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Yzerman reaches NHL pinnacle with Hall call

by Christy Hammond / Detroit Red Wings
Steve Yzerman won three Stanley Cups as captain of the Red Wings, and is revered as one of the top all-time sports figures in Detroit.
DETROIT – In 1983 the Red Wings selected an
Yzerman: Heading to the Hall
18-year-old from Nepean, Ontario, with the fourth overall selection in the draft. Three Stanley Cups, one Olympic gold medal, Conn Smythe Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, Selke Trophy and Masterton Trophy later, the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee announced on Tuesday that Steve Yzerman is among the induction class of 2009.

The player that Detroit fans affectionately referred to as “The Captain” will be inducted during a ceremony in Toronto on November 9, headlining an extraordinary class, which includes former teammates from the 2002 Stanley Cup winning team, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. New York Rangers’ legendary defenseman Brian Leetch is also a part of the 2009 class.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive this news,” Yzerman said.  “I truly had chills down my spine when I got the news.”

It's the first time in 43 years that three players from one Stanley Cup winning team have joined the same Hall class. Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and Emile Bouchard won the Cup with the Canadiens in 1944 and entered the Hall in 1966. The first Cup-winning trio of Punch Boradbent, Reg Nobles and Nels Stewart were inducted in 1962. They won the Cup together with the Montreal Maroons in 1926.

Yzerman’s list of personal accomplishments is nothing short of impressive. He is the Red Wings’ all-time leader in assists (1,063) and ranks second all-time in goals (692) and points (1,755). Only Gordie Howe (1,687) and Alex Delvecchio (1,549) played more games in a Red Wings' sweater. Yzerman retired on July 3, 2006 with the sixth-highest point total in NHL history.

Yzerman continued to excel offensively even when the pressure mounted in the postseason as he recorded 70 goals and 115 assists in 196 playoff contests. It’s hard to forget Yzerman snagging the bouncing puck from Wayne Gretzky in Game 7 of the 1996 Western Conference semifinals against St. Louis before rushing up the ice and firing off a rocket from just inside the blue line to snap a scoreless tie in double overtime. He earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 1998 after leading all scorers with 18 assists and 24 points en route to a back-to-back title.

He inspired his teammates and the city of Detroit with his perseverance through intense knee pain during the 2001-02 season. Despite having to use his stick as a crutch to get up off the ice, Yzerman led his star-studded team with 23 points in as many games during the 2002 playoff run to win his third Stanley Cup. In the ensuing off-season, he had serious knee realignment surgery – typically reserved to help the elderly walk – returning to the lineup in late February and ultimately winning the Bill Masterton Trophy for his dedication and effort to the sport of hockey.

"He was a pretty quiet leader but whenever he said something, he would go out and prove it on the ice, producing results through his work ethic," Red Wings current captain Nicklas Lidstrom. "The bigger the game, the better Stevie played. One of the things I've tried to do is lead by example."

Yzerman modified his offensive-first approach under the tutelage of coach Scotty Bowman, developing into a strong two-way forward and eventually winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward in 2000.

In 23 seasons, Yzerman led the club in scoring 11 times and scored over 100 points six times. He set franchise records for goals (65), assists (90) and points (155). His five seasons of 50-or-more goals are the most in Red Wings' history and he owns the three-highest goal-scoring seasons in franchise history in 1988-89 (65); 1989-90 (62); and 1992-93 (58).

It was Yzerman’s role as team leader that endeared him to so many hockey fans – not just Red Wings' fans – and garnered respect from his opponents across the league. Yzerman retired after serving 20 years as captain, setting a record across all North American sports teams. Even though he has retired, Yzerman remains the face of the Red Wings franchise alongside Gordie Howe.

For his retirement night -- Jan. 2, 2007 -- the team produced a 178-page book "Nineteen: A Salute to Steve Yzerman" that chronicled his illustrious career. In the book, all 30 team captains from the 2006-07 season, as well as other hockey greats, shared stories and memories of Yzerman.

