Stars come out to honor Cam Neely
TORONTO -- You know it's Hall of Fame night when the movie stars take a backseat to the hockey stars. Herein, a look at the sights, sounds and stories of the Class of 2005:
Among those who attended the induction ceremony to honor Cam Neely was actor Michael J. Fox, who, like Neely, is from British Columbia. The two met over beers in Vancouver and became fast friends early in both of their careers. Fox said he recalled Neely being upset upon being traded to Boston in June 1986.
"And I said, you're going to Boston, it's all good," Fox said.
"He's been such a great friend really since I've been 19 years old," Neely said of Fox, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease. "He said right away, 'I want to come [to the induction ceremony]. I'm coming.' He brought his mom and she's been a great family friend. So, it's pretty special, obviously my family and my really good, close friends here."
Also in the Neely entourage was actor/comedian Denis Leary, a longtime friend and Bruins fan. Neely had a cameo on Leary's popular show "Rescue Me" several years ago. Before that, he played an angry truck driver in "Dumb and Dumber," where he spits into Jeff Daniels' hamburger.
"As an actor he's a fabulous hockey player," Leary said. "If he wins an Emmy before me, I quit everything. Everything. The Hockey Hall of Fame is enough Cam."
Women players in the Hall?
Murray Costello was the third member of the Class of 2005, entering the Hall of Fame in the builder category. He played 162 NHL games in the mid-1950s, scoring 13 times.
But it was as head of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada) that Costello made his mark, helping to establish the national women's program. He was also instrumental in the evolution of the national junior program.
Costello, who held the post from 1979 to 1998, said Monday he expects women players will someday be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but added it will take years for the top women in the game to build up résumés that will make them worthy of a place in the hall.
"There is a place for them. It's just a matter of time," he said.
The fact that women have to wait four years to compete at the highest level -- the Olympics -- coupled with the lack of any kind of league that parallels the NHL means it will take longer for those elite players to establish themselves. Also, the fact there really are only two world powers, Canada and the United States, will make a case for a Hall of Famer even more difficult.
"The rest of the world has to get into it," Costello said.
'The Slash' revisited
Valeri Kharlamov's induction revived much discussion of "The Slash," which may have turned the tide in the seminal '72 Summit Series in favor of Canada when Flyers great Bob Clarke broke Kharlamov's ankle in Game 6.
But Kharlamov's son Alexander, who accepted the award for his father Monday night, harbors no ill-will. Asked if he was angry some 33 years later, Alexander seemed surprised it was an issue at all.
"It's a hockey game. See my nose," he added, pointing to the bumpy piece of cartilage that passes for his. "It's been broken maybe five times."
In short, stuff happens. For the record, Alexander, a former first-round pick of the Washington Capitals who never played in the NHL, said he's never heard from Clarke on the matter.
The public is heard
Although the acceptance speeches often elicit a tear or two, one of the most compelling elements of the annual Hockey Hall of Fame weekend is the fan forum which takes place the day before the induction ceremony, a Q&A between the inductees and fans. Moderated by former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Gord Stellick, now a popular radio and television broadcaster, the exchange between Hall of Famers and the public often proves to be far more revelatory than the formal press briefings.
On Sunday, one Boston fan revealed that while working for a courier company in the early 1990s, he'd sent Cam Neely and Neely's longtime teammate and roommate Lyndon Byers an invitation to his wedding in 1992.
"I just wondered if you ever got it," the fan asked.
Neely replied: "Didn't you see me in the back row there?"
Another fan rolled up his sleeve to reveal a beefy arm adorned with the Bruins' logo and the names Esposito, Orr, Bourque and Neely tattooed around the outer edge. "And you're not a stalker?" Stellick asked.
Neely was also asked how he ended up with No. 8 during his 10-year run with the Bruins. He explained that he'd worn No. 12 growing up because he was a Canucks fan and Stan Smyl was his favorite player. When he arrived in Portland to start his junior career, No. 12 wasn't available, so he reversed his preference and wore No. 21. Following his acquisition by the Bruins in June 1986, he was given No. 8, although early on No. 21 became available.
Neely asked a Bruins trainer if he could switch and the trainer told him he'd check with general manager Harry Sinden. The next day he told him that Sinden thought No. 8 suited him better. "Harry likes you in 8. You're wearing 8," the trainer told Neely.
And then there's the bone-shaped patch that appeared on Neely's gloves in Boston, an oddity that only the most devout Neely fan would have known about and which had its genesis courtesy of former Canuck teammate Gary Lupul.
"He spoke English but you'd never know it," Neely said. "He's got his own lingo."
Somehow Lupul came up with the nickname Tricky Dicky Hambone for Neely. Over time, the moniker was distilled to just Bone and the manufacturers of Neely's gloves added a bone-shaped patch on his gloves for good measure.
"When I got to Boston Bone stuck with me. But yesterday when I saw [former Canuck] Tiger Williams, he's like, 'Hey, Hambone, how ya doin'?'" Neely recalled.
Neely was readying for an approach shot on the 17th hole when he got the call last June that he was going into the Hall. He didn't finish the round, he said, penciling in birdies on his scorecard for 17 and 18. Murray Costello thought the call from old friend Jim Gregory, head of the selection committee, was a joke until Gregory told him he had 20 minutes to prepare for a national conference call with Neely. Alexander Kharlamov, who accepted the honor on behalf of his father, Russian hockey icon Valeri Kharlamov, was sleeping.
"It was three or four in the morning," he said. Kharlamov took the call and then went back to sleep knowing his father was a Hall of Famer. "I was so happy."
All hail Bure?
In an effort to strengthen the bond between elite Russian players and a national program that has for the most part underachieved at best-on-best competitions, Pavel Bure was recently named GM of the Russian team. Bure, who last played for the Rangers during the 2002-03 season, has promised there will be no malingerers on the team.
Bure's appointment has drawn comparisons with Wayne Gretzky, who took over as executive director of Canada's men's team prior to the 2002 Olympics. Does Bure, who has the ear of president Vladimir Putin, have the same cachet as Gretzky? No. But as a Russian player who left Russia at an early age and has returned to take up the national torch, he should be able to connect with the country's top players in a way that previous regimes have not.
Russian journalists familiar with the situation said players, most of whom for years have lived away from their homeland, feel Russian officials don't appreciate the sacrifice it takes to play in these tournaments.
Combined with ongoing power struggles within the Russian hockey hierarchy, the situation has seen stars like Nikolai Khabibulin decline to take part, further hampering Russian performances. Forging an early connection with the players will be the key to success in a short tournament like the Olympic showdown, and Bure gives the Russians a good head start.
"We will find the right people to get these players together," promised Hall of Famer Slava Fetisov, who is the Russian head of sport. "Definitely, he's got the name in hockey."
Speaking of Fetisov, a two-time Cup winner with Detroit and one of the finest defensemen ever to play, he has more pressing problems than chemistry and line combinations. With the Russian economy constantly evolving and social problems like alcoholism and drug use among young people on the rise, he is hoping that expanded sporting programs will help ease some of those problems.
"It's going to help these problems we're facing right now," he said.
And finally, we give the final word on Hall of Fame weekend to Neely. He described how he wanted to quit hockey when he was 15 because he felt out of place on his team. But his father told him that he had to play out the season because he had committed to the team and taken a spot another boy would have wanted.
"No yelling, no screaming. Just a valuable opportunity to grow up and make my own decisions," Neely recalled.
Both of Neely's parents died early in his career in Boston, and their passing became the catalyst for the Neely family's charitable foundation that has raised almost $14 million to date.
"I know you are watching and here with us today," Neely said. "I miss you and I love you."
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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