Mark Messier, the second highest scorer in NHL history and a six-time Stanley Cup winner, waselected Thursday for the Hockey Hall of Fame, topping an illustrious class of Canadian players.
Joining Messier as player inductees will be Ron Francis, the fourth-ranked scorer in league history, and defencemen Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens, once teammates on the same junior hockey team. All four players helped their NHL clubs to Stanley Cup victories.
"We started in an era that produced some amazing players, players that had incredibly long careers, as well as a number of Cups to go with them," Messier said on a media conference call.
Jim Gregory was elected in the builder category. Gregoryserved as general manager of the Toronto MapleLeafs from 1969 to 1979,ran the league's Central Scouting department, and is currently the senior vice-president of operations for the NHL's Toronto office.
Messier joins Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr as Hall of Fame members from the 1980s Edmonton Oilers dynasty.
While Gretzky was the superstar, Messier soon emerged as the indomitable force, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs the first time the Oilers hoisted the Cup in 1984.
Messier cemented his status of one of the greatest leaders in sports history after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles.
As captain, he ledEdmonton to the Stanley Cup in 1990, and four years laterled the New York Rangers to their first championship in 54 years.
The centre recorded 100 points or more on six separate occasions, and hit the 50-goal mark in 1981-82. He surpassed Gordie Howe on the all-time list to trail only Gretzky with 1,887 points (694 goals, 1,193 assists).
Messier and Gretzky are the only two players to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP for two different teams.
MacInnis quickly earned a reputation as an all-round defenceman, with a slapshot that intimidated goaltenders and would-be shot blockers.
The Flames would compete for the Stanley Cup in just his third season, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in 1986. Three years later, MacInnis would lead the way as Calgary would exact revenge on the Canadiens to earn the Cup.
MacInnis finished with seven goals and 21 assists in 22 playoff games to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy that season.
The Port Hood, N.S., native notched 103 points in 1990-91, joining Coffey, Bobby Orr and Denis Potvin as the only defencemen to reach the 100-point mark.
After being traded to St. Louis in 1994, MacInnis spent nine seasons with the Blues, winning the Norris Trophy as top defenceman in 1998-99. An eye injury and the lockout combined to hasten his retirement while he was still in top form.
MacInnis finished with 340 goals and 934 assists for 1,274 points, the third highest total ever among defencemen.
MacInnis and Stevens helped lead the blue-line corps for the 1981-82 Kitchener Rangers before embarking on their NHL careers.
"From winning a Memorial Cup with Al MacInnis in Kitchener to the Stanley Cup in New Jersey, this is a wonderful way to cap off my playing career," Stevens said.
Stevens spenthis first eight NHL seasons with the Washington Capitals, displaying toughness while scoring more than 60 points on four occasions. In the second half of his career, he settled into more of a defensive role, helping the New Jersey Devils shut down opposing forwards.
The big defenceman was renowned for delivering thunderous hits on a number of unsuspecting foes,including fellow inductee Francis.
Stevens won three Stanley Cups with New Jersey and was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2000. The Devils have not won a championship since Stevens left the game in 2004.
The Kitchener native played in 1,635 NHL games, recording 196 goals and 712 assists.
Francis was often overshadowed by his era's other great centres, such as Gretzky, Messier and Steve Yzerman, but was known for his smooth skating and playmaking ability, as well as his faceoff skills.
The trade that sent Francis and Ulf Samuelsson from Hartford to Pittsburgh in 1991 is generally cited as helping the Penguins coalesce into a championship team. The club won the Stanley Cup that season, repeating the feat the following year.
Francis also led an underdog Carolina Hurricanes team to an appearance in the 2002 Stanley Cup final.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., nativewon the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship three times in his career, and received the Frank J. Selke Trophy for best defensive forward.
He finished his 23-year career with 549 goals and 1,249 assists, with only Gretzky compiling more assists.
"As a kid growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, I dreamed of playing in the NHL and holding the Stanley Cup over my head," Francis said. "But never did I expect to accomplish this."
All of the modern inducteesexcept Francis were members of the 1991 Canada Cup-winning team, while Messier is the only one of the quartet who wasn't drafted in the first round. He began his pro career as a 17-year-old in the World Hockey Association before being drafted by the Oilers in the third round in 1979.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettmandeemed the class "spectacular" in a statement which singled out Gregory's lengthy service.
"It is a particular pleasure … to salute Jim Gregory’s life-long devotion to hockey. Jim’s deep respect for the sport, his love for people and his countless contributions of time and energy to the betterment of the League are a source of pride to the NHL and to all who have the pleasure of knowing him."
The star-studded class crowded out other players in their first year of eligibility, including Adam Oates, Claude Lemieux, Igor Larionov and Vincent Damphousse. Retired players who skated no later than the 2003-04 season were considered in their first year of eligibility.
"Larionov is a world-class player that will eventually get into the Hall of Fame," MacInnis said. "And that's why it is called the Hockey Hall of Fame, because it's open to anybody and any nationality."
Playerswho have been eligible for more than a year include Kevin Lowe, Mike Vernon and Doug Gilmour.
The selection committee includes a mix of former players, media representatives and management.
The induction ceremony will take place at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 12.