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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League today announced the four people selected for induction into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame as the Class of 2016.
Honored by the AHL Hall of Fame Selection Committee as the 11th group of enshrinees are Bruce Cline, Ralph Keller, Jean-Francois Labbe and Bruce Landon.
“The foundation of the American Hockey League has been formed by the outstanding achievements and contributions of those who have excelled here over the last eight decades,” said David Andrews, AHL President and Chief Executive Officer. “The AHL Board of Governors is proud to unanimously approve the Selection Committee’s recommendation for the induction of these four individuals into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame.”
The Class of 2016 will be honored as part of the festivities at the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic, hosted by the Syracuse Crunch. The American Hockey League Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony is scheduled for February 1, 2016, in Syracuse, N.Y.
Formed in 2006 to recognize, honor and celebrate individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions in the American Hockey League, the AHL Hall of Fame is housed online at www.ahlhalloffame.com and is accessible to fans worldwide with the click of a mouse as part of the AHL Internet Network.
In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for the players, coaches, managers, executives and broadcasters of all 30 National Hockey League teams, as well as the NHL’s on-ice officials. By season’s end in 2014-15, more than 88 percent of all NHL players were American Hockey League graduates, including more than 200 former first- and second-round draft picks and more than 300 players who appeared in both leagues last season alone.
Four-time Calder Cup winner Bruce Cline spent 13 seasons in the American Hockey League, making his name as one of the AHL’s all-time great scorers.
Making his AHL debut in 1955-56, the Quebec native notched 57 points in 64 games, helping the Providence Reds’ turnaround from last-place finisher the year previous to Calder Cup champions. Cline captured the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie and played 30 games the following season with the New York Rangers, what would be the only National Hockey League stint of his career.
After three seasons with Providence, Cline skated for the Buffalo Bisons in 1958-59, tallying 61 points in 70 games and reaching the Calder Cup Finals. He then began an impressive four-year run with the Springfield Indians, where he was a key member of the greatest dynasty in AHL history. The Indians won three consecutive championships in 1960, 1961 and 1962, and Cline ranked among the league’s top goal-scorers over that time. He was named a First Team AHL All-Star in 1961 and was a Second Team selection in 1963.
Cline joined the Hershey Bears and finished his playing career there, playing five seasons in Chocolatetown. He retired with 321 goals – including eight 20-goal seasons – and 452 assists for 773 points in 823 regular-season games played in the American Hockey League, and was a prolific postseason performer as well: Cline’s 89 games and 58 points in Calder Cup Playoff action still rank among the league’s all-time leaders.
Ralph Keller was a stalwart defenseman who played parts of 13 seasons in the American Hockey League, becoming a popular and legendary figure thanks to his time with the Hershey Bears.
A native of Wilkie, Sask., Keller had a stint with the Providence Reds in 1957-58 and spent a season with the Baltimore Clippers in 1962-63, but spent the final 11 years of his career in Hershey, where he was one of the AHL’s top two-way defensemen of his time. He helped the Bears reach the Calder Cup Finals in 1965, and reached double digits in goals and triple digits in penalty minutes in both 1966-67 and 1967-68 as Hershey won Eastern Division titles.
In 1968-69, Keller racked up 55 points in 74 games and was named a First Team AHL All-Star, then helped the Bears capture the Calder Cup championship. During the 1970-71 season, Keller broke the AHL record for career goals by a defenseman, and in 1972-73 he was named captain of the Bears and earned a spot on the AHL’s Second All-Star Team.
Finishing his playing career in 1973-74, Keller notched eight goals, 31 points and 99 penalty minutes in 74 games during the regular season, and later scored the game-winning goal that clinched the 1974 Calder Cup for Hershey.
His number 3 retired by the Bears, Keller is Hershey’s all-time leader in games played (737) and points (408) by a defenseman. To this day, he still ranks fourth among all AHL defensemen in scoring with 446 points, and is one of five blueliners in league history to score at least 100 goals (111).
One of the most decorated goaltenders of his era, Jean-Francois Labbe starred in the American Hockey League over 10 seasons from 1993 to 2003.
A native of Sherbrooke, Que., Labbe was undrafted out of junior hockey and made his AHL debut with the Prince Edward Island Senators, earning the win in his first start. He was acquired by the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, and won 25 games with the Cornwall Aces in the regular season before leading them to a first-round playoff victory over Albany in one of the biggest upsets in Calder Cup history.
With the Hershey Bears in 1996-97, Labbe was dominant. He appeared in 66 games and led the AHL in victories (34), goals-against average (2.55) and shutouts (six), earning the “Baz” Bastien Award as the league’s top goaltender and the Les Cunningham Award as its most valuable player. Labbe continued to shine in the postseason, and the Bears’ march through the playoffs – including classic seven-game series wins over Philadelphia and Springfield – ended in a Calder Cup title.
Labbe spent the 1997-98 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs before signing as a free agent with the New York Rangers, setting up another memorable campaign in 1999-2000.
Labbe went 27-13-7 for the league-leading Hartford Wolf Pack, ranking fifth in the AHL in both GAA (2.52) and save percentage (.924) to help earn his second career Harry (Hap) Holmes Award for team goaltending. He appeared in his fourth career AHL All-Star Classic, and in a game at Quebec, he became just the fifth goalie in league history to score a goal. After making his long-awaited National Hockey League debut in April, Labbe returned to Hartford for the postseason and backstopped the Wolf Pack to a Calder Cup championship, recording a 2.18 GAA and a .935 save percentage in 22 games and a 5-0 record when facing elimination.
Labbe was acquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets early in the 2000-01 season, and finished his AHL career with two stellar seasons with the Syracuse Crunch. He helped the Crunch to a division title in 2001-02, when he earned a nod as a Second Team AHL All-Star and tied what was then the league record for shutouts in a season with nine.
With a career mark of 202-151-52 in 420 career AHL appearances, Labbe ranks 12th all-time in wins as well as eighth in shutouts (27). He is also fourth all-time in postseason contests by a goaltender (82), and his 46 playoff wins and seven playoff shutouts are both tied for second-most in AHL history.
A mainstay in the American Hockey League for nearly half a century, Bruce Landon is considered by many to be synonymous with hockey in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Ontario native was drafted as a goaltender by the Los Angeles Kings in 1969 and joined their AHL affiliate in Springfield that fall, helping the club reach the Calder Cup Finals in 1970 before winning the championship in 1971. He had a brief stints with the Jacksonville Barons and Rhode Island Reds before returning to Springfield in 1977, but a knee injury forced him to retire that December at the age of 28.
Landon immediately took a marketing and public relations position in the Indians’ front office, and he was honored in 1980 with the AHL’s Ken McKenzie Award for outstanding promotion of his club. Landon was named general manager of the Indians in 1982, and in 1989 he was selected the winner of the James C. Hendy Memorial Award as the league’s outstanding executive.
Landon was the GM of Springfield’s back-to-back Calder Cup championship teams in 1990 and 1991, an even more impressive feat considering the titles were won with two different NHL affiliates (New York Islanders, Hartford Whalers). Then in 1994, with the Indians moving to Worcester, Landon helped organize a group of investors and purchased an expansion franchise to keep the American Hockey League in Springfield.
Landon was president and general manager of the Springfield Falcons from their inception in 1994 until stepping down in 2014. He has since continued to serve the club as director of hockey operations, and enters his 39th season as an executive in Springfield in 2015-16.
For his outstanding career contributions to the American Hockey League, Landon received the prestigious Thomas Ebright Award in 2002.