Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 1999, made it in on his second attempt, righting what many felt was a slight last year, while Belfour, the mercurial clutch goaltender who backstopped those powerhouse Dallas clubs, got into the Hall in his first year of eligibility.
In addition, former Flame and Maple Leaf great Doug Gilmour, Nieuwendyk’s teammate in Calgary for many years, and former defenseman Mark Howe were also elected.
“It’s a great thrill to me,” said Nieuwendyk, who was informed of his selection while meeting with Dallas management about the upcoming free agency period that begins Friday. I’d like to congratulate all the other inductees too. 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.
“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, we compete hard and then you get recognition like this, it’s overwhelming and I think for me, you just start to reflect on all the great people you played with along the way, 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. My family has been very important to me too, they have supported me all the way to this day and they still support me today, and they’ve meant a lot to me. I’m very thankful and humbled by this selection.”
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 in 2006-07 with 564 career goals, ranking 21th in league history, and 1,126 points in the regular season, as well as 66 goals and 116 points in 158 playoff games. Perhaps as important, he totaled three Stanley Cups 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, which helped transform the club in a dominant league power, he 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 magical spring of ’99.
“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,” recalled Nieuwendyk of that Cup team. “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. Over the course of his exemplary 18 years in the NHL, Belfour posted a 2.50 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage while totaling a whopping 76 shutouts, tied for ninth all-time. Belfour, who also won the 1991 Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year and Vezina Trophies as the league’s top netminder in 1991 and ‘93, also amassed an amazing total of 484 career victories, which ranks him third all-time behind two goalies he faced in the Finals, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
“This is a great honor and 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. It really surprised me. 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.”
But even with all his regular season numbers, it was in the playoffs that Belfour really cemented his legacy. Besides leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the Finals in 1992, Belfour was spectacular as the backbone of the Stars’ teams between 1998-2001, winning two President’s Trophies, two Western Conference championships and one Stanly 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 fell in double overtime of Game 6 to the Devils 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,” Belfour said of his time with the Stars. “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.”
“Eddie, I think he took his job very seriously,” said Nieuwendyk. “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.”
Belfour indicated that it was always the playoffs that inspired him and that were what he lived for, and there’s no question that showed in his performances, both in Dallas and in his other stops.
“I think for me, the most important thing was winning the Stanley Cup every year,” said Belfour, who last played in the playoffs in 2004 with Toronto, going 6-7 as the Leafs lost in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. “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.”
For Nieuwendyk, who was chosen to enter the Hall in his second year on the ballot, the fact that he will be going in with Belfour and Gilmour, two highly-respected teammates, makes the honor even more special, if that’s possible.
“It means a great deal,” said Nieuwendyk, of the guys that he won Stanley Cups with. “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, but these two guys were ultimate competitors.”
And the fact that just 12 years after the Stars won that Cup, to have two key components already about to enter the Hall of Fame further demonstrates how lucky Dallas hockey fans were to witness a very special team.
“It’s tremendous for our organization,” Nieuwendyk said. “Mike Modano will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer as well, and who knows if Sergei Zubov will get in, but it’s just a reflection for our market to realize and understand how special that time period was for all of us, from the mid-to-late ‘90s and the championship team that was built by Bob Gainey and Mr. Hicks. And for the people around Dallas, it’s very special.”For more information about the Hockey Hall of Fame Induction ceremony that will take place on November 14 in Toronto, please contact Sarah Talbot at (416) 933-8237 or Stalbot@hhof.com