"Steve was one of the most complete players to ever play the game; from offense, defense and a terrific face-off specialist," Bowman said. "He was a tremendous leader and competitor with all of the intangibles and characteristics of a superstar."

While Yzerman’s knee could no longer endure the daily grind of the NHL, his passion for the game remains as evidenced in his work off-the-ice for the front office of the Wings' organization as well as Team Canada. Yzerman will go for his second Olympic gold medal, but first as general manager, for Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

"His offensive talents speak for themselves," said Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer in 2007. "But the thing that sticks out in my mind from playing against him is how he would do the little things, like go down to block a shot or stand in there and take the hit to try to get the puck out of the zone. ... Those are the things you have to do to have success in hockey, and when you see one of your best offensive players doing those things, it's pretty inspiring."

Hull: Heading to the Hall
When the Red Wings won the Cup in 2002, it was widely acknowledged that the roster included nine potential future hall of famers. Three members off that roster will join former teammate Igor Larionov, who was inducted last year, in the Hall in five months. 

Hull will enter the Hall of Fame 26 years after his father Bobby Hull received the honor. Brett Hull's 741 goals makes him the highest-scoring American and ranks him third best in NHL history, trailing only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe. In 1,269 regular-season games, Hull also posted 650 assists.

He had a knack for scoring timely goals – he is tied atop the league with 24 game-winning markers in the playoffs. The sniper scored 103 goals and notched 87 assists in 202 playoff games during his career.

It’s no surprise that his offensive prowess resulted in numerous accolades. Hull won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1990 and a season later he received the Lester B. Pearson and Hart Trophy. He was selected to the NHL First All-Star Team three straight years (1990-92), leading the NHL in goals in each of those seasons.

Hull tallied 207 points (92 goals and 115 assists), including 14 game-winners, in three regular-seasons with Detroit. During those three seasons, Hull was an integral part of the “Two Kids and a Goat” line, which featured a young Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Hull added 13 goals and 11 assists in 39 playoff games during his time with the Wings, winning the second Stanley Cup of his career in 2002.

Robitaille: Heading to the Hall
Robitaille is the all-time leading scorer among left wingers with 668 goals and 726 assists in 1,431 regular-season games. He registered 58 goals and 69 assists in 159 playoff games.

Robitaille spent 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, where he's been president of business operations since retiring as a player in 2006. The left winger played two seasons with the Red Wings where he teamed up with Yzerman and Hull to win the Stanley Cup in 2002 before returning to the Kings in 2003. Robitaille recorded 41 goals and 40 assists over a span of two seasons in Detroit. He contributed in the postseason with five goals and five assists in 27 contests.

The Montreal native entered the NHL in 1987 with a bang as he went on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy and earned a selection to the NHL All-Rookie Team. The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association named him to the NHL First All-Star Team five times and Robitaille played in eight NHL All-Star Games in his career.

HOW IT WORKS: For a player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the individual must be three years into retirement for starters. The selection committee, consisting of 18 members this year, will nominate and later vote for the respective year’s class. Each class can include a maximum of four players, one builder, and one referee/linesman.

During the voting process, a player is removed from consideration that year if he or she fails to receive at least 50 percent of the vote. Each inductee must receive at least 75 percent of the votes to enter the Hall of Fame. If the initial vote fails to generate four players grabbing the required 75 percent vote minimum, the committee will conduct a series of run-off ballots.

This means that to be selected into the 2009 HHOF class, 14 of the 18 selection committee members voted for each of the respective players. editor Bill Roose contributed to this report.

Career NHL Statistics for Yzerman, Hull & Robitaille
  Regular-Season Playoffs
NHL Totals GP G A Pts. PIM GP G A Pts. PIM
Steve Yzerman 1,514 692 1,063 1,755 924 196 70 115 185 84
Brett Hull 1,269 741 650 1,391 458 202 103 87 190 73
Luc Robitaille 1,431 668 726 1,394 1,177 159 58 69 127 174

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