When Kirk Muller signed with the defending Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars during the 1999-2000 season, he joined a veteran-laden team that had plenty of former captains littering the dressing room. What impressed him more, though, was the club's current one.
Playing on a squad that boasted players with multiple Stanley Cup rings, Derian Hatcher was the perfect leader for a Stars team that went to three straight Western Conference finals starting in 1998, and back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in '99 and 2000. While Muller, Mike Keane, Guy Carbonneau and Craig Ludwig opened their mouths in the locker room, Hatcher did all of his talking on the ice.
Those intimidating actions, for him, spoke much more volumes.
"He was the backbone of the team in Dallas," Muller said. "When I joined there, I really appreciated his competitiveness and his consistency."
So did Hatcher's country, as he, brother Kevin, Jeremy Roenick, Art Berglund and Dr. George Nagobads were formally inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday night in a ceremony in Buffalo, N.Y. at HSBC Arena. Fittingly, he accepted the highest honor bestowed on a U.S.-born player in the very same building that he and his teammates won the NHL's biggest prize over 11 years ago.
"I never dreamed I'd get so much out of hockey," Hatcher said. "The adventures I've had to share with my wife, children, parents, brothers, sisters and friends, it's remarkable. It's absolutely amazing."
It was also ironic that the 6-foot-5 behemoth defenseman went in with Roenick. At the end of that '98-99 season, Hatcher broke Roenick's jaw with a flying forearm that caused Roenick's face to rattle against the glass in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Reunion Arena. The play was in retaliation for Roenick leveling Mike Modano a few weeks earlier in Phoenix.
Hatcher was suspended for seven games, including the first five of the playoffs, while Roenick had his jaw wired shut and missed the first six games of that year's postseason.
But ask Roenick today about the event and he'll tell you that's just the way Hatcher played the game -- tough, strong and physical.
"Derian and I made each other better," Roenick said. "He was a fierce warrior, played the game extremely hard, and played the game the way it was supposed to be played. I respect the way he played. I would have loved to have Derian as a teammate rather than going against him because he ticked me off all the time."
"He was one of those players that you were glad you played with him and not against him," Muller added. "He played at the right time for him because that’s when you could play that type of hard style. He made it hard to play for guys like (Colorado's Peter) Forsberg and that. You'd pay a price if you played against Hatch."
Indeed. Originally selected eighth overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1990 after playing junior hockey for North Bay of the OHL, Hatcher's rise within the organization came quickly. He was named Minnesota's rookie of the year in 1991-92 when he played in 43 games, then was named the franchise's 20th team captain at the ripe old age of 22 after Neil Broten was traded to the New Jersey Devils in February 1995.
In the team's first season in Dallas in 1993-94, Hatcher showed North Texas what hockey was all about by racking up career-highs in penalty minutes with 211, and points with 31. In 1997 he was named to his first NHL All-Star team, and two years later became the first American-born player to captain a Stanley Cup winner.
"He was a huge part of why we won the Stanley Cup in Dallas," former teammate Pat Verbeek said. "He was just a mean and tough guy to play against."
During that magical Stanley Cup-winning season, Hatcher was paired with Richard Matvichuk, and the two played against the opposing team's top line night in and night out. Matvichuk had a knack for blocking shots, while Hatcher blocked bodies from getting in front of goalie Ed Belfour.
It was also up to the captain to look out for his teammates with his fists, something Hatcher did with authority.
"He fought, and he fought a lot of tough guys," Verbeek said.
But it was the other parts of the game that made Hatcher so much more important for coach Ken Hitchcock and the Stars on the back end.
"He had deceptive skills," Verbeek said. "He played in all situations, whether it was the power play or penalty kill. He brought a lot of different elements to the game. I think he probably was an underrated player overall."
"Derian did the little, unnoticed things like getting pucks out and making that little play under pressure," he said. "His ability to move the puck was really good. He didn't have real soft hands, but he always made a strong play with the puck. So he was pretty good for a big guy."
One of Hatcher's biggest disappointments was how things eventually flushed out after the Stars obtained his brother Kevin from the Washington Capitals in exchange for captain Mark Tinordi and Rick Mrozik in January 1995. The pair may have pressed a little bit too much before Kevin was ultimately dealt to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1996 for defenseman Sergei Zubov.
"I was just thankful for that opportunity," Kevin Hatcher said. "The first year I was defenseman of the year for them, but the second year really didn't work out as well. The team didn't really do very well, and you can't pinpoint anybody, but when that happens unfortunately there's changes. That happened to be me. But they got a great player for me."
Derian Hatcher also thrived when playing for his country. He was an integral part of the 1996 USA team that won the World Cup, accumulating five points in six games. He also played on the 1998 and 2006 Olympic teams, as well as the '93 and '02 U.S. National teams.
After 12 seasons with the North Stars/Stars, Hatcher toiled one year with the Detroit Red Wings before finishing his career with a three-year stint in Philadelphia. But his time in Dallas is what he remembers most.
"I spent 10 years in Dallas and have a lot of great memories there," he said. "You almost have to call it your home. It was tough leaving there."
Hatcher currently lives in South Jersey and is the Flyers player development coach, a position he's held for two years now.