Who's the Most Important?
Posted By: Aaron Sims
After attending the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame banquet Saturday night, I’ve been doing some studying on hockey in the state and hockey in the U.S.A. If you read my last blog, I hope you clicked on the link for “Badger” Bob Johnson. It spoke of Johnson’s importance to hockey in America.
It got me thinking about the most important names in U.S. hockey history. I hope you will all indulge me for another blog entry like this.
Making a list like this is going to upset someone. I’m not looking for the “10 Best Americans”, or “10 Most Talented Americans”. If you were to make a list of the ten best baseball players of all time, Jackie Robinson
wouldn’t be on the list. However, one can’t dispute that he’s one of the top two or three most important.
Without further adieu, here’s my list of nominees:
, Herb Brooks
, John Mayasich
, Chris Chelios
, Mike Eruzione
, Mike Modano
, Jim Craig
, Mark Johnson
, Neal Broten
, Phil Housley
, Lou Lamoriello
, Dave Peterson
, Lou Vairo
, Ron Wilson
, Ryan Miller
, Brian Leetch
, John MacInnes
, Jeff Sauer
, Joe Mullen
, Len Ceglarski
, Billy Christian
, Roger Christian
, Bill Wirtz
, Hobey Baker
and Walter Bush
As great as some of these guys were, many were of “regional” importance. Neal Broten and Phil Housley are immensely popular in Minnesota and both represented their country as hockey players. Their individual successes, however, didn’t necessarily inspire a nation of youngsters. The same can probably be said of Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Mullen.
Since hockey in the U.S. has experienced its greatest growth since 1980, men like John MacInnes and John Mayasich probably did little to inspire the last two generations.
Dave Peterson, Jeff Sauer, Len Ceglarski, Bill Wirtz and Walter Bush all have contributed a great deal to hockey in the States. Wirtz gained a bad name in Chicago with the Blackhawks struggling for years, though, and questionable business decisions amplified the bad feelings. Peterson, Sauer, Ceglarski and Bush all have made contributions, certainly, but probably don’t make it to the top of the list.
That leaves us with Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks, Chris Chelios, Mike Eruzione, Mike Modano, Jim Craig, Mark Johnson, Lou Lamoriello, Ron Wilson, Ryan Miller, Brian Leetch, Hobey Baker and the Christian brothers.
Ron Wilson has had a long tenure with USA Hockey as a player and coach, but hasn’t really won anything. We’ll eliminate him.
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller is probably too young. Also, a case could be made that with more people watching the Olympics than NHL, Ray LeBlanc may be better known.
Mark Johnson was a tremendous player and is a tremendous coach. He certainly deserves much credit for the success and growth of women’s hockey over the last decade. Despite being, possibly, the best player on the 1980 Olympic team, he doesn’t make the finals.
Brian Leetch is a Hall of Famer. However, I don’t know that a generation of kids grew up wanting to be Brian Leetch like they did Orr, Bourque, Coffey or Chelios (perhaps I feel this way because this is a product of my regional bias…take that ESPN).
Suddenly, we’re down to Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks, Mike Eruzione, Mike Modano, Jim Craig, Lou Lamoriello, Chris Chelios and Hobey Baker.
Craig and Eruzione had their moments 30 years ago. While both are still coveted and popular public speakers, a large group of hockey players wouldn’t know these two men if not for Disney
Lamoriello’s success is as a manager. While he’s a great manager, he isn’t the most important to the history of the game.
Modano is the all-time leading scorer among Americans. That’s a testament to his skill and longevity, but he doesn’t make the top.
Chelios is revered. He should be. He’s represented his country in countless tournaments, including four Olympics.
That leaves us with three: Baker, “Badger” and Brooks.
Baker is considered the first American hockey star and his name is on the trophy presented annually to the top college hockey player in the nation. When the Hockey Hall of Fame opened in 1945 in Toronto, Baker was the only American inducted in the first class. Baker is not only important to American hockey, but all of hockey as he’s credited with improving the design of ice skates by discovering that curling up the toe of the skate would allow him to turn and maneuver more effectively than the flat-bladed skates used at the time. Baker would be higher on the list if he played in the last fifty years.
So now it’s down to “Badger” Bob and Herbie. I would give the nod to Brooks. The Miracle on Ice is too much to overlook.
What do you think and why?
I leave you with a player that could have been on the list of top Americans had he remained healthy, Henry Boucha