One of the best moments Brett Hull ever experienced in a U.S. hockey uniform came when he was booed mercilessly by an arena full of Canadians.
It was 1996 and Hull was the star of the American team at the World Cup of Hockey. During the semifinals against Russia, a soldout crowd in Ottawa turned on Hull, chanting: “Traitor!” and “Brett Hull sucks!”
Ten years had passed since the native of Belleville, Ont., made the decision to play internationally for his adopted country and Brett Hull finally felt that USA Hockey had arrived.
“You know what the greatest part of that was? They never once said anything, they never booed, until we became that team that was able to beat Canada,” Hull recalled Tuesday on a conference call. “When they got scared of us as a group playing against them, that’s when they started.
“That was a great feeling … It really made me feel good.”
Imagine how he felt a week later when the U.S. upset Canada in the final to earn the country’s first significant hockey victory since the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
That triumph remains one of the most memorable by any American hockey team so it was no surprise Tuesday when it was announced that three key members of that squad – Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter – will be part of the next class to join the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
They’ll go in alongside Cammi Granato, who will become the first female inductee when the ceremony is held in Denver on Oct. 10.
Hull is the only member of the group to be born outside of the U.S. and would probably never be going into the American Hall had he been invited to join Canada for the 1986 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Moscow.
The Golden Brett was a college player at the time and was upset when he was passed over. USA Hockey soon gave the dual citizen a call and the rest is history.
“When you first start (your career), you wonder if you’re ever going to play and then all of a sudden within the blink of an eye it’s over,” said Hull. “I appreciated everything that USA Hockey ever did because I’m not sure I ever would have been an NHLer without the opportunity they gave me.”
Following the world championship in Russia, he got into two playoff games with the Calgary Flames in 1986. Hull would go on to score 741 regular-season goals in the NHL and win two Stanley Cups.
One of his finer international moments came during that 1996 World Cup, where he led the tournament in scoring.
Leetch remembers that U.S. team having a sense of confidence right from its first practice. They ended up beating Canada in back-to-back games in Montreal to win the tournament.
“(It) was an awfully special time,” said Leetch. “There was a lot of proud guys in that locker-room. When I look back on it, I still have that same feeling.”
Added Richter: “It was probably the most talented team I’ve ever been around.”
The victory was also a turning point in Hull’s career.
“It was one of my greatest moments in the game,” he said. “I had never really been a champion. I’d had a load of personal success (but) I had never really had any team success.
“After we won, I remember standing on the blue-line next to Chris Chelios and I asked him what I should do because I had never won before.”
Granato did a fair share of winning during her illustrious career with the U.S. national women’s team. She has gold medals from the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the 2007 women’s world championship in Sweden.
She amassed 343 points in 205 games while playing at a time when women’s hockey was taking its first strides internationally.
“The biggest change in hockey for women I noticed was when we returned from Nagano in ’98,” said Granato. “All of a sudden our sport had credibility. …
“It’s just been growing steadily since then.”
She was previously inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame and is happy to go into the U.S. Hall with three men she knows well.
Hull says he’s looking forward to getting together with Richter, Leetch and Granato when the ceremony is held in October. He’s likely to be reflecting on a lot of things that day but he won’t be thinking about his decision to play international hockey for the U.S.
“I never needed confirmation about it being the right decision,” said Hull. “Just having them show the faith in me – that they wanted me apart of the program – was all I needed.
“I’ve never forgot that and I never will.”