Anderson's Hall wait is over, but timing was everything
-- Glenn Anderson
Monday night in Toronto, Glenn Anderson, one of the greatest clutch hockey players of all time, will finally walk into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The moment will prove it's never too late to correct mistakes, to change perceptions, if not people, and to end up where you belong.
"It took a little longer, but I think I appreciate it a lot more now," Anderson told ESPN.com in an interview shortly before his enshrinement. "I had a long time to think about it, whether it was going to happen or not.
"Now, I think I'm more able to take it all in," Anderson said. "At this stage of my life, I think I will appreciate it more."
Although he was eligible to be inducted three years after his final season, 1995-96, Anderson was overlooked for more than a decade. Part of the oversight was because he played on teams deep in Hall of Fame-caliber players. But, just as importantly, Anderson's personality made it easy, on some levels, to keep him out.
Anderson, the second oldest of four children, grew up on Canada's Pacific coast. His father was a sixth-generation fisherman of Norwegian stock, but Anderson found out pretty quickly he wouldn't follow his father out to sea. He always got seasick, so he had a powerful incentive to work harder in hockey practice.
"I went out there a couple of times. I got seasick and we weren't coming back. I became well aware of what I didn't want to become," Anderson said.
Anderson's first big hockey memory is of scoring -- not on an opponent, but in his own net. He was seven years old. It was in an arena near the old Vancouver Coliseum. He went behind his own net and tried to pass the puck up the boards, but it bounced off a player and into his own net.
"I wasn't really gifted. I didn't know how to skate very well," he said.
Funny how things like that stay with you, especially when those who played with and coached Anderson remember him for his explosive speed cutting to the net.
Still, Anderson always marched to a different tune.
He went to the University of Denver at a time Canadian players almost always played junior. His coach was longtime NHL hockey man Marshall Johnston, who recently told ESPN.com it took about five minutes of watching Anderson play before Johnston knew he wanted him on his team.
"It was the stuff you couldn't teach," said Johnston, now a scout for the Carolina Hurricanes, of what attracted him to Anderson.
After one year at Denver, Anderson went to Canada's national team training camp. Johnston told Anderson he would hold his scholarship, but after visiting the camp himself, Johnston knew Anderson was gone. "I knew damn well he wasn't coming back," Johnston said, laughing.
Anderson said being on the national team appealed to him; there was the Olympic tournament in Lake Placid and a chance to travel.
The NHL? That wasn't really part of the plan.
"There were other players that were way better than me," said Anderson.
The Edmonton Oilers agreed, drafting the mustached winger in the fourth round of the 1979 draft (69th overall). When Anderson showed up for his first NHL camp, he was surprised at the pace. He was used to two-a-days with the national team, which routinely required players to put in two or three more hours of off-ice work.
The Oilers' camp? "It was a lot easier than the national team, I can tell you," Anderson said.
A couple of hours of on-ice work, and the other players were heading out to lunch. Still, Anderson wasn't sure he had what it took.
Yet, there he was in the fall of 1980 -- the Oilers' second year in the NHL after the league's merger with the old World Hockey Association -- not just playing, but netting 30 goals in 58 games. The Oilers went on to sweep the powerful Montreal Canadiens in a preliminary round before dropping a six-game set to the defending Stanley Cup-champion New York Islanders. The Oilers became a team to be reckoned with, while Anderson established himself as a money player with 12 points in nine playoff games.
What made Anderson so great when it mattered most? He said it wasn't so much the will to win as it was the fear of losing.
There was losing to the Russians and then watching the Americans beat the Russians en route to their mystical gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. A few years later, there was the "Miracle on Manchester" series against Los Angeles, as the powerful Oilers were dispatched by the upstart Kings.
"The fact that I hated to lose more than I liked to win is a good reason," Anderson said. "I think you have to lose before you can win. And the hardships that I had from losing hurt so bad that I would never -- I didn't want to do that again.
"I think a lot of guys on our team felt the same way I felt. And so, as far as getting into a tight situation where the pressure was on and the game was close or we're down a goal or the game was tied, I always just reverted back to those memories of how bad it hurt and how much I hated to lose more probably than I wanted to win. Just rise to that occasion so I didn't have that feeling again."
The current Calgary Flames coach, Mike Keenan, saw firsthand the damage Anderson could do, as the Oilers defeated Keenan's Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals in 1985 and 1987. A few weeks after the '87 final, Keenan would have Anderson on his team as Canada rolled to victory over the Russians in what is considered one of the greatest hockey confrontations ever -- the 1987 Canada Cup.
In 1994, Keenan, then coaching the New York Rangers, asked GM Neil Smith if there was any way Anderson could be acquired by the team. It cost the Rangers fan-favorite forward Mike Gartner, and Anderson struggled down the stretch, chipping in just four goals in 12 games before the playoffs. Even during the postseason, Anderson's usual playoff production was off (six points in 23 games). But two of his three postseason goals were game-winners during the Rangers' final series victory over the Vancouver Canucks which ended a 54-year Cup drought.
