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Memorable night for newest U.S. Hall of Famers

by Mike G. Morreale

DALLAS -- Mike Modano might be the highest-scoring U.S.-born player in NHL history, but he made it clear Monday during his induction speech into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame that he hopes those numbers do not define him as a player.

"What I'm most proud of is being a part of a group that brought hockey to Texas," Modano said. It was a moment that certainly will not be forgotten by those in attendance at the Plaza of the Americas Atrium during induction ceremonies here in the Lone Star State.

After all, the kid from Livonia, Mich., spent 20 of his 21 NHL seasons with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise before announcing his retirement last Sept. 23. Modano told everyone how much more popular the sport of hockey has become since he first arrived in Dallas in 1993, when there were no more than 100 registered youngsters playing the sport.

"Now there are 10,000 kids registered to play hockey and that's great," he said.

"We don't have to feel we're second to anybody anymore. The Americans are part of the game today as far as professional hockey goes. It's no longer an individual country … it's a world game and the United States expects to win."
-- Lou Lamoriello

Modano thanked many while also saluting fellow inductees Ed Olczyk and Lou Lamoriello.

Additionally, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this year paid tribute to Lester Patrick Trophy winners Dick Patrick and Bob Chase-Wallenstein, as well as Wayne Gretzky Award winner Murray Costello.

All three U.S Hall of Fame inductees praised USA Hockey, former coaches and many special people who played major roles in their success on international and professional levels.

"I'll never forget that 1996 World Cup team that Lou Lamoriello put together," Modano said while occasionally glancing over at the New Jersey Devils general manager sitting to his left. "That team was the most talented group of players I've ever been around.

"It's easy to see why Lou is regarded as the Godfather of American hockey."

Modano thanked former teammates Reed Larson and Neal Broten and said he was introduced to hockey by accident since he really didn't know much about it -- he enjoyed baseball. But countless trips to detention and the principal's office gave his father the idea of putting skates on his son's feet and attempting a new sport.

"My parents were looking to find me an outlet, and we found more than that," an emotional Modano said.

Olczyk, who seemed to fight back the tears with every passing sentence, mentioned four players who served as role models during his 16-year NHL career -- Troy Murray, Denis Savard, Darryl Sutter and Ron Francis. Murray and Francis were in attendance Monday.

"They each taught me what was right and how to do things on and off the ice," Olczyk said. "And the two best coaches I ever played for … Bob Pulford and John Paddock. They knew what I could do, they knew my strengths and they gave me an opportunity to play 16 years."


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Memories of the famous "Diaper Line" during the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo that included Olczyk, Pat LaFontaine and David A. Jensen also were shared. Both LaFontaine and Jensen were present to provide anecdotes.

"They had me on that line to just kind of keep the speed limit at what it was supposed to be," Olczyk said, "because Patty and D.A. could fly, and I pretty much just tried to keep up and get the puck to them. It was no doubt one of the best lines that I ever played on."

Just prior to Lamoriello taking the podium, Master of Ceremonies Steve Levy asked Mike "Doc" Emrick for his thoughts on Lamoriello, who helped the Devils win three Stanley Cups in his 25 years with the team. Emrick would know since he served as the television voice of the Devils from 1993 through 2011.

"What I remember is his desire to field the best teams, his commitment to defense and the integrity every player on his team possessed," Emrick said.

Lamoriello said that while the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team gave the young American players recognition, it wasn't until the 1996 World Cup of Hockey triumph against Canada that American players routinely began earning rosters spots in the NHL.

"We don't have to feel we're second to anybody anymore," Lamoriello said. "The Americans are part of the game today as far as professional hockey goes. It's no longer an individual country … it's a world game and the United States expects to win."

All three inductees thanked their parents, providing stories and lessons that they have passed on to their children.

Olczyk, who is now the lead game analyst for the NHL on NBC and the NBC Sports Network, capped the evening with a rather eloquent conclusion.

"In the elevator of life, we all ascend to different heights and some are at the highest forever, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there," he said. "But as we ascend in the elevator of life, you see a lot of the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. I've been to a lot of floors, I've seen a lot of the same people, and I'd like to think that all those people respected how I treated them. This night, this honor, has been and will always be tremendously tremendous."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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