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US Hockey Hall of Fame

Bettman among five elected to U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

NHL Commissioner, Stanley Cup winners Thomas, Gionta in Class of 2019 @NHLdotcom

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the driving force behind the League's financial stability and growth since taking office 26 years ago, is among five people who will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Dec. 12, it was announced Wednesday.

Former NHL players and Stanley Cup winners Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta, two-time U.S. Olympian Krissy Wendell, and Neal Henderson, the co-founder of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in Washington, will also be honored at the Hall's 47th induction dinner and ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Lester Patrick Trophy, awarded annually for outstanding service to hockey in the United States, will be presented on that date as well.

Bettman, who took office Feb. 1, 1993 as the NHL's first Commissioner, has driven explosive growth of the League, including its expansion from 24 to 32 teams (Seattle will begin play in 2021-22) and a tenfold increase in League revenues. The 67-year-old's vision and direction have spearheaded changes on and off the ice that have produced unprecedented franchise stability and competitive balance with the implementation of the salary cap in 2005, built the NHL into a global brand, attracted unprecedented network television coverage and developed the League into a multimedia company.

Attendance has grown by 7 million fans per season during the tenure of Bettman, who was born in Queens, New York, and television revenue and exposure have increased from long-term agreements with NBC in the United States (10 years, $2 billion) and Sportsnet in Canada (10 years, $5.2 billion).

"It's a great recognition of the work that goes on by the hundreds of people at the League office and at the clubs," Commissioner Bettman said on a conference call. "This recognition is more about the growth of the game than it is about any individual, including me. It's an honor to be part of the 47th class and to be honored with Brian, Tim, Neal and Krissy.

"When you have moments like this it tends to cause you to look back, feel a little older, but having you look back on all of the wonderful things that the game of hockey has done in communities and has done in my life as well. I'm grateful to be associated with this game and to be a part of it watching it grow to unprecedented heights."

Video: Bettman on being U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee

Thomas had a 2.52 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 426 regular-season games over nine NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars. The 45-year-old won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie in 2009 and 2011, and the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoff MVP with the Bruins in 2011, when he finished 16-9 with a 1.98 GAA, .940 save percentage and four shutouts in 25 games.

He was also awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy, given to the goalies for the team that allows the fewest goals, with Bruins teammate Manny Fernandez in 2009. Thomas represented the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (silver medal) and at the IIHF World Championship six times (1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2005 and 2008), finishing second in 1996.

A native of Flint, Michigan, Thomas was chosen by the Quebec Nordiques in the ninth round (No. 217) of the 1994 NHL Draft. He played at the University of Vermont (1993-97) and finished 81-43-15 in four seasons. As a junior, Thomas helped the Catamounts to the 1996 NCAA Frozen Four and led the nation with a .924 save percentage.

Thomas singled out two officials of USA Hockey, including Jim Johansson, the assistant executive director who died at the age of 53 on Jan. 21, 2018, for helping with his career.

"I'd like to thank USA Hockey for experiences that have led to a storybook life," Thomas said. "I'd like to specifically give recognition to (retired executive) Art Berglund who was instrumental in me receiving my chance both with USA Hockey and at higher levels. I'd also like to give recognition to Jim Johansson who I got know very well from my interactions and time spent with USA Hockey. I'd like to say thank you and I'm grateful."

Video: Inductees for the 2019 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

Gionta, a forward chosen by the New Jersey Devils in the third round (No. 82) of 1998 NHL Draft, had 595 points (291 goals, 304) in 1,026 NHL games over 16 seasons with the Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres and Bruins. The 39-year-old, who is the 43rd leading U.S.-born scorer in NHL history, won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003 and scored 48 goals in 2005-06, breaking the Devils' single-season record set by Pat Verbeek (46) in 1987-88.

He played seven seasons with the Devils (2001-09), five with the Canadiens (2009-14), three with the Sabres (2014-17) and one with the Bruins (2017-18). Gionta represented the United States at the 2006 Torino Olympics and 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Born in Rochester, New York, Gionta played four seasons at Boston College (1997-2001) and won the NCAA Division I men's championship as captain of the Eagles in 2001. A former captain of the Canadiens and Sabres, he retired from the NHL on Sept. 24, 2018.

Gionta said it was an honor to represent his country during international play.

"Every time I put on that jersey it did send chills down my back. It's one of those things, competing on the stage, especially the Olympic stage, is something you dream of as a kid," Gionta said. "You don't look at yourself when you're playing as somebody that wants to win awards, you just go out there day to day, living your dream. I was very fortunate that hockey gave me a great life and USA Hockey was able to have some dreams come true and be an Olympic athlete."

Video: Gionta on being U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee

Wendell had 237 points (106 goals, 131 assists) in 101 games in three seasons at the University of Minnesota (2002-05) and won back-to-back NCAA women's national championships (2004, 2005). The 37-year-old won the 2005 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the best female college hockey player after scoring 104 points (43 goals, 61 assists) in 40 games in 2004-05.

The native of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, averaged 4.21 goals per game at Park Center High School, where she played for three seasons, including one season on the boys' team, and had 335 points in 62 games.

She won a silver medal with the United States at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics, where she served as captain for the United States. Wendell, married to former NHL forward John Pohl, also represented the United States at the IIHF World Championship six times, winning the tournament in 2005 and finishing second five times (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007).

"When I first got into hockey my only option was playing with the boys," Wendell said. "There were only a few others (girls) that even played in Minnesota. Like a lot of the other ones (girls) I just played because I loved the game. … I could never have dreamed of the opportunities that this sport would provide, the places I've been able to see, the wonderful people I'd get to meet, play with, or that the Olympics were a possibility."

Video: Wendell on getting the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame call

Henderson, 82, created a community ice hockey program in inner-city Washington in 1978, and more than 40 years later, the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club is the oldest minority ice hockey program in North America. It serves about 50 players ages 8 to 18 each year at no charge, and participants are required to adhere to strict academic standards. It is recognized for its efforts to break down barriers and spread the game within communities of color.

Fort Dupont has blossomed into a program that uplifts, inspires and instills core values that go beyond the sport: respect, leadership, hard work, discipline, perseverance and teamwork.

A finalist for the inaugural Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award in 2018, Henderson was integral in building the foundation for the Hockey is for Everyone program with the NHL.

"For a gentlemen who everyone knows him as coach, I know him as dad," said Neal Henderson Jr., who was representing his father on the conference call. "He has put his life into this thing. Yet In the midst of that he's been able to juggle, spend a lot of time with kids, families, the team and really a country of hockey and yet he's done it all. He's honored, I'm honored, our family is honored, his grandchildren are honored. The team and the organization is honored."

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