"I think he embraced and enjoyed the opportunity to compete in games that were of the highest stakes," Keenan said. "When it came to big games, he was always at the forefront. I really enjoyed coaching him for that reason."
In all, Anderson won six Stanley Cups and sits fourth in all-time playoff points (214). The three players who stand ahead of him are all former teammates: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri. Anderson's 93 playoff goals are fifth all time, while he scored 17 game-winning goals in the playoffs (tied for fifth all-time).
Anderson admitted he "didn't have the pamphlet" on what constitutes a Hall of Famer.
"It's a difficult question for me to answer because I don't know [what criteria is used]," Anderson said. "If I was sitting on the committee, I'm sure I'd kind of be able to say, OK, what makes this guy get in. Is it the stats? Is it his championships? You know, what is it exactly? And I really don't know what the guidelines and the criteria is. It's not written in stone. So I don't know the answer."
During Anderson's heyday in Edmonton, he played on one of the greatest teams of all time. You know where to start (Gretzky), but where do you stop when it comes to things like assigning a place in the Hall of Fame?
"It makes it hard on all the guys if you start with Wayne and go on down the ladder," Edmonton Oilers president and longtime Anderson supporter Kevin Lowe told ESPN.com this week.
But Lowe's logic on why Anderson has always been a Hall of Famer is this: If you took all those great players with whom Anderson played and won championships and asked them to pick one player to provide a big goal, who would they have selected?
"I'm sure the majority of them would have said Andy," Lowe said.
One knock on him was the perception that Anderson sometimes didn't bring his A-game for some midseason games, but he managed to put up 1,099 points in 1,129 regular-season games.
In the crunch?
"No question he raised his game for those moments," Lowe said. "That gets into the psychology of Glenn Anderson, I think. Andy was driven by winning hockey games."
Another potential mark against Anderson: he was always a little standoffish with the media. George Varvis, a close friend, died in 1988 after an accident at Anderson's pool. Anderson was upset at the media's treatment of him and of his friend's death.
There were pictures of Anderson's home in the local media, followed by rumors surrounding Varvis' death and ultimately death threats, Anderson told Edmonton Journal reporter Dan Barnes this past summer.
Later, there were the unflattering reports Anderson had reneged on child-support payments to a woman with whom he had fathered a child. Those close to Anderson say he had exceeded an earlier agreement on payments, but when the case became public, it appeared as though he was trying to duck out on his responsibilities. That issue has since been resolved, although the lingering bad press did little to help Anderson's case when it came to the Hall.
"He's now come full circle," Lowe said. "He recognizes that media isn't the enemy."
Long before Cal Nichols became the man who saved the Edmonton Oilers by spearheading a local ownership group to buy the team from Peter Pocklington, he was simply a season-ticket holder and local businessman. When he started up a chain of gas bars and convenience stores, he needed a spokesman, someone familiar in the community, so he hired Glenn Anderson.
"He was wonderful at that," Nichols told ESPN.com. "His style, his personality, he was just one of those effervescent, high-energy guys. He'd sit there for three, four hours and sign autographs and people would like up and he was wonderful."
Anderson and Nichols were also involved in a local charity golf tournament that helped raise money to help local cancer patients. The tournament still exists, and Anderson was there last summer, helping raise $100,000 in one day. At the cancer treatment center, Anderson sponsored a No. 9 Room, named after Anderson's jersey number. That too is still in operation.
"He would just drop in there out of the blue and talk to the kids and spend time with them," Nichols said.
Whatever the perception of Anderson, Nichols said he knew there would come a day when people would put that behind them when it came to the Hall of Fame.
"I never lost hope that he would get there. Lo and behold, it's finally happened," he said.
Does Anderson think it was part of his character, or the other issues, that were held against him in the Hall process?
"I think it's everything. It's not just one particular thing," Anderson said.
On a pre-induction media conference call, he acknowledged to one Edmonton reporter that he's probably a lot different than when he was playing in Edmonton.
"Over the course of 10 or 15 years, you're going to change as an individual," Anderson said. "You're supposed to learn and grow. I appreciate things a lot more."
If Anderson has followed that arc of maturing, so, too, has the Hockey Hall of Fame. After all, the selection committee is not a supercomputer housed in the bowels of the Hall in downtown Toronto. The committee is made up of flesh-and-blood human beings. True, they are the elite of the hockey community, team-builders and players and writers who have seen much, but who are nonetheless subject to the same prejudices and biases that affect all human beings.
But it appears this committee, a committee whose makeup has changed over the years, has learned, and members of the hockey community reacted universally when it was revealed Anderson's wait was over.
"They said, 'Oh my God, it's about time,'" Anderson said.
He joked on the conference call about what might happen when his plaque is unveiled in the Great Hall.
"I heard there's ghosts in the Hall," Anderson said. "And I can just imagine my picture probably looking right at [Canadian Olympic coach] Father Bauer or Glen Sather, and at some point in time, when we're no longer around and the lights are out and nobody's there, I can hear Slats going, 'It's past curfew, you better go to bed.'"
The ghosts might just as well be saying, "Welcome home, Glenn."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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