CHICAGO - Flyers chairman Ed Snider was full of praise and pride as he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame last night.

"It's a real honor to be inducted and really special to be in a class with these great players, Chris Chelios, Gary Suter and Keith Tkachuk," Snider said.

"I'm very proud that I hired the other deserving inductee, Mike Emrick, for our American Hockey League team at the time, the Maine Mariners. I then gave him his first NHL job as TV broadcaster for the Flyers. I'm still bummed that we let the greatest hockey broadcaster ever get away."

Snider, whose teams have won 16 division titles, eight conference championships and two Stanley Cups, has come a long way.

"I entered the league in 1966 when we were awarded the franchise," Snider said in his speech. "The Hockey News voted us the least likely of the new teams to succeed. Boy, I'm sure glad they were wrong, because otherwide I wouldn't be here today."

Snider is the longest serving member of the Board of Governors in the NHL.

"We had six American players in the NHL in my first season, 1967," he said "This year there are 216 American players.

"Today three U.S.-born players - James van Riemsdyk, Matt Carle and Sean Couturier - are currently on the Flyers roster. I'm very proud that we had a hand in developing players right in our own backyard such as Mike Richter.

"Bobby Ryan, Mark Eaton and T.J. Brennan are also from the Philadelphia area and are playing in the NHL. None of these players, and others from our area playing in juniors, college, and the minor leagues would have ever been thinking of a hockey career if we hadn't started the Flyers in 1967.

"Paul Holmgren, terrific player for the Flyers and now our GM, is from St. Paul; Peter Laviolette, our coach, is from Massachusetts.

"Six years ago, I started a youth hockey program for inner-city kids in Philadelphia. Three years ago, the city was going to close its five rinks for economic reasons. We stepped in and said we would take over management of the rinks.

"Now, many of our 3,000 kids have ice 365 days a year. Our goal is to have 10,000 kids in the program, helping to expand the reach of hockey to more U.S. boys and girls."

Chelios is a three-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Olympian. Fellow defenseman Suter, who played with Chelios at the University of Wisconsin, played for three Stanley Cup teams, one for Montreal and two for Detroit, in 26 seasons. He was was the NHL's top rookie for Calgary in 1985-86.

Tkachuk scored 538 goals in 19 NHL seasons, and, like Chelios, played on four Olympic teams.

"This means everything to me," Tkachuk said. "I'm only retired for 2 years, and to go in with this class is amazing."

Tkachuk scored 538 goals in 19 NHL seasons, but counted the World Cup victory as his top achievement.

"That generated great momentum, not only for me, but for U.S. hockey in general," Tkachuk said.

Emrick, the lead play-by-play announcer for NBC and Versus, has called 13 Stanley Cup finals.

Suter's 17-year pro career opened in Calgary, and went through Chicago and San Jose. Like Chelios and Tkachuk, he said was inspired by the American hockey victory in the 1980 Olympics.