Commissioner Gary Bettman, goalie Martin Brodeur, trailblazer Willie O’Ree top Hockey Hall of Fame class
Willie O’Ree didn’t know he had broken the NHL’s color barrier when he made his debut in 1958. Martin Brodeur couldn’t see the three Stanley Cup titles and jaw-dropping career ahead when he played his first game in goal for the New Jersey Devils in 1992 and, a year later, Gary Bettman didn’t know he would end up growing the league by leaps and bounds over the next 25 years as its commissioner.
All three will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame together as the headliners of a trailblazing class of 2018 that also includes diminutive forward Martin St. Louis, four-time gold-medal-winning Canadian women’s national team star Jayna Hefford and Russian Alexander Yakushev.
O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL, Bettman has overseen the league’s expansion into a multibillion-dollar industry and Brodeur piled up the most wins and shutouts of any goaltender in NHL history.
“This is an exciting class to be around because everyone has tried to take their game to the next level,” Bettman said Tuesday.
Bettman has been commissioner since 1993, during which time the NHL has expanded its footprint across North America and increased from 24 to 31 teams.
Brodeur lifted the Stanley Cup three times with the Devils between 1995 and 2003. He leads all goalies with 691 wins and 125 shutouts in 1,266 regular-season games with the Devils and St. Louis Blues, and he won the Vezina Trophy four times.
While Brodeur and St. Louis were first-ballot selections, O’Ree had been waiting decades for this honor since making history at the Montreal Forum on Jan. 18, 1958, with the Boston Bruins. He was 32.
A native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, in Eastern Canada, O’Ree finished with four goals and 10 assists in 45 NHL games during the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons despite being 95 percent blind in his right eye. O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL but he will be the third inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr and Canadian women’s national team captain Angela James.