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Hull part of illustrious Hall class

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

TORONTO -- Tell Brett Hull that this year's Hockey Hall of Fame's induction class could be the best ever, and he'll disagree -- sort of.

"This is a great class, but I don't know how you can ever have a class that's the greatest without Wayne Gretzky," Hull said on Monday at the Hall of Fame.

With apologies to the "Great One" Gretzky, arguable the best player to have ever laced up a pair of skates, the class of 2009 will undoubtedly go down as one of the most elite collection of talent to get enshrined all at once.

"It's very rare we have so many good players inducted at the same time," Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Bill Hay said.

The five inductees -- Hull, Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch, Steve Yzerman and New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello -- have won 10 Stanley Cups between them, two Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP, and made nearly 35 All-Star Game appearances. All four players were either a captain or co-captain at one point in their career, while Lamoriello became president of the Devils in 1987.

"I certainly appreciate people thinking that (this is the best class ever) but I don't know if that's for me to judge," said Yzerman, who played over 20 years for the Red Wings. "I haven't paid attention or looked at other classes but I'm pretty excited to go in with this group. They are all very talented, and they're all Stanley Cup winners. It's a great group and I'm proud to be a part of it."

The connection between the five is as fascinating as what they all did on and off the ice. Hull, Robitaille and Yzerman were a part of Detroit's 2002 Stanley Cup winner, while Hull and Leetch were players on USA's 1996 World Cup championship. Both Yzerman's Red Wings (1995) and Hull's Stars (2000) lost to Lamoriello's Devils, while Leetch's New York Rangers ousted those Devils in 1994 en route to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1940. 

"It's unbelievable," Hull said after the fearsome-fivesome received their Hall of Fame rings on Monday morning. "Those guys were not only opponents of mine, but ended up being teammates in a lot of situations, and I won with each and every one of them. To have a class like this, all eligible at the same time, and to have the connections is amazing. I mean, Brian's father used to play with Lou. It goes that deep. To win championships and then to be elected into the Hall of Fame with these guys is the greatest thrill."

Lamoriello broke Hull and the rest of the Stars' hearts in that 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, preventing Dallas from winning back-to-back titles. The Stars lost to the Devils when New Jersey forward Jason Arnott scored the Cup-winning goal in double-overtime at Reunion Arena in Game 6.

"That series was a war," Lamoriello remembered. "That was probably the most physical series I've ever seen. The players just played. If it were today, I think everybody would be getting upset and saying how violent it was. But yet, it was a great series, and as good a series as we played."

Hull also recalled that '99-00 team, a squad that sometimes gets lost in the glory of the 1999 Stanley Cup winning club.

"Nobody ever talks about that," Hull said. "That was a good run in itself. We came up a little bit short, but that happens."

Hull also remembers a gritty rookie by the name of Brenden Morrow, who was already beginning to make an impact on a team that was loaded with seasoned-veterans.

"I tried to (take him under my wing), but those young guys are in such awe when they get there," Hull said. "From the first day we met we've been very good friends. I still try to help him to this day, and I think you see a little bit of me in him. He was such a go right to the front of the net guy, but now you see him and he kind of creeps out to the high slot a little bit. I saw him score a goal on a one-timer the other day from the high slot, and it really brought a smile to my face."

Just like the grins that were plentiful in the Hall of Fame's Great Hall room on Monday.

"This is a great class, and class is a great way to describe those other four guys," Hull said. "But I guess I'm sort of the thorn in those groups of roses."

Actually, all five inductees were thorns in their opponent's sides.

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