2011 Hall class all about perseverance

TORONTO -- Ed Belfour went undrafted by the NHL.

Doug Gilmour went undrafted one year before going in the seventh round the next year.

Joe Nieuwendyk didn't think he was good enough for major junior hockey in Canada, so he went to Cornell.

Mark Howe played the first six years of his pro career with the now-defunct World Hockey Association.

Yet all four made their way to the Hockey Hall of Fame, as their long and prosperous journeys were made official with Monday's inductions.

This year's class is the ultimate example of perseverance.

"I think it shows a lot of character and determination, love for the game and passion for sure," Belfour said Monday, referring to all four inductees, after slipping on his Hockey Hall of Fame induction ring and jacket. "When you have that, I don't think it matters where you play; people are going to recognize that you love the game and you're a winner. People recognize that and want to help you get to the next level."

It just goes to show the Hall isn't just for first-round picks and can't-miss hot shots.

"It's what makes it such a special place," Nieuwendyk said. "It doesn't discriminate. I think the common bond with a lot of these faces that I see on the walls, especially the recent ones that I have some history with, is a real genuine passion and a love for the game and high competitive spirit in all of us."

Gilmour gained entry into the NHL by accepting a checking role in St. Louis. He thinks back to that moment, and never in a million years did he think it would lead to his enshrinement into Hockey Hall.

"I [was] 5-10 and maybe a buck-55 [155 pounds] at the time," Gilmour said Monday. "[Former Blues coach] Jacques Demers said, 'Can you check?' I said, 'OK,' because all I wanted to do was stay there. I didn't want to go to the minors. To say at that very point where I'd be today? No, I would have never expected that."

While Gilmour was unsure of his NHL job early on, Nieuwendyk was even less confident, which is why he laughed when asked what his reaction would have been in his Cornell days had someone predicted his HHOF induction.

"I wouldn't have believed it," the Dallas Stars' GM said. "It's funny, I always had a little bit of self-doubt. I think that was maybe a healthy thing; it kept me humble and kept me focused, but I wasn't big enough probably to go the Ontario Hockey League. I know that sounds crazy, but I didn't have many options. I thought maybe I'd be a junior varsity player at Cornell, and when I got drafted by the Flames and was leaving school my first thought was, 'Where's the farm team?' I went through a lot of that [self-doubting], but once you have a taste of success and you get confident in your own abilities, the sky was the limit."

Howe remembers his father Gordie's HHOF induction in 1972, and he surely didn't think at that moment he'd be joining him 39 years later.

"I think every kid growing up who loves the game of hockey wants to be a player," Mark Howe said Monday. "You play in the driveway, you dream of winning Stanley Cups, you dream of winning Conn Smythe trophies, you dream of everything. The only thing you never dream of is making the Hall of Fame, so this is beyond any dream that I've ever had."

Mr. Hockey was plenty proud Monday, saying Mark's induction meant more to him than his very own.

"It's a tremendous honor," Gordie Howe said Monday. "To heck with Gordie Howe, it's Mark Howe."

And to heck with all of those who didn't believe in these four players decades ago. They were proved wrong, and then some.

[Editor's note: Pierre LeBrun and ESPN Insider Craig Custance will be back with more from the Hockey Hall inductions tonight in Toronto.]