Brodeur and St. Louis highlight 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Class with Willie O’Ree

Yesterday, the phone call came for Martin Brodeur. The all-time winningest goalie and shutout leader will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this November in Toronto. The all-time great headlines a 2018 class that includes former Lightning Stanley Cup champion and Hart winner Marty St. Louis.

In the builders category, Willie O’Ree finally goes in. The first ever African American player to break the color barrier is long deserving. A classy man on and off the ice who’s done so much for growing the game in the community, O’Ree played parts of two seasons in the NHL with the Boston Bruins. Even though he only totaled 45 games with four goals and 10 assists, he had a long hockey career spent mostly in the Western Hockey League. He played until age 43 finishing with the San Diego Hawks in 1978-79. My favorite part is what P.K. Subban had to say about what O’Ree means:

Brodeur and St. Louis go in on the first ballot. Obviously, Brodeur was a lock. After former Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello traded down with Calgary to select Brodeur 20th overall in the famed 1990 NHL Draft that included Jaromir Jagr, the Montreal native quickly became one of the game’s elite netminders. As a rookie, he took them within a period of advancing to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final, losing to the rival Rangers in double overtime. Some consider that ’94 Eastern Conference Final the best.

It was just a matter of time before Brodeur led the Devils to their first Stanley Cup, upsetting the Red Wings in ’95 by sweeping them. He was only 23 and already a Stanley Cup champion. No one could predict that he would be so durable, staying healthy for most of a illustrious 21-year career. Playing on one of the best teams that featured Hall of Famers Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, Brodeur continued to pile up wins year after year. He won over 40 games eight times including a jaw dropping 48 in ’06-07. A then NHL record since matched by Braden Holtby.

While he was winning consistently and continuing to put up great numbers, he also was racking up shutouts. By the time his brilliant career concluded with the Blues in ’14-15, he had NHL records in wins (691), shutouts (125), games played (1266) and total minutes. His career goals-against-average was 2.24.

Brodeur backstopped three New Jersey teams to Stanley Cups, including a riveting six-game series win over defending champ Dallas. Best remembered for Jason Arnott’s sudden death winner from Patrik Elias in the second overtime. When they won in 2003, it was a surprise. Even though they were very good, not many expected them to get past the Senators. They surprised Ottawa by taking three of the first four in a unpredictable Conference Final. But the Senators came back by winning Games 5 and 6 including the sixth game in overtime on Chris Phillips’ winner to force a deciding Game 7 in Ottawa. Even with the momentum against them in a hostile environment, Brodeur and company would prevail. His remarkable stop on Marian Hossa is still shown as is Jeff Friesen’s stunning series winner with over two minutes left from deadline pickup Grant Marshall. In another odd series, the Devils would prevail in seven over the Cinderella Mighty Ducks, boosted by a 3-0 shutout by Brodeur in Game 7. A game in which rookie Mike Rupp became a unlikely hero with two goals. It was also Ken Daneyko’s final game. They were destined to win and celebrate on home ice at the old Continental Airlines Arena.

Even though they lost in seven to the Avalanche the following year, it was a memorable two-year run. Although for Brodeur, it was heartbreaking losing to idol Patrick Roy. They’re two of the greatest goalies to ever play.

Amazingly, Brodeur had one more run in him. At the young age of 40, he outplayed Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist in the 2012 Eastern Conference Final to avenge ’94. His scorpion save to rob Marian Gaborik is still replayed. The Devils won in six on rookie Adam Henrique’s overtime winner at The Prudential Center. They didn’t win the Cup that year, falling short to the Kings and Jonathan Quick in six. But it was a memorable run.

Brodeur did it all winning three Cups, four Vezinas and helping Canada win Olympic gold in ’02 Salt Lake City for the first time since 1952. He truly is one of the game’s legends. A approachable player off the ice who conducted himself well to the media who covered him. He now is the assistant GM for the Blues.

In thinking about St. Louis’ journey, it’s one of great perseverance. A undrafted free agent out of Vermont, it took him a while to establish himself as a NHL regular. The Flames gave him his first opportunity in ’98-99. A small forward who was generously listed at 5-8, 176, he didn’t get much of a chance, lasting parts of two seasons in Calgary. He totaled 20 points in 69 games before becoming a unrestricted free agent.

It was the Tampa Bay Lightning who decided Marty St. Louis was worth a shot. He got it in ’00-01 at the age of 25. During his first full season, he produced 18 goals and 22 assists totaling 40 points in 78 games. He had 35 points in 53 contests the following season. In ’02-03, he posted career highs with 33 goals, 37 assists and 70 points in 82 games. In the playoffs, he was part of Tampa’s comeback from 2-0 down in the first round against Washington. They took the next four games after dropping the first two on home ice. They would be eliminated in the second round. St. Louis finished with seven goals and five assists in 11 playoff games.

