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Hull, Leetch led American golden era

by John McGourty
Brett Hull and Brian Leetch are two of the greatest American hockey players of all time and part of the generation of U.S. players who were inspired by Team USA's "Miracle On Ice" Olympic gold medal in 1980.

As such, they join Rod Langway (inducted in 2002) and Pat LaFontaine (2003) as Americans in the Hockey Hall of Fame who were thrilled and motivated by that victory. They also join the coach of that team, Herb Brooks, and his assistant, Craig Patrick, in the Hall.

Both will be inducted along with New Jersey Devils President, CEO and General Manager Lou Lamoriello, who was the general manager of their victorious 1996 World Cup of Hockey team and of Team USA in the 1998 Winter Olympics.

"Brett and I are part of the group that was old enough to remember 1980 and be spurred on from a country standpoint," Leetch said. "I was using that as a goal and as I got older, the NHL was second in my mind because I didn't know anybody who played in the NHL and it was hard to relate to players on TV.

"I knew there was a bunch of (American) college kids who were successful, and I thought I might be able to do that."

Leetch and Hull lead what is considered the golden age of American hockey and may be followed to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the years to come by Chris Chelios, Mike Richter, Bill Guerin, Phil Housley, Mike Modano, John LeClair and Doug Weight.

Leetch is the only American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and this is the third-straight year that a member of the Rangers' 1994 Cup-winning team will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Mark Messier was inducted two years ago and Glenn Anderson was inducted last year.

Leetch was the ninth pick in the 1986 Entry Draft and played 18 NHL seasons, scoring 247 goals and adding 781 assists. He had 28 goals and 69 assists in 95 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Leetch was named the 1994 Conn Smythe Trophy winner when he led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup since 1940 by scoring 11 goals and 23 assists in the playoffs.

"It had been 54 years since the Rangers won a championship, and we had a diehard group of fans who passed on their allegiance to their kids and families," Leetch said. "We had a large group of fans who believed the Rangers would never reach that level.

"There was a frustration level of being a fan and I was one of them," said Leetch, who grew up in Connecticut. "To be on that Rangers' team, I just sat back and enjoyed it. It was a tribute to the management and players on that team at the time. That was our one shot at it. We never got back to the Final with that group of players, and the Rangers are still trying to get back. It was a single season that stands out in the minds of people in the New York area."

The Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks in the 1994 Cup Final, after downing Lamoriello's Devils in one of the best-remembered semifinal series. They trailed the Devils three games to two before Messier guaranteed a Rangers' victory in Game 6 and delivered on his promise with a hat trick.

"I wish I couldn't comment on that series, but I will because of how instrumental Brian was," Lamoriello said. "Brian had a tremendous year that year. He was the catalyst for that great Rangers team.

"We all know what Brian brought to the game, and still brings to the game and can continue to bring. His play that year was extremely exceptional. We could not contain him. That series was a great series and it was not surprising that the Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup."

Leetch was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1989, when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. He won the James Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman in 1991-92 and 1996-97. He was named to the NHL First All-Star Team twice and the Second All-Star Team three times and played in nine NHL All-Star Games. Leetch was also the Hockey East rookie of the year and player of the year in 1986-87 -- his lone season at Boston College.

"My dad played for Boston College against Lou when he played for Providence, and I interviewed at Providence when Lou was the athletic director," Leetch said. "Lou brought passion in a leadership role. He was determined to represent our country with pride and he expected to be successful. It's great to be able to go in with him."

Hull joins his father, Bobby, as the first father-son duo to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. They are the only father-son duo to have both members score more than 600 goals and 1,000 points, said Selection Committee co-Chair Pat Quinn, who was recently named coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

"It is hard to put into words what this means to me, especially since I'm joining my father in the Hockey Hall of Fame," Hull said in a statement.

Hull broke into the NHL in 1986 after two seasons of college hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He played three seasons for the Calgary Flames, 11 for the St. Louis Blues, three years each for the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings and five games in 2005-06 for the Phoenix Coyotes before retiring.

Hull scored 741 goals, third-best in NHL history, and 650 assists in 1,269 regular-season games. A Stanley Cup winner with Dallas in 1999 and Detroit in 2002, Hull had 103 goals and 87 assists in 202 playoff games. He is the Blues' all-time leader with 527 goals.

Hull's best season was 1990-91 when he teamed with center Adam Oates to produce 86 goals and 45 assists for 131 points. He surpassed 100 points for times while with the Blues. Hull had 72 goals for St. Louis the previous season and 70 goals in 1991-92. He broke the 50-goal mark in four other seasons. His 33 hat tricks are fourth-best in NHL history.

Hull was named to the NHL First All-Star Team in 1989-90, 1990-91 and 1991-92 after leading the NHL in goals in each of those seasons. He won the Hart Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award in 1991 and the Lady Byng Trophy in 1990. He played in eight NHL All-Star Games.

Hull led the playoffs with 10 goals in 2002 and 11 goals in 2000, when Dallas lost the Stanley Cup Final to the New Jersey Devils in their bid to repeat as champions. He led all playoff scorers with 24 points in 2000.

Hull is tied for first with 24 playoff game-winning goals and is the leader with 38 playoff power-play goals. He had the series-winning goal in the third overtime of Game 6 in 1999.

Hull was the leading goal scorer and top points producer in the 1996 World Cup Hockey when he helped the United States to the championship. Hull had 7 goals and 4 assists for 11 points, including the tying goal against Canada in the final game, 43 seconds before Tony Amonte's game-winner. Hull's goal was a deflection, behind his back, of a point shot from Leetch.

Yzerman was Hull's teammate on the 2002 Stanley Cup-winning Red Wings. Yzerman said he developed a newfound appreciation for Hull's range of skills, no longer thinking of him as just a shooter.

"He's an excellent athlete, a fantastic golfer," Yzerman said. "He was a very good all-around player. Everyone knows his ability on one-timers, using that curved and flexible stick. His wrist shot was as good as anyone's and he had great hand-eye coordination. Those deflections? He did that a lot. We killed penalties together because he took pride in being a good hockey player in all situations. It was important to him to be recognized by the coach as a complete hockey player, someone who could be on the ice in the last minute of a close game."

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