Hockey Hall of Fame welcomes inductees

Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch, and builder Lou Lamoriello, were officially inducted into the hallowed Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday night.

When three former Detroit Red Wings are being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, you'd expect a lot of love to be directed towards Hockeytown.

And that's exactly what happened Monday night, when former Wings teammates Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, along with defenceman Brian Leetch and builder Lou Lamoriello, were officially inducted into the hallowed hall in Toronto.

Yzerman, Hull and Robitaille were on Detroit's 2001-02 Stanley Cup-winning squad.

"It certainly was one of the greatest moments of my career and I will be thankful forever," Robitaille said.

Added Hull: "[General manager] Ken Holland gave me the opportunity to play for what might be the greatest team ever assembled."

"It's funny that people suggest that [Hull, Robitaille and I] would be a good line," Yzerman said, noting that former Wings head coach Scotty Bowman actually tried it.

"[Scotty] hated it. He split us up and put us on three different lines," he said, drawing a laugh from the audience.

The 2001-02 Wings are one of only three Cup-winning teams to have at least three members inducted into the Hall of Fame in the same year. Bowman, Holland and team owner Mike Ilitch were all on hand to watch the proceedings.

Strong class

That may have been the underlying theme, but it didn't overshadow what was one of the strongest Hall of Fame classes in recent memory.

First, Hull: The winger scored 741 career goals over 19 seasons, third on the league's all-time list. The legendary sniper won two Cups in his career.

Great One in Great Hall

Wayne Gretzky put aside his smouldering feud with the NHL for one night and was in attendance during the Hall of Fame gathering in Toronto to support the Class of 2009.

He knows the inductees well. Gretzky was former teammates with all four players at some point in his NHL and international career, has tremendous respect for Devils GM Lamoriello.

Gretz is also close friends with St. Louis Blues president John Davidson, who received a media award during the ceremony.

"It's a nice day for everyone," he told reporters on Monday before attending the ceremony.

No. 99 is upset at the way the NHL treated him during the court battle and eventual sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, and has gone underground since he quit as coach of the squad eight weeks ago.

"It is what it is right now," he said. "Right now it's just my time to sit back, and enjoy my kids. And you know what? The game is bigger than any individual or any person. Right now, it's just not part of my life. It's a simple as that."

The Great One denied any lingering bitterness between him and the league over the messy situation.

"No, not at all," he said when asked if he was still bitter. "What's there to be upset by? It's the greatest game in the world, there's nothing better than our sport, I'm very proud of it. And life goes on."

He added that his opinion on the Coyotes situation hasn't changed.

"Like I said from day one, it's really not my issue. This was an issue between Mr. Moyes, the parties trying to buy the team, and the National Hockey League. It had nothing to do with me.

"Phoenix is a great city, and I hope it does well there, and I hope the people of Southern Ontario one day get their wish and get an NHL franchise. My opinion hasn't changed since the first day this all transpired."

Hull, who was born in Belleville, Ont., but holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, joins his father, Bobby, in the Hall of Fame — the top father-son duo in league history. Bobby was on hand for the ceremony, along with the rest of Hull's family.

"You gave me giant footsteps to follow," Hull said of his father. "You taught me to speak my mind. You gave me the best advice … you could have ever given: 'The further you are from the play, the closest you are to it.'

"I am really fortunate that I was able to figure out what the hell he was talking about."

Next, Robitaille: He turned into perhaps the greatest late-round draft pick of the modern era.

He was selected in the ninth round of the 1984 draft by the Los Angeles Kings, and the Montreal native went on to rank 19th in points, with 1,394 by the time he retired in 2006.

"I was apparently on one list," he said. There was one person who believed in me. His name was Alex Martin [scout with the L.A. Kings]. The reason I am speaking English today, the reason I am here, the reason I'm married to a beautiful American woman, it is because of him."

Captain Wing

And how about Stevie Y? Drafted fourth overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 1983, Yzerman is the longest-serving captain in NHL history. Born in Cranbrook, B.C., and raised in Nepean, Ont., Yzerman spent all 22 NHL seasons with Detroit and led them to the Cup titles.

"I know I wasn't a natural-born leader," he said. "I was moulded into the leader of the Detroit Red Wings by my teammates, by my friends, my coaches, everyone. I stand here representing all of you."

As executive director of Hockey Canada, Yzerman is helping assemble the Canadian men's squad for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Let's not forget Leetch, arguably the best American defenceman in history. He amassed 1,028 points in his career, ranking him fifth among all defenceman.

He spent the bulk of his 18-year career with the New York Rangers, where he helped end the team's 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994.

"Through good and bad times we became part of one big extended family [in New York]," he said.

Builder Lamoriello might outshine them all with his accomplishments.

He has been involved in the game for more than 40 years at both the college and pro levels. In his more than 20 NHL seasons as president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils, the team has won three Stanley Cups, has only missed the playoffs twice and has just one losing season.

Giving the Devil his due

A few Devils made the trip to Toronto to honour their GM, including Martin Brodeur, Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise. Retired captain Scott Stevens was also on hand.

"I am hoping that you spent a little of your money and chartered a flight so you can make curfew," Lamoriello joked.

John Davidson and Dave Molinari were the media honourees. Davidson, the current St. Louis Blues president, was recognized with the Foster Hewitt Award for his work over 25 years as a hockey broadcaster.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Molinari received the Elmer Ferguson Award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

With files from Chris Iorfida,