With the puck set to drop on Team USA’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games today at noon PST vs. Switzerland it seemed an appropriate time to count down the top 10 best USA hockey players of all time.
Though hockey falls far behind baseball, basketball, and football in the hearts and minds of most Americans, as a nation they have still produced many incredibly talented players, and after the 1980 Miracle on Ice have really enjoyed a surge of interest in the sport that has led to success at the international level on a regular basis these days. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Team USA looks to do some damage with exciting young players like Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Paul Stastny and Bobby Ryan leading the way. Many on the list of the best American hockey players would merit consideration for a spot in the top 10 all time at their respective positions. Read on to see who made the cut:
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10 – Phil Housley
One of the most underrated hockey players of all time, Phil Housley racked up 1,232 points over the course of his career as a defenseman! Yet, despite his remarkable numbers he rarely gets mentioned when the game’s greatest defensemen are being discussed. Granted, he had some troubles on the defensive side of the puck, but so did Paul Coffey. Housley might have not quite been in Coffey’s league when it came to offensive output, but he didn’t play with the legends that Coffey did either.
9 – Joe Mullen
This native New Yorker was a pioneer of American hockey, becoming the first U.S. born player to ever reach the 500 goal and 1,000 point totals for a career. Though small in stature, Mullen’s fearless style and nose for the net made him a key component on 3 Stanley Cup championship teams, and his achievements make him a lock for a spot on the list of the top 10 American hockey players of all time.
8 – Rod Langway
Technically born in Taiwan while his father was stationed there with the U.S. military, Rod Langway is still a full-blooded American citizen, and is one of the best rearguards to ever play the game of hockey. He won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens before being involved in a blockbuster trade that saw him go to the Washington Capitals and become the cornerstone of that team’s defensive core. During his time with the Caps he would win 2 Norris trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman, and was so dominant in the position he finished 2nd to Wayne Gretzky for the Hart trophy in 1982.
7 – Jeremy Roenick
I’m always surprised when so-called hockey experts ignore Roenick when listing great U.S. born players. In my opinion he is an easy selection for a spot on the list of the top 10 American hockey players of all time, and with a little bit of Stanley Cup success might have earned an even higher spot. With over 1,200 career points, and 9 All-Star Game appearances it is hard to imagine why he gets so little respect.
6 – Mike Richter
Don’t let this guy’s baby-face fool you. During his playing career, Mike Richter was one of the fiercest competitors in the game, and it took a fractured skull to chase him away from the game he loved. Athletic, acrobatic and always entertaining, Richter helped the New York Rangers break one of the worst droughts in professional sports history when he backstopped them to the Stanley Cup in 1994, ending 54 years of haplessness.
5 – Mike Modano
Probably the most electrifying American born player ever to pick up a hockey stick, Mike Modano was one of the most feared forwards in the league throughout the 90s, flying through the neutral zone on highlight reel rushes on a regular basis. Though he has lost a step in recent years, he is still an offensive threat. He is the all time leader in goals and points for an American born player, and has a Stanley Cup ring on his resume to boot.
4 – Frank Brimsek
Though the majority of the best U.S. hockey players have arrived in the NHL ever since the 1980 Miracle on Ice really sparked interest in the sport, there were a few good American born hockey players in the distant past as well, and Frank Brimsek was the best of them. Any goalie with the nickname, Mister Zero is surely deserving of a spot on the list of the top 10 American hockey players of all time. He earned 10 shutouts and won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year in his first season with the Bostron Bruins. He would go on to help the Bruins win the Stanley Cup that year. In his career he would win 2 Stanley Cups, 2 Vezina trophies, and be named to 8 All Star teams.
3 – Chris Chelios
Will this guy ever stop playing hockey? Chris Chelios is the ultimate hockey warrior, and for years he was one of the most feared defenders in the NHL. At 47 years of age he can no longer bully opposing forwards like he used to, but his incredible fitness and his knowledge of the position more than make up for his diminished strength and speed. Amazingly, though he couldn’t crack an NHL roster this season he swallowed his pride and suited up for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. Talk about love of the game! Though he hasn’t put up the huge offensive numbers of some other d-men who played in his era, his 948 career points are more than respectable. 3 times in his career he has been awarded the Norris trophy, and in his 2007-08 season with the Detroit Red Wings he won the 3rd Stanley Cup of what will inevitably be a Hall of Fame career.
2 – Pat LaFontaine
One of the most talented players I ever saw play the game, this guy could have put up staggering numbers if concussions hadn’t cut short his career. Despite never having the opportunity for a long NHL career, his achievements during his relatively short career rank him second on my list of the top 10 American hockey players of all time. He racked up 1,013 points in just 865 career games, including a prolific season in 1992-93 where he totaled a whopping 148 points. Had he been able to play a full career there is no question in my mind this guy would be the all time leader among American players in all major stats categories.
1 – Brian Leetch
Some might be surprised I have Leetch in my top spot, but few players of any nationality have dominated the game from the defensive position like Brian Leetch did. The best way to describe him would be as a quarterback on ice. The puck went to him, and he was the one who determined how the play would unfold. Though many recall Mark Messier’s great leadership, and Mike Richter’s great goaltending when the Rangers won the cup in 1994, it was actually Brian Leetch who won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP that year. With 1,028 points in just 1,205 career games, 2 Norris trophies and a Calder trophy to go along with his Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe I think my selection of Brian Leetch as the greatest USA hockey player of all time is adequately explained.