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Four minutes, thousands to thank

by John McGourty / Detroit Red Wings
TORONTO -- Each of the five 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees is given four minutes for his speech and each of this year's inductees has found that isn't enough time to thank all of the people who helped them achieve this signal honor. They've all written their speeches, some of them several times over, but the common theme among them is that there just isn't time to thank everyone.

They're not criticizing the process, they all realize that thanking everyone probably couldn't be done in a half hour, maybe not even in a day. There have been many calls to old coaches, teammates and trainers since they received notice in June about their inclusion in the Hockey Hall of Fame and they're all hoping no one feels slighted when they give their speeches at the ceremony.

New Jersey Devils President/CEO/ General Manager Lou Lamoriello has won three Stanley Cups, so there's no chance he can thank everyone who helped in his success. But he said his coaches set a tone for success that has been handed down and that veteran Devils players have passed the team philosophy down to younger players through the years.

"When you have people like Larry Robinson, Jacques Laperriere, Scott Stevens, Jacques Lemaire helping you ... how can you not have success?"

Brett Hull will become the first NHL player to join his father in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He'll be thanking him and his mother, Joanne, for their influence and he'll give a nod to the coach you set him on the track to success.

"I remember at the end of my first full year in St. Louis, I had 41 goals and I had a meeting with (coach) Brian Sutter. I was expecting to get the pat on the back and 'way to go, kid, that's really great," Hull said. "He ripped me from stem to stern and told me 'You have no idea how good you are. You have no idea how good you could be. Your potential is to the moon and I'm going to make you realize that.'

"Leaving there, I could have taken that a couple of ways, but I took it as here was a guy that I had a lot of respect for and if he thinks that highly of me and believes that I could do all those things that he talked about maybe I should believe in myself as well. The next year, Bob Berry was our assistant coach and we worked together every day after practice to try to hone my raw talent and get it going in the right direction. I have a lot of respect for him too. Susie Mathieu, when I got to St. Louis was like my second mother and I don't know what I would have done without her for 11 years in St. Louis.

"The players like Kelly Chase that I played with who would whack me upside the head whenever I got too big for my britches and bring me back down to Earth. It's people like that, not a whole bunch of big things, who helped me over my whole career that either gave me encouragement or kicked me in the butt or helped me when I was down. There's too many to mention."

Luc Robitaille said that becoming a father, with all its duties, gave him a greater appreciation for his parents' sacrifices. A ninth-round draft pick, Robitaille will never forget the scout who was adamant that the Los Angeles Kings select him

"There are quite a few people for me, but as I was writing my speech a few weeks ago, I go back to mom and dad being at every practice," Robitaille said. "You a kid, you think they're supposed to be there. But then you realize, they spent a lot of time. When I got kids, I realized that.

"My first coach at Midget AAA, Claude Therrien, put me a left wing and said, 'I can't keep you at center, so I'm going to play you at left wing,' and I said, "OK, I'll play whatever to make your team. Then, in juniors, Pat Burns was my coach and getting us to another level as players with the team concept.       

"Then, Kings scout Alex Smart. From what I hear, I was on one list, his list. The reason I'm here today is because he believed in me. He was the only one. I owe him everything. He had to fight to get me picked in the ninth round by the Kings. For the next two years, he was constantly talking to me, trying to help me."

When Brian Leetch was asked who was on his thank-you list, he laughed heartily and said it was an impossible task. He was here a year ago when his longtime New York Rangers teammate, Mark Messier, set the modern time record with an emotional speech filled with thanks. They worked hand-in-hand to make the Rangers the 1994 Stanley Cup champions, but Messier's exuberance is matched by Leetch's reticence and reputation for precision. He'll get it done, probably right on the dot.

"They wanted you to do four minutes and out, so you do an outline, you fill it in and it's 25 minutes, so you start cutting stuff out," Leetch said. "So, you make a thank-you list and you can't even do that in four minutes, so you rip it up and start over again. There's going to be a lot of broad-stroke thank you's. There are a number of people I would like to point out and can't.

"My parents, Jack and Jan, are important and some of my former teammates are coming down. I'll thank them."

Steve Yzerman was painfully shy when he was younger and could have got it done in about 20 seconds 15 years ago, but he's become more outgoing in retirement. Excellent at everything he does, Yzerman will keep it tight and hit the right notes.

"Oh God, I've got a lot of people and only four minutes," Yzerman said. "You're kind of forced to keep things general. When you start getting specific about all the great players that I played with, we could be there for a while. There are a lot of people that contributed to why I'm here and I don't forget that. My parents will definitely be thanked."

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