Burnside: 2006 is quite the eclectic Hall class
TORONTO -- Dreamers and builders, money players and old-timers, they were all represented in the Class of 2006, which was formally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night.
Harley Hotchkiss, a member of the Calgary Flames ownership group and one of the architects of the lockout-ending collective bargaining agreement, was inducted in the builder category along with "Miracle on Ice" coach Herb Brooks; Patrick Roy, owner of four Stanley Cup rings and a three-time playoff MVP, was elected in the first year of eligibility in the player category along with Original Six star Dick Duff.
The annual Hall of Fame weekend continues to be one of the highlights of the hockey calendar, a chance for the hockey community to gather and reflect on greatness past and ruminate on the nature of that greatness and its impact on the game.
Herein, a look at some of the highlights of the Hall of Fame weekend.
Hotchkiss was part of the ownership group that moved the Flames franchise from Atlanta to Calgary before the 1980-81 season. He was asked by ESPN.com whether he foresees a day when the NHL will target Canadian cities for expansion in light of sinking attendance in a number of American markets.
"I don't see it short term because we've just gone through the lockout and all the challenges. We owe it to the fans in all the cities that we have franchises to give it our best effort, and they have to give their best effort to stay there," Hotchkiss said. "But do I rule it out? No, I don't. We had a great rivalry with Winnipeg. I loved going to Quebec City and playing there, so those memories are strong. So, I don't rule it out, but I don't see it happening in the short term. For it to happen, a couple of things have to take place, and one important one is you have to have a strong ownership group or ownership in wherever you might come back."
The 'What if?' game
Here's a brain-teaser. What if Roy had ended up in Chicago after his famous blowout with the Montreal Canadiens in December 1995? Would the Original Six team have stumbled down its current path to decay with Roy between the pipes? What if Roy had ended up in Toronto? Think the Leafs would still be closing in on the 40th anniversary of their last Cup win? Or what if Roy had become a Red Wing? Imagine how the heated rivalry that grew out of Roy's December 1995 trade to Colorado might have been different. These scenarios were all part of the might-have-been according to Roy, who told reporters Monday that, before the trade that sent him to Colorado, the Red Wings, Leafs and Blackhawks were all in the running.
"At the time, it was clear to me that they were trading me to Detroit, Toronto, Chicago or Colorado. But if we start talking about if and if and if, we're not going to go very far. I was traded to a great situation. And I think Montreal did me a favor, as well, allowing me to go to a team that I felt could win the Stanley Cup. They knew what I wanted."
From the fan forum
During Sunday's popular fan forum, a chance for fans to ask questions of Hall of Fame inductees in an intimate setting, Roy set straight the genesis of one of the greatest playoff lines ever delivered. It was during the Avs' 1996 playoff series against Chicago that Roy told reporters he couldn't hear verbal sniping from Chicago's Jeremy Roenick because his Stanley Cup rings were clogging his ears. The line was actually the brainchild of teammate Mike Keane, who told Roy while driving in the car one day that he would have tried the line out while playing against Boston but that since he had only one Cup ring at the time, it just didn't deliver the desired oomph. Of course, when Roy delivered the line, it was pure magic.
The fan forum is always a great place to see the often far-reaching impact hockey players have on fans everywhere. One woman rose and told Roy he had been her inspiration to learn French. She told Roy she'd gone on to become a French teacher in suburban Toronto, then fired off a perfectly worded question -- en français.
The Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee often is held up to some criticism in the hockey world for its selections. It was so this year,when many both quietly and publicly questioned the inclusion of Duff in the Class of 2006. Duff, 70, last played in 1972 and acknowledged he'd pretty much given up hope of getting the call in spite of winning six Stanley Cups with Toronto and Montreal.
Duff acknowledged the skepticism, but makes no apologies for his place in the Hall.
"Whether people think I don't have enough points [he had 572 points in 1,030 regular-season games], that's fine with me. I don't care," said Duff, a native of the mining community of Kirkland Lake, Ontario. "We didn't have any free teams to play against. There were six goalies [in the league] that could all play. And each team had four defensive guys that had been partners sometimes for 10 years. And we never ran the score up. We had to play each other 14 times. We could beat some teams some nights 6-0, [but] why would we? We've got to play them six more times. We could wind the game down. We knew how to protect the lead to get ready for the playoffs."
One of the reasons Duff earned a trip to the Hall was his ability to perform when the money was on the table. Duff won six Stanley Cups between 1962 and 1969 and got 79 postseason points in 114 playoff games, a pretty darned good rate of production. Strangely, when Duff won his first Stanley Cup with the 1962 Leafs, it was the first time he won a championship of any kind.
"The trick and the fun is to do it when the fire's the hottest. Get it done then and then they won't forget," Duff said.
