Mike Modano, Lou Lamoriello and Eddie Olczyk have been household names in American hockey households for decades, but with Wednesday’s U.S Hockey Hall of Fame announcement, the trio will forever be linked together.
The three members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2012 earned the honor for their extraordinary contributions to the sport of hockey in the United States and now join the ranks of 153 other American legends.
Two of the Class of 2012, Lamoriello and Modano were already linked through one of the greatest moments in USA Hockey history, the United States stunning victory at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
For Lamoriello, who was the architect of the team, it still stands out in a career that includes a number of special moments.
“Personally having participated in sports festivals, Olympics and World Cups there is no question one of my best experiences was with the ’96 World Cup,” Lamoriello said. “To me after the ’80 Olympics the success of that team raised the awareness and stature of American hockey throughout the world to the highest level and has continued since then to get better and better.”
That’s high praise coming from the man who has led the New Jersey Devils to three Stanley Cup titles as the general manager, president and CEO.
“Winning the Stanley Cup and to be fortunate enough to be part of three of them is without question the highest point [of my career] and right side by side [is] the ’96 team with the World Cup with Mike and the group we had there,” said the Providence, R.I. native.
Prior to arriving in New Jersey, the 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee was the commissioner of Hockey East (1984-87) and the head coach of the Providence College men’s ice hockey team as well as serving as the Friars athletic director.
Modano, the all-time goal scoring points leader among American-born players with 561 goals and 1,374 points, agreed with Lamoriello how important that 1996 World Cup gold medal was for the state of American hockey.
“It’s quite an honor for me to have an opportunity to play underneath [Lou] in 1996, where we felt it was the highlight of many of our USA Hockey careers,” Modano said. “We felt from that point on it has catapulted USA Hockey to a level that we all hoped and dreamed it would get to.”
Modano became the star in Dallas over the course of his 21-year NHL career, all but one coming with the Stars, after being selected No. 1 overall by the then Minnesota North Stars in 1988. The center went on become Dallas’s career leader for most games played (1.459), goals (557), assists (802) and points (1,259).
The Livona, Mich. native played his final season for the Detroit Red Wings in 2010-2011.
Modano held himself to a high standard, especially when his team needed him the most, and he holds the records for most NHL playoff points (145) by a U.S.-born skater. None of which were more important than the four assists he notched with a broken wrist in the final two games of the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres to deliver the Stars their first-ever Stanley Cup in Dallas.
Similar to Lamoriello, that 1996 World Cup gold medal is right up there with winning the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999.
“Those are pinnacle highlights in your career and winning the Stanley Cup is something you dream about. 1996 too,” Modano added. “For being a USA player on that team and the situation we were in, a best-of-three and losing the first one in Philly, winning two in the Montreal Forum in Montreal was certainly a sting to the Canadian pride which we thoroughly enjoyed.”
Modano has represented Team USA 11 times in international competition and said the 1996 World Cup was the beginning of a stellar five-to-six year period of his hockey career, highlighted by the 1999 Stanley Cup. Defeating Canada taught Modano important lessons and instilled him with a great confidence to succeed.
“It was a great confidence lifter for a lot of the guys that were on that team. The next five or six years for a lot of us were great years and it was major confidence, playing at that level against the odds of the type of team Canada had put together.”
It certainly taught you what it took to win,” Modano said. “I think being in those experiences, playing as a team, and everyone putting their egos and personal success aside for the better of the team and how that all came together was very monumental.”
Olczyk, the current lead game analyst for NHL on NBC, NHL on NBC Sports Network and the Chicago Blackhawks, has his own fond memories and experiences with Team USA. Along with being apart of the broadcast team during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, the 16-year NHL veteran suited up for the U.S. nine times at the international level. At the age of 17, Olczyk was apart of the famed ‘Diaper Line” with fellow U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine (Class of ’03) and David Jensen in the 1984 Olympic Winter Games.
Olczyk finished his career with 342 goals and 452 assists in 1,031 games for six different NHL teams and served as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2003-05.
Yet the Palos Heights, Ill. native said being inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame may just be bigger than any goal, even his first, that he ever scored.
“I thought scoring a goal in my very first game as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks was one of my greatest highlights but I can sit here and say that going in with this class, with Mike Modano and Mr. Lamoriello, this might have trumped that night for sure.”
The class of 2012 will be formally inducted this fall, with a location and date to be determined.