Posted-December 12th, 2011 11:40 pm
CHICAGO — Chris Chelios led a class of five inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night.
The three-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Olympian was joined by fellow defenseman Gary Suter, who played with Chelios at the University of Wisconsin and for the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Keith Tkachuk, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and broadcaster Mike Emrick.
"In my generation of players, there weren't a lot of kids who played organized hockey," Chelios said. "Maybe a handful of us continued on to a college career. It wasn't as easy as today. American kids were playing baseball and football, and developed a little later. So those two years you need to grow, physically, there wasn't anywhere to play."
Chelios played for three Stanley Cup teams, one for Montreal and two for Detroit, in 26 seasons. Suter was the NHL's top rookie for Calgary in 1985-86. Tkachuk scored 538 goals in 19 NHL seasons, and, like Chelios, played on four Olympic teams.
Snider was among the Flyers' founders in 1966. Emrick, the lead play-by-play announcer for NBC and Versus, has called 13 Stanley Cup finals.
Tkachuk, who played for Winnipeg, Phoenix, St. Louis and Atlanta, had a vivid memory of one encounter with Chelios.
"Cheli and I tangled at Chicago Stadium, got me in a headlock and I couldn't breathe," Tkachuk said, grinning. "I was down to my last breath."
Chelios remembered Tkachuk "turning colors. I let him go right at the last second, but I could have made him pass out easy if I wanted to. And he knew it."
The two teammates on Olympic squads and during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, in which the U.S. came back from losing the first game to sweep the last two games on Canadian ice. Suter was also on that team, Snider hosted the first game in the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers' then-new building, and Emrick called the contests on American television.
"This means everything to me," Tkachuk said. "I'm only retired for two years, and to go in with this class is amazing."
Tkachuk scored 538 goals in 19 NHL seasons, but counted the World Cup victory as his top achievement.
"That generated great momentum, not only for me, but for U.S. hockey in general," Tkachuk said.
Suter's 17-year pro career opened in Calgary, where he was named the NHL's top rookie in 1985-86, and went through Chicago and San Jose. Like Chelios and Tkachuk, he was inspired by the American hockey victory in the 1980 Olympics.
"That was so unexpected, but in 1996, we were a good solid team, among the top four in the world. I think winning that had a similar effect to 1980 on kids, and American hockey has continued to get stronger."
Snider's stewardship of the Flyers commenced with the team's founding in 1966. He helped grow a small business into a corporation that became a unit of Comcast, but said he was prouder of his foundation's taking over the hockey rinks in Philadelphia's park system and creating educational programs associated with hockey for disadvantaged youths to flourish.
"We have a 94 percent graduation rate, compared to 54 percent for the city," Snider said. "We used hockey as the hook. It's the only thing I've put my name on. It's my legacy. It will last forever."
Emrick's dream of being an NHL broadcaster started in the corner of the rink in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he called minor-league games into a tape recorder for practice. Decades later, the voice of 13 Stanley Cup Finals, and the lead announcer for hockey on NBC and Versus, still has boyish enthusiasm.
"I get in free, I still get a good seat for the game, and I still like doing that," Emrick said. "So until my bosses don't want me doing that, or I'm unhappy with my work, I'll do it."
(Copyright Associated Press)