Pass the cranberry sauce, Hullie

Which personalities from hockey history would you invite to your Thanksgiving Day dinner?

Updated: November 26, 2003, 6:55 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

With another Turkey Day upon us, the good folks at ESPN.com posed a simple question to me: If you could set up an old-style Thanksgiving Day feast for eight hockey folks past or present, who would you invite to the table?

To make it a little more interesting (or difficult), there was one catch: I had to choose a player from each position, a coach and a GM.

In pondering the question, there were many names that immediately came to mind. The most obvious was Wayne Gretzky. I mean, really, what hockey fan wouldn't want The Great One at his table?

Glen Sather
Glen Sather has not distinguished himself in New York.
But then, I thought, maybe I should go past some the most obvious names. So, for that reason, I opted to leave Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe off my list. After that, I tried to get a mix of different personalities. Here's the final guest list:

Center: Milt Schmidt. The classy Schmidt is best remembered as the hard-nosed center of the Bruins' famed Kraut Line, which also featured wingers Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumont during the late 1930s and '40s. In 16 seasons (between 1936-1955), he totaled 229 goals and 575 points. In a six-team league that played a 50-game schedule, those are impressive numbers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1961. Schmidt, who still resides in the Boston area, is featured in the Hockey Hall of Fame video series, "Legends of Hockey." On several occasions, Schmidt lights up the screen with his stories of the game in a different time. I'd love to hear some of those tales over turkey.

Right wing: Brett Hull. If you want some provocative chatter at the table, you have to invite this member of the 700-goal club. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Hull has a strong opinion about everything on ice. You might not always agree with him, but Hull definitely makes you listen. Pass the cranberry sauce, Hullie.

Left wing: Clark Gillies. If things get out of hand, it's good to have somebody at the table who can quickly settle the dispute. The bruising Gillies was an intimidating force for the Islanders, helping them to four straight Stanley Cups in the 1980s. His battles with sluggers Dave Schultz and Terry O'Reilly were legendary. Inducted into the HOF in 2002, Gillies will keep everybody from taking more than their share of apple pie.

Defense: Red Kelly. It never hurts to have a politician at the table. Kelly, who was a part of eight Stanley Cup winners with the Wings and Leafs during his 20-year career (1947-67), was elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1962. He shuttled back and forth between Toronto and Ottawa to perform his elected duties for several seasons. Kelly also qualifies as a center or a coach. He made the unusual move from defense to center after coming to the Leafs in 1960. Kelly's position change would be akin to the Wings opting to move veteran star Nicklas Lidstrom to forward. Inducted into the HOF in 1969, Kelly brings a wealth of life experience to our table.

Defense: Larry Robinson. You just can't have a hockey get-together without a Canadien. I'll choose Robinson, who again displayed his true love for the game during the MegaStars portion of the Heritage Classic. Watching Robinson on that day -- or working with young defenders in the Devils system -- you can't miss just how much this guy loves to be on the ice. Robinson earned six Cups as a player during his 20 NHL seasons. He also coached the Devils to the title in 2000 and was the club's special assignment coach during last season's championship run. A great competitor, he was inducted into the HOF in 1995. Robinson brings the winning spirit of the rouge, blanc et bleu to our feast.

Goaltender: Vladislav Tretiak. He was so good he was elected into the HOF in 1989 despite never playing a single game in the NHL. Tretiak was the star stopper for the powerful Soviet Red Army teams in the 1970s and 80s, and made his mark during high-level international competition. At this table, Tretiak represents those many great Russian players -- like Valery Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov and Alexander Yakushev -- who never got to test their skill in the NHL.

Coach: Herb Brooks. When Brooks died in a single car accident on Aug. 11, American hockey lost an icon and its best-ever coach. But more than that, we all lost a good man. Brooks made us believe in miracles at Lake Placid in 1980, then came back 22 years later in Salt Lake just to show us he hadn't lost his touch. In between, he made a couple of stops around the NHL, but he never really had the personnel for ultimate success on that stage. At the 2002 Olympics, I had the good fortune of spending some time around Brooks. On this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for that. And at my imaginary table, coach Brooks sits front and center.

General Manager: Glen Sather. Although things haven't gone too well for Sather during his recent tenure in New York, you can't ignore his record of success during the 1980s in Edmonton. He was inducted into the HOF as a builder in 1997. Also, Sather is a sharp guy with strong opinions. It might be nice just to sit back and watch him and Hull debate the state of the game. Or maybe, I can ask him why he insists on pairing offensive-minded defensemen Brian Leetch and Tom Poti? A shrewd trader, Sather might try to deal for the last slice of New York cheesecake.

So, there's my wish list. If you'd like to send out your own invitations, feel free to drop me an e-mail with your choices. I'll try to include some of them in next week's column.

Around the Hrink

  • Last Sunday, the St. Louis Blues' AHL affiliate, the Worcester Ice Cats, played a game against the Utah Grizzles (Dallas Stars) at the Savvis Center in St. Louis and drew an announced crowd of 2,232 fans. On Jan. 22, the New Jersey Devils' minor league team, the Albany River Rats, will play host to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders) at the Continental Airlines Arena. It will be the first time the River Rats will play a game on the Devils' home ice. Why are these AHL games being played in NHL venues? Well, in the event of a lockout, the clubs will be looking to help fill dates in their buildings. So, these games are a test run, aimed at gauging interest. Of course, if there's no NHL next year, there might be a lot of interest.

  • After being stopped by Grant Fuhr in the MegaStars portion of the Heritage Classic last Saturday afternoon, ex-Canadien Stephane Richer came back to the bench shaking his head. Richer ripped a nasty slap shot from the top of the right wing circle that seemed ticketed for the far, upper corner of the net. But just like the old days, Fuhr snared the drive with his right hand. At the bench, Richer told legends coach Jacques Demers that he forgot that Fuhr caught with his right hand. If he'd remembered, he would've kept his shot down. For the record, Richer says he still doesn't consider himself retired. On the other hand, Claude Lemieux told reporters that he's done.

    E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    E.J. Hradek

    Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
    E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.