The debate over Duff's inclusion highlights the inherent challenge of selecting players from other eras because statistics, the main criteria at least as far as fans and the media are concerned, won't tell the whole story.
Still, Duff's inclusion in the Class of 2006 has a defined ripple effect and will make it almost impossible for Hall-worthy players such as Doug Gilmour and Pavel Bure to get in anytime soon.
Next year, five players who are locks to make the Hall are eligible: Mark Messier, Igor Larionov, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Ron Francis. The Hall does not induct more than four players in any one year, which means at least one of those players will have to wait at least another year beyond eligibility into 2008, when Steve Yzerman and Brett Hull are eligible. All of which means the debate over the selection committee's selections won't be ending anytime soon.
Lou Vairo, director of special projects for USA Hockey, had worked on the 1980 team as an advance scout and assisted the coaching staff during games. He and Brooks hadn't had much contact in the eight or nine years leading up to the 2002 Olympics, and it was during that time that Brooks had warred with USA Hockey over its structure and vision of hockey in the United States. Although Vairo agreed with some of Brooks' criticisms, he told the coach that he was going about it the wrong way, that he needed to stop criticizing USA Hockey in the papers and come to some meetings.
Vairo told Brooks a story that had been told to him by Russian coaching icon Anatoli Tarasov, a mentor to both Vairo and Brooks. Tarasov told Vairo one of his greatest regrets was being at war with the Russian hockey federation. In the end, Tarasov told Vairo, he lost, the Russian federation lost, but most important, Russian hockey lost.
Vairo asked Brooks to think about that, and shortly after, Brooks mended the fences with USA Hockey and subsequently was named coach of the 2002 U.S. team that lost only one game -- the gold medal game against Canada.
"I thought he was the absolute natural choice," Vairo said.
Looking ahead to Vancouver
Speaking of the Olympics, it's hard to imagine that Peter Laviolette will not get every opportunity to coach the U.S. team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver in what will very likely be the last games at which the NHL takes part and which should see one of the strongest U.S. teams in years. But Vairo always wonders why one U.S.-born coach never has gotten a shot at these kinds of jobs: Barry Smith, an assistant to Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix. Smith has worked alongside Bob Johnson in Pittsburgh and Scotty Bowman in both Pittsburgh and Detroit.
"If you're good enough for Bob Johnson and Scotty Bowman, you're good enough to coach one of our teams. Give me a break," Vairo said.
Hindsight is 20/20
Jack Riley was the coach of the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team that won gold at Squaw Valley. His final cut was Herb Brooks. When Brooks was announced as a member of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2006 this past summer, Riley told Vairo he never would have cut Brooks if he had known how famous Brooks was going to be.
Only in Hollywood
The film "Miracle" starring Kurt Russell as Brooks will go down as the epic big-screen account of the 1980 team. But there was an earlier effort starring Karl Malden as Brooks called "Miracle On Ice."
Brooks' son Dan recalls the first Malden script arriving while the family was in Switzerland, where Brooks was coaching.
"He'd sit in this room by himself, and all of a sudden you'd just hear this, 'Oh my God!' and the red markers [would come out]."
"He got it to be better, but it was still an awful piece of work if you can call it that," Dan Brooks said.
A moment frozen in history
The journey from unheralded to unequaled for that 1980 team was one that took place with all the speed of a glacier moving forward.
Dan Brooks recalled just 1,500 people in the stands when the Americans eked out a 2-2 tie with Sweden thanks to a late goal by Bill Baker.
The 10th anniversary of the gold medal win was a low-key celebration in the Brookses' backyard.
"Literally, it was a backyard barbecue and we had two kegs of beer and my dad was cooking bratwurst and had some makeshift sign, you know, 'Welcome, 1980 guys,'" Dan Brooks said.
Still, the coach knew almost immediately what had been achieved was of the seminal variety, his son said.
"He predicted the importance. It was kind of eerie. I watched an interview after the Finland game [when the Americans won the gold medal], right when he talked to Jimmy Carter. And Jim Lampley was the announcer, and my dad said, 'Mark my words, this is going to down in history as an incredibly event.' It was just kind of eerie to hear him say that."
The bond that binds them
Brooks, who won three NCAA championships with the University of Minnesota, shares a place in the Hall of Fame with former college coaching foe "Badger Bob" Johnson.
How's this for two degrees of separation? John Harrington, a member of the 1980 Olympic team under Brooks, went on to a college coaching career after the 1984 Olympics. He was at the University of Denver as an assistant coach and recruited Brooks' son Dan. Harrington wasn't at the Hall of Fame on Monday night, but he was in Toronto recently and took in the Hall. Why was the longtime coach at St. John's University here? Because son Chris is a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect and playing with the AHL Marlies, for whom the defenseman has 10 points in 12 games.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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