
"I was laughing and I was crying and I was at a loss for words," O'Ree, 82, said of his reaction when he received the call informing him he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. "It's just been a great year this year."
All had similar reactions when they received their call from Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald and selection committee chairman John Davidson.
Video: Brodeur on being inductee for the Hockey Hall of Fame
Brodeur, now an assistant general manager of the St. Louis Blues, said he was sitting beside Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson in the stands at Blues development camp when he got the call. St. Louis was at his lake house in Quebec, in the kitchen with his dad and his wife.
O'Ree said he had been pacing for four hours in his house before the call came. Commissioner Bettman was at a retirement luncheon for NHL group vice president of public relations Frank Brown. Hefford was at home by herself, her three young kids not around, which she said gave her a chance to reflect and call family members.
Yakushev didn't even answer the phone. The 71-year-old was on the ice playing in a men's league game in Russia. A friend of his answered and had to get Yakushev to call back.
"He said, 'Oh, this is the best day of my life, this is so good,'" McDonald said.
Brodeur, a first-time eligible candidate after waiting the required three years following his last professional game (Jan. 2, 2015), is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils and the NHL all-time leader in wins (691) and shutouts (125).
He holds the NHL records for games played by a goaltender (1,266), saves (28,928), minutes played (74,438), 30-win seasons (14), consecutive 30-win seasons (12), consecutive 35-win seasons (11), 40-win seasons (eight) and consecutive 40-win seasons (three).
Brodeur won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL in 1994, the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie four times (2003, 2004, 2007, 2008) and the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals-against in a season with a minimum of 25 appearances five times (1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2010).
Brodeur shares the record for most wins in a season (48) with Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
"Even though there's a lot of talk, until you get the phone call from the proper people you always think what's going to happen, how it's going to happen?" Brodeur said. "When the call came, the 416 number from Toronto, I figured that was the number, so I stepped away a little bit and took it all in. It was a pretty exciting time."
Video: Martin St. Louis on being a 2018 inductee for HHOF
St. Louis, also in his first year of eligibility, went from being an undrafted player largely because of his size (5-foot-8) to a Stanley Cup champion who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL most valuable player in 2004.
St. Louis also won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the NHL in 2004 and 2013, the Ted Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players' Association in 2004, and the Lady Byng Trophy for his skill and sportsmanship in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
He also won an Olympic gold medal with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
St. Louis finished his NHL career with 1,033 points (391 goals, 642 assists) in 1,134 games and is the Lightning's all-time leader in assists (588), points (953), power-play points (300), shorthanded goals (28), shorthanded points (44), game-winning goals (64), overtime goals (10), Stanley Cup Playoff goals (33) and postseason points (68).
"My idol was Mats Naslund. He was a little guy," St. Louis said of the 5-foot-7 former Montreal Canadiens forward. "When I got older and in college, I watched Theo Fleury, Cliff Ronning and even Dougie Gilmour, who I think is 5-10, a smaller player. Guys inspired me. I always felt like if they're there, if they're exceptions, why can't I be one? I knew it was possible."
Video: Discussing Willie O'Ree entering the HHOF
O'Ree became the first black player in the NHL on Jan. 18, 1958, when he took the ice for the Boston Bruins against the Canadiens.
He played 45 NHL games and had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists), but he's more known for breaking down barriers and his community involvement to promote the game of hockey.
O'Ree was hired by the NHL in 1998 as director of youth development and an ambassador for NHL diversity. He has championed the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone initiative, which has introduced more than 120,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to the game and established 36 local grassroots hockey programs, all geared toward serving economically disadvantaged youth.
He recently presented the first Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award, which went to Darcy Haugan, the late coach of the Humboldt Broncos.
"It was 20 years ago that I named him our diversity ambassador, and this to me for him was personal," Commissioner Bettman said. "Just getting to know him over the 20 years, seeing the way he interacts with young people and the difference that he makes in their lives, was absolutely one of the most rewarding experiences I've had as commissioner."
Video: Gary Bettman on entering the Hockey Hall of Fame
Commissioner Bettman has overseen rapid and massive growth in his 25-plus years. The NHL has grown from 24 to 31 teams under Commissioner Bettman, and annual revenue now exceeds $4 billion, up from about $400 million when he began.
"What makes the game of hockey so wonderful is the fans, the players, the coaches, the cities that back their teams, the global growth of hockey, the ever-expanding growth of our game in North America and, of course, the competitive balance we are fortunate to have in our league," Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky said. "The Commissioner's vision to give every club a chance to win the Stanley Cup has made our game stronger. His leadership and love for hockey is very evident. And hockey has become more entertaining year after year, thanks in part to his passion for the game. Congratulations, Mr. Bettman."
The NHL has also become a more global sport under Commissioner Bettman with regular-season games played in European markets and Japan, as well as preseason games in China. The League has participated in four Winter Olympics and held three World Cup of Hockey tournaments under Commissioner Bettman.
"Gary has been a force of nature for the National Hockey League," said longtime NHL executive Brian Burke, who served as Commissioner Bettman's first director of hockey operations. "His vision, wisdom and leadership have truly transformed the game at all levels."
Commissioner Bettman has overseen the birth of the salary cap, which was instituted in 2005 and has helped stabilize franchises with more cost certainty, as well as the major success that is the NHL outdoor games.
"I'm proud of the fact that at the League level and at the club level both on and off the ice there are hundreds, if not thousands of people that are committed to and have been working very hard to grow the game at all levels," Commissioner Bettman said. "There are more people now involved in hockey, watching hockey, fans of hockey, not just at the NHL level but at all levels. … To see that impact grow geographically and in sheer numbers has been very rewarding for everyone associated with the game."
Hefford played for Canada at five Winter Olympics and was a part of four gold medal-winning teams (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014). She scored the gold medal-winning goal against the United States at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and is one of five athletes to win gold at four consecutive Winter Olympics.
Video: Brodeur, O'Ree, Bettman headline Hall of Fame class
Hefford also helped Canada win seven gold medals and five silver medals at the IIHF World Women's Championship.
"When I received the call today, it was more emotional than I expected, I think maybe even more emotional than some of the medals I have won over the course of my career," Hefford said. "I think this goes to so many people, family and friends and teammates and coaches along the way."
Yakushev was a star in the U.S.S.R with Spartak Moscow, but his coming-out party for fans in North America came in the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.
He led the Soviets with 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in the eight-game series. He scored two goals in the eighth and final game of the series to help the Soviets take a 5-3 lead before Canada rallied in the third period for a 6-5 win to take the series.
"[The] Hall of Fame in Toronto for hockey people all over the world is the same as [the] Oscars Awards for people of [the] movie industry," Yakushev said. "I've been there when Sergei Fedorov was inducted. The atmosphere was very special. All the inductees were very proud they were chosen to be there. It's really great and important, for me as well."
Yakushev excelled internationally, winning gold medals with the Soviet Union at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics and the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics and helping the U.S.S.R. win seven IIHF World Championships.
"This is an exciting class to be around because everybody has tried to take their game, in quotes, to the next level," Commissioner Bettman said.
Joe Bowen, the longtime radio voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster, and Larry Brooks of the New York Post will receive the Elmer Ferguson Award for excellence in hockey journalism at the Hockey Hall of Fame NHL Media Awards Luncheon in Toronto on Nov. 12.