His best season came in ’03-04 when he exploded for a NHL best 94 points with 38 goals and 56 assists with only 24 penalty minutes. He had eight shorthanded goals and eight game-winning goals. The special year resulted in his first Art Ross and only Hart as league MVP. A unreal rags to riches story that wasn’t complete without leading the Lightning to its only Stanley Cup. They beat the Flyers in seven in a very closely fought Conference Final. Ruslan Fedotenko was the hero. They then came back from 3-2 down to beat Calgary in seven. It’s best remembered for two moments. The first coming with under seven minutes left in regulation of Game 6 at The Saddledome. Nikolai Khabibulin made a controversial kick save to deny Martin Gelinas. Replays were inconclusive whether the puck fully crossed the goal line. It would go two overtimes before St. Louis scored the winner to send the series back to Tampa. True enough, I won a overtime pool by correctly picking St. Louis to win the game at my old job in Jersey City.

The Bolts would go on to win the Cup 2-1 in Game 7.

He spent most of his career with the Lightning. He played with Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier under John Tortorella. They had Khabibulin in net and Dan Boyle manning the point. It was a special group. Unfortunately, the salary cap era broke up the team. There’s no way to keep great teams together anymore. You have to be real creative to sustain success. The Blackhawks did it winning three Cups but now have fallen on hard times. So have the Penguins due to the dynamic duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Kings also won twice in three years but aren’t the same team.

In 2014, St. Louis requested a trade to the Rangers after being snubbed by Steve Yzerman for Team Canada at the Olympics. Yzerman was in charge of both the Canadian roster and the GM of the Lightning. In a first ever captain for captain trade at the deadline, he was dealt to the Rangers with a 2015 second round pick for Ryan Callahan and a first round pick in 2014 and 2015 along with a seventh.

St. Louis had wanted to play in Manhattan before his career ended. He fulfilled that dream with a memorable postseason run in ’14. The Rangers took a chance after deciding against re-signing Callahan. St. Louis paid them back by being a inspirational leader during an emotional time. It was during the second round against Pittsburgh that his Mom suddenly died. The Rangers played awfully on home ice dropping Games 3 and 4 to fall behind 3-1. That’s as frustrated as I’ve ever been leaving MSG because I felt they could win that series. It was the Pens and they’d never beaten them in the playoffs. After a huge Game 5 win on the road, the team attended St. Louis’ Mom’s funeral a day before Mother’s Day. Game 6 was as emotional as I can remember the Garden. St. Louis played because that’s what his mother would’ve wanted. This is what happened early on Mother’s Day to inspire the team to a nervy Game 6 victory:

They would show nerves of steel to edge the Pens 2-1 on a Richards power play goal from St. Louis late in the second period. Lundqvist did the rest in a tension filled third. There was a lot of anxiety. They would take care of the Canadiens in six. A series highlighted by a clutch overtime goal from St. Louis on a great keep and pass by Carl Hagelin in Game 4.

Even though they didn’t win the Cup against the hated Kings thanks to a combination of controversial goals in LA along with some poor coaching and overtime heartache, that was a great run. The only time the Rangers returned to the Stanley Cup Final since I was a senior in high school. They came within a period of returning against Marty’s former team, losing in gut wrenching fashion on home ice. That one is still unforgivable even with all our defense hurt. St. Louis decided to retire following a inconsistent year that saw him struggle to score in the postseason. It was the right move. He didn’t hang around like so many.

St. Louis finished his career with 391 goals and 642 assists for a total of 1,033 points in 1,134 games. He won two scoring titles, a Hart, Pearson, three Byngs, and was a first All-Star once.

As far as commissioner Gary Bettman getting inducted when he’s still active, it’s controversial. Sure. He’s grown the game to new heights in markets nobody ever could’ve foreseen. Look how successful Vegas was in its inaugural year making a improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final. The expansion and increased revenue are big pluses. However, the lockouts including the cancellation of ’04-05 still stings. But he was proven right about cost certainty. Now, there’s more parity due to the cap and flawed points system that rewards losing in overtime and the shootout.

A very unpopular figure, Bettman is traditionally booed whenever he presents the Cup or is at the NHL Draft, including the ugliness in Dallas while he was making a nice speech about the Humboldt Broncos. The continued ignorance of the lawsuit from former players with Daniel Carcillo and now Nick Boynton leading the charge on how concussions and head injuries are related to CTE, is very arrogant on Bettman’s part along with the NHLPA run by resident jerk Donald Fehr. I understand why. He doesn’t want to say anything incriminating. He’s a lawyer. But it isn’t right that they don’t get more help for former players. It’s similar to the NFL.

Russian Alexander Yakushev and Jayna Hefford also are included in this year’s class. Yakushev is best known as one of the stars of the Summit Series in 1972, representing Russia. His playing style is compared to Phil Esposito. He also coached and was a referee.

Hefford was part of four consecutive gold medals for Canada from 2002 to 2014. She is best known for getting the gold medal winner at the ’02 Winter Games in Salt Lake. She totaled 439 goals in 418 games at club level in three leagues. She also set a CWHL record with 44 scored during ’08-09.

The disappointing aspect is that there are still a few former players still waiting for that call. Why Alexander Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Sergei Zubov and Theo Fleury are not in is ridiculous. All are deserving. My father has said forever that Rick Middleton and Steve Larmer deserve inclusion. They remain ignored by the Hall committee.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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