They have been called the “greatest generation of American hockey players.” They were inspired by the events of Feb. 22, 1980 and took American hockey to another level with their actions on NHL ice and international arenas.
They won Stanley Cups and Olympic medals. They answered the bell when their country called, and they always wore the red, white and blue with pride.
During and immediately after the 2010-11 season, several of the best American players to ever lace up a pair of skates called it a career. Some held elaborate retirement ceremonies, while others seemed to quietly call it a career before packing up their hockey bags one last time and exiting out the back door of the arena.
No matter what, they left the game the same way they played – with dignity and class.
Here’s a look at four American players who have inspired future generations of American stars:
Known for his outgoing and talkative nature, Craig Conroy was a fan favorite in every NHL city where he played. Shortly after playing in his 1,000th NHL game, Conroy was placed on waivers and retired on Feb. 4, 2011.
He finished his 17-year NHL career with 182 goals and 542 points in 1,009 games for Montreal, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Calgary.
Growing up in the shadow of Lake Placid, the Clarkson University standout finally realized his Olympic dream when he wore the red, white and blue at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
“I remember the 1980 Miracle On Ice,” he said. “A lot of players now don’t remember, but I do.”
Todd Marchant, Buffalo, N.Y.
Over the course of his 18-year NHL career, Todd Marchant earned the reputation as the ultimate team player. In his new role as the director of player development, Marchant will help prepare and educate Anaheim Duck prospects to succeed in professional hockey.
The move will allow Marchant to spend more time with his family, who have always supported him through a career that saw him play in 1,195 games with the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2007.
“I always knew that at some point you have to make a decision,” said Marchant, who was a member of the 1994 U.S. Olympic Team. “I had a great career. I cherished every day and every moment that I have been in the National Hockey League. I was never expected to spend one day in the league, much less 18 years.”
Brian Rafalski, Dearborn, Mich.
Brian Rafalski’s retirement announcement may have caught the hockey world by surprise, but he knew it was the right time.
In the end, nagging injuries and the desire to spend more time with his family led the 37-year-old Rafalski to end a professional hockey career that included the first four playing in Europe after going undrafted following a four-year career at the University of Wisconsin.
“The decision was made between myself and my wife approximately two months ago,” said Rafalski, who appeared in five Stanley Cup finals. “We went through a long process of weighing different factors in our lives, and at the end of the day it came down to priorities – with the top three priorities being serving God, serving my family and serving others. Hockey not being at the top, it was time for me to move on.”
Rafalski was a member of three U.S. Olympic Teams, including silver-medal winning squads in 2002 and 2010.
“Obviously the Olympics were great experiences,” he said. “The success I’ve had in the three with two medals, the first time [in 2002] with an older experienced team, the second [medal] with a new group of young and talented players. The future looks so bright for USA Hockey.”
Doug Weight, Warren, Mich.
It’s hard to sum up a Hall of Fame career in a few words, but when it comes to describing Doug Weight, any description would have to include words like class, dignity and leadership.
Age and injury finally caught up with the captain of the New York Islanders, who ended his playing career to take a front office and coaching job with the Islanders.
Weight’s Hall of Fame career started in New York with the Rangers in 1991 and culminated 20 years later on Long Island. Along the way, Weight spent nine seasons in Edmonton, six seasons in St. Louis and one season in Carolina, where he helped the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup.
In 1,238 NHL games with six teams, Weight had 278 goals and 1,033 points as one of the league’s top playmakers. Weight, a four-time All-Star, ranks sixth in career points among American-born players.
He played in three World Championships as well as three Olympic Games, winning a silver medal on the 2002 squad. He was also a member of the U.S. squad that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, a feat that he ranks among his proudest career accomplishments.
“It was a great era, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Weight said. “The great thing that we went through is that we were building USA Hockey with every tournament.”