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Palazzari comes 'home' to join Broten, Pleau in U.S. Hockey Hall

ST. PAUL -- Doug Palazzari called the experience "humbling," after he looked at those sharing the head table with him Wednesday. Those sharing the podium at the Xcel Energy Center were Neal Broten and Larry Pleau, as the three were officially inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Minnesota Wild were idle Wednesday, but the team's shiny new arena was alive all day, first with the official naming of Herb Brooks as 2002 U.S. Olympic hockey coach in the morning, and then with the induction ceremonies and dinner to honor Broten, Palazzari and Pleau as the 104th, 105th and 106th participants entering the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

"All I have to do is look at the two guys up here with me, and I wonder what I'm doing here," said Palazzari, who has the distinction of being from Eveleth, which is the home and current site of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I grew up in Eveleth, and in those days, there was one American in the NHL, and that was Tommy Williams from Duluth," said Palazzari, who is now the executive director of USA Hockey. "In those days, all we could look forward to was playing on the National or Olympic team and playing college hockey, even though my little home town of Eveleth had sent a lot of players to the NHL in earlier years."

Palazzari went from high school stardom at Eveleth to Colorado College from 1970-74, where he was a WCHA most valuable player and All-American. He played on U.S. National teams in 1973 and 1974, then played pro hockey for eight years in the St. Louis Blues organization, despite being only 5-foot-6. He later was named the all-time best player in the Central League. He coached as an assistant at Colorado College for six years before moving on to the USA Hockey organization.

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Broten, from Roseau, played as a freshman at the University of Minnesota on a team that Brooks coached to the 1979 NCAA championship. The next year, he was summoned by Brooks to join the 1980 Olympic team, which won the gold medal at Lake Placid. Broten returned to the Gophers and won the first Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player.

He later starred for the Minnesota North Stars and later the Dallas Stars, during a 17-year NHL career that was climaxed by his joining the New Jersey Devils and playing on a Stanley Cup champion in 1995. He is the only player to have played on an NCAA champion team, an Olympic gold medal team and a Stanley Cup champion.

"Each of those titles have something different that makes them special," said Broten. "I played on three state high school tournament teams, but we never won, and that was disappointing. But winning the NCAA in 1979 was extra special; the '80 Olympics, well, nothing gets better than that; and the Stanley Cup was like reaching the top of the mountain.

"I like '80 the best, because we all went through a lot for the whole year, and it was a Cinderella story, like they say, a miracle on ice.

"When I first heard about this, I was happy, and proud," said Broten. "I thought of all the coaches I'd had through youth hockey, about my mom and dad, my wife and kids, and that made me even prouder. I'm happy to be here. Playing hockey was what I did my whole life, and I played most of my career in Minnesota. You don't realize how special that is until your career is over."

Pleau was a gifted player growing up in Lynn, Mass., but he went to Canada to play junior hockey instead of following the college route. He played three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, including the 1971 Stanley Cup winner, then he jumped to the WHA, where he was the first player signed by the Hartford Whalers. He stayed with the Whalers when they were merged into the NHL, and, in all, spent 17 seasons as player, coach and general manager there.

Pleau also played for the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, the 1969 National team and for the United States in the 1976 Canada Cup tournament. He became general manager of the St. Louis Blues three years ago, and last season he helped direct the Blues to the best overall record in the entire NHL.

Pro hockey legend Gordie Howe also attended the dinner, and he and his wife, Colleen, and sons Mark and Marty were presented with the Wayne Gretzky Award, which is given to a foreign hockey person who has helped promote the game in the United States.

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