Their stays may have been brief, but college hockey has its mark all over this year’s NHL Hall of Fame class. Brett Hull and Brian Leetch each had short, yet remarkable, college hockey careers before heading to the make their impact elsewhere. And as members of the iconic 1996 U.S. World Cup team, they will forever be remembered fondly by those who follow the college game so closely.
Hull, playing for Minnesota-Duluth, was the last college player to score 50 goals — an incredible number, even given the higher-scoring era. The pros weren’t sure he could handle the NHL at first — him not being the most adept skater, and so on, but soon his sniping skills were unstoppable in the NHL as well, as well as his mouth.
Leetch was dominant at Boston College for one season, before heading off with the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. In short order, he was leading the Rangers, winning the Rookie of the Year honors then a couple of Norris Trophies as the NHL’s top defenseman. And in 1994, became the first American to win the Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, leading the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
Also inducted was Lou Lamoriello, and his legacy in college hockey goes deeper than either of the two players. Lamoriello, the former coach and then-AD at Providence, led the charge in creating Hockey East, when five teams split off from the ECAC to form the new league in 1984. The team that wins the Hockey East championship is now awarded a cup in Lamoriello’s name. He continued that legacy by being one of the first GMs to sign a lot of ex-college hockey players. His willingness to do that, when most of his peers were not, was part of the reason for the Devils’ edge, which led them to three Stanley Cup championships. He paved the way for teams to not be afraid of guys like Brian Gionta, and it has worked out for everyone. Lamoriello has a reputation for surliness and penny-pinching behind the scenes, but any time I’ve been able to talk to him about college hockey — whether at a World Cup or the draft — he’s been cordial and forthcoming with information.
Add Steve Yzerman and Luc Robitaille into the mix — two class players, with outstanding skills — and this is a Hall of Fame induction class for the ages. Congratulations to all on a well-deserved honor.