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Nieuwendyk, Belfour truly deserving of inductions into Hockey Hall of Fame

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

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For two men who played crucial roles in bringing a Stanley Cup to Dallas and helping establish the Stars organization as one of the NHL’s very best, it is only fitting that they enter the Hockey Hall of Fame together.

Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour will be among four inductees to the Hall in a ceremony in Toronto on Monday, along with Doug Gilmour and Mark Howe. Both former Stars are well-deserving of the honor, not only for their accomplishments in Dallas, but also elsewhere in the NHL over the course of long, distinguished careers characterized by lots of winning.

It really is the ultimate individual accomplishment for a hockey player, even in some ways surpassing the glory experienced by winning a Stanley Cup.

“It’s a great thrill, a great honor and very humbling to be going into the Hall of Fame,” said Nieuwendyk, now the Stars General Manager, who collected the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in that magical Cup run of 1999. “I never played the game thinking that this was the end result, nobody ever does. It’s something that, now that it’s happening, I’m very grateful for.”

“I didn’t expect it in any way and I was just flabbergasted when I heard about it,” said Belfour, who was elected in his first year of eligibility following an outstanding 18-year NHL career. “Obviously, it’s a real honor and it’s even more an honor to be picked right away. There’s a lot of mixed emotions. You always have it in your heart that you want to continue to play, but it has to come to an end, it’s unfortunate that time comes for all of us, but it’s a great honor to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”

Both former Stars offered a lot of credit to their support networks, including past teammates, coaches and family members who helped them along the way.

“I want to thank all my teammates that I played with over the years,” said Belfour, who last played in 2007-08 with Leksands IF in Sweden’s second division. “Obviously without them, I couldn’t have had success and all the great coaches I had throughout the years, my mom and dad, everyone that backed me and helped me be a better player and a better person on and off the ice.”

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“For me, you just start to reflect on all the great people you played with along the way,” added Nieuwendyk, who retired in Dec. 2006 after battling a chronic back injury. “Starting in minor hockey and my college days with the great guys that I met at Cornell University and the terrific players I played with in pro hockey along the way that paved the way for my career.

“It doesn’t happen without a great support network, not only from great organizations that I’ve been with, coaches, general managers, but most importantly, teammates and family. I’ve been very blessed with my lovely wife Tina, who has supported me through, who had to deal with my mood swings through wins and losses, my three beautiful kids, even though they didn’t get a chance to see their dad play hockey very often, they still support me today, and they’ve meant a lot to me.”

Nieuwendyk, who won the 1988 Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year when he scored a career-high 51 goals, completed his 20-year NHL career with 564 career goals, ranking 21st in league history, and 1,126 points in the regular season. He also compiled 66 goals and 116 points in 158 playoff games on the way to three different Stanley Cup championships for three different teams in three different decades (Calgary in 1989, Dallas in ’99 and New Jersey in 2003).

In nearly seven years with the Stars (1995-2002), which helped transform the club from a local novelty into a dominant league power, Nieuwendyk scored 178 goals and 340 points in 442 regular season games, while adding 25 goals and 40 points in 61 Dallas post-season contests, including 11 goals and 21 points during that delightful spring of ’99.

“Maybe the biggest highlight of my career was wearing the Dallas Stars jersey for almost seven years,” said Nieuwendyk, who shares the club’s single-season record with 11 game-winning goals (1997-98) and sits fifth on the franchise career list with 35 game-winners. “I’d like to thank Norm Green and Mr. Tom Hicks for bringing me to Dallas in 1995, Bob Gainey and Ken Hitchcock for their vision on how to make a cast of characters work together, and it was quite a cast that we had - Darryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, Sergei Zubov, Pat Verbeek, Brett Hull and of course, Jere Lehtinen and Mike Modano.

“Just to be part of a group of guys like that in a city that was always a football town, the group that got together, we built something real special here in Dallas. We really captured the hearts of Texans and to be a part of that was a thrill and to have it all come together and ultimately win a Cup was a thrill that I’ll never forget.”

It couldn’t have happened without the contributions of Belfour, who was spectacular as the backbone of the Stars for five seasons from 1997-2002, winning two President’s Trophies, two Western Conference championships and the one Stanley Cup, compiling a 44-29 playoff record over that span.

Many believe he should have won the Conn Smythe in 2000, even though the Stars lost to the Devils in double overtime of Game 6 for the Cup.

“It was a dream come true to win a Stanley Cup and be amongst the group of guys I was with in Dallas,” said Belfour, whose 160 victories and 27 shutouts in Dallas each rank second to Marty Turco on the franchise’s all-time list. “It was a real veteran team and Ken Hitchcock did a great job with the guys, and (assistant coach) Rick Wilson, and it was a real close-knit team and I’ll never forget the time we had together, winning the Stanley Cup was great. I still live here in Dallas and still love to go to games and feel the atmosphere. It was something I’ll never forget, it was a great experience.”

Over his career, Belfour posted a 2.50 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage while amassing a whopping 76 shutouts, tied for ninth all-time. He won the 1991 Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year and Vezina Trophies as the league’s top netminder in 1991 and ’93, during his early days with Chicago, where he was backed up by his 1999 Cup Final counterpart, Dominik Hasek.

More importantly, Belfour was always known as a winner, as evidenced by his amazing total of 484 career victories, which sits third in NHL history behind rivals Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.

Beyond all the regular season numbers, though, it was in the playoffs that Belfour really shined, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest clutch netminders ever. Belfour indicated that it was always the playoffs that inspired him most, as his stellar 88-68 career post-season record attests. Belfour’s playoff stats are significantly superior to his regular season numbers, as he posted a 2.17 goals-against average and a sparkling .920 save percentage.

“I think for me, the most important thing was winning the Stanley Cup every year,” said Belfour, whose 88 wins are tied for fourth all-time with former Islander great Billy Smith. “That’s been the case ever since I was a little boy, watching on Hockey Night in Canada, Original 6 teams and watching them win the Stanley Cup. As kids you were always playing for the Stanley Cup - floor hockey, street hockey, everywhere, hotel hockey, you always played for the Stanley Cup, so it was a dream come true to finally win the Stanley Cup. I always tried to prepare myself throughout the season to compete in the playoffs, and I took real pride in playing my best during that time.”

“Eddie, I think, took his job very seriously,” said Nieuwendyk, who came through in the clutch himself, with his 66 playoff goals tied for 18th all-time and his 13 post-season game-winners tied for 13th. “He prepared himself that way every night to play in net for us and was one of the big-game goaltenders I’ve ever been able to play with.” 

For Nieuwendyk, entering the Hall after two years on the ballot, being inducted in the same class as Belfour, as well as his former Calgary teammate Gilmour, two highly-respected guys he won Stanley Cups with, makes the honor even more special.

“It’s a special class for me because I’m great friends with Eddie and with Dougie, they were great teammates and they are very much deserving,” said Nieuwendyk, who was also teammates with Belfour on the 2003-04 Maple Leafs. “Just to have that familiarity with those guys and to share a common bond you always look back to, to play together and to ultimately win a Cup and all the stuff that we went through to get there, and I was fortunate to go through it with both of those guys. There was one common denominator with both of them, these two guys were ultimate competitors.”

Many would say the same about Nieuwendyk himself, who always had a habit of deflecting praise to his teammates during his career. This time, the accolades are all his.

“I think all of us, we go through our careers, we don’t think about Hall of Fame, we just play the game because we love it,” said Nieuwendyk. “We compete hard and then you get recognition like this, it’s overwhelming.”

And truly deserved. Congratulations Joe and Eddie!

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