Nieuwendyk headlines 2011 Hall of Fame class

Defenseman Mark Howe, a four-time All-Star and son of Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, and gutsy forward Doug Gilmour rounded out the foursome elected to the Class of 2011, which will be inducted November 14.

Nieuwendyk, who had a knack for scoring and winning key faceoffs and was one of the most respected players of his generation, had 564 goals and 562 assists until back and knee pain forced him to retire in 2006 after an NHL career that spanned 20 seasons.

"Every player does their best year after year and strives to play at a very high level," Nieuwendyk, who was passed over in his first year of eligibility last year, told reporters.

"We go through careers and we don't think about the Hall of Fame, we play the game because we love it and we compete hard and a few years later you get recognition like this. It really is overwhelming ... I'm very humbled."

The four-times All-Star won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1988, the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs in 1999 and an Olympic gold medal with Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Nieuwendyk, who won Stanley Cups with the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils, is currently the general manager with the Stars organization.

Belfour, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the league's top goalie and five-time All-Star who sits third all-time on the goalie wins list with 484, gained entry into the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

The undrafted goalie broke into the league with the Chicago Blackhawks and was named rookie of the year in 1991 when he led the league in wins (43), goals-against average (2.47) and save percentage (.910).

Belfour won a Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Stars and was also part of Canada's Olympic gold medal winning team at Salt Lake City. He and Nieuwendyk are the second and third members of that Dallas team to be inducted into the Hall following Brett Hull, who gained entry in 2009.

"It is hard to put into words what this means to me," said Belfour. "I would like to thank all of my team mates and people along the way who helped me achieve my hockey dreams."

'TREMENDOUS HONOUR'

A six time All-Star, Howe is the only one of the inductees not to have his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup but will take his place in the hockey shrine alongside his father Gordie, who is considered one of the game's all-time greats.

Howe began his professional career in the now defunct World Hockey Association with the Houston Aeros, winning rookie of the year honors in 1973 while playing on the same team as his father and brother Marty.

He went on to play 16 seasons in the NHL with three teams where championships and individual honors eluded him. He lost in the Stanley Cup final twice and finished runner-up in Norris Trophy voting as the league's best defenceman three times.

"I was elated to have this dream come true given that it is a tremendous honor just to have my name mentioned with the upper echelon of hockey," said Howe. "To actually have my name in the Hall of Fame with my dad will mean so much to my family.

"Dad is as proud as any father can be I'm sure."

Gilmour won a Stanley cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and played 20 years in the NHL with seven teams, registering 450 goals and 964 assists,

He was nominated for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player in 1993 after scoring a career-high 127 points in the regular season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward that same season.

Gilmour had a reputation for playing his best games when the most was on the line and averaged more points per game during the playoffs than the regular season.

"This is an overwhelming honor and one that makes me reflect back on the teammates and coaches I have had over years," said Gilmour.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)