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Hayley Wickenheiser captures hearts at Hockey Hall of Fame

Women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser was the only first-year-eligible inductee at the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019’s class.  THE CANADIAN PRESS
Women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser was the only first-year-eligible inductee at the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019’s class.  THE CANADIAN PRESS

Hayley Wickenheiser had no old boys’ club stories to tell in her Hockey Hall of Fame speech.

But she gained the respect of a room full of NHL and international stars with her own compelling tale. It involved a young girl who received some nasty looks from a few parents in Shaunavon, Sask., for taking a male’s place on the top minor hockey team and had to cut her hair to blend in.

She paid tribute to her parents, whom she said put themselves into debt every four years for her five appearances in the Olympics (four of them gold medals) and apologized that she never made enough in the game to pay off their mortgage. As a teenage rookie on the national women’s team, she noted her first roommate was a Grade 10 math teacher and she was a Grade 10 math student.

But barely had the 41-year-old Wickenheiser started when she captured the Hall’s heart for giving up part of her podium time for Vaclav Nedomansky, who was looking somber beside her when he realized he’d forgotten to mention his wife and children during his allotted speech.

She acknowledged the rest of the 2019 class and  some of their influence on her: Guy Carbonneau, a right-handed centre and shot-blocker like herself, and a power-play quarterback like Sergei Zubov.

Dallas teammate Brett Hull had the book on the defensive strengths of Carbonneau.

“You need a guy who can score, but when you’re playing against Colorado and it’s Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, you need a Carbonneau, and those guys out there like him, playing those hard minutes.”

Player-turned-hockey exec Tom Fitzgerald respected Carbo’s 200-foot game.

“In junior, he put up (435) points and to make that commitment, sacrificing that … it’s not all about points, it’s about what you contribute to your teams that are great.”

Carbonneau learned from Bob Gainey in Montreal and said he sees Patrice Bergeron as the next Gainey in NHL history.

“He’s the best 200-foot centre in the league, and that’s why Boston is Boston,” said Fitzgerald. “He can pump in goals and points, but his first thought is defending.”

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

The low-key Zubov gave a nice speech, starting with a “nice to meet you” to the attending media in apology for staying in the background, especially in Dallas.

“Brett talked all those years ago for all of us,” he joked.

But he had a touching tribute to late fellow defender Alexander Karpovtsev, who was his friend growing up in Moscow.

“One day, he brought me to a real hockey club (Red Army), a nice rink with a Zamboni machine. He didn’t know that 17 years later, we’d be the first Russian (trained) players to win a Cup in New York. I hope he’s watching (Karpovtsev died in the Yaroslavl team plane crash).”

Fitzgerald hated playing against Zubov at the time, but appreciates it today.

“He was an offensive magician, his hockey sense was off the chart. You knew you had to be aware of him, knew he’d jump up, knew he made your game honest. If you slept for one second in the offensive zone, he was jumping by you and in the defensive zone he could come right down to the high slot and make you look like a dummy.”

The Professor, Igor Larionov, gave a detailed review of Zubov’s Hall credentials.

“The way he played, he make great decisions all night,” Larionov said of Zubov’s Cups in New York and Dallas. “He made the game so easy for the forwards. He knew how to pass, never used the boards or glass, always looking for the good pass. He and Nick Lidstrom were doing that in this generation.”

Told that Zubov has expressed his appreciation that the Russian national program had such high-level practices and appreciated the discipline, Larionov offered a different take,

“Discipline is a very strong word. But the game is very unpredictable, you can’t play it like a robot. He played it like an artist. He could slow down the game, or make it fast. That’s what it’s all about, why people came to watch him play the game. It was beautiful.”

JIM CLASS

Jim Rutherford, named in the builders’ category, thanked his parents, relatives and friends from Beeton, Ont., 60 miles north of Toronto.

“We lived cheque to cheque, but they always found a way to get me to practice,” Rutherford said.

He began skating at age five and took up goaltending seriously when Bob Cairns, a senior-league goalie, gave him a men’s stick.

Owner Mario Lemieux, who hired Rutherford in 2016 after his first Cup in Carolina to rejuvenate the Pittsburgh Penguins, presented his Hall plaque on Monday.

“It means a lot,” Lemieux said. “Jim’s a great friend of mine, had a great career starting in junior (Windsor Spitfires). We were lucky to get him. We had a chance for another Cup, he got us two.”

Lemieux said Rutherford made a huge impression in the interview.

“Just for his experience and the way he carried himself,” Lemieux said. “In an hour or two, we knew we had our man.”

THE GREAT ESCAPE

Nedomansky felt the story had to be told one more time, why he took his family out of the East Bloc in 1974 for a new beginning with the WHA Toronto Toros.

He was playing club hockey in Bratislava and for the former Czechoslovakian national team. He only received two weeks vacation from training and playing.

“They break your heart, body and mind,” Nedomansky said. “So thank you Canada for giving me the chance to live my life.”

BOSTON IS YORK’S TOWN

Jerry York, selected in the builders wing, won’t get a better endorsement of himself as a coach than from Fitzgerald. The Massachusetts-born assistant general manager of the Devils had two kids under York at Boston College, Casey (a two-time captain) and Ryan. A third, Toronto-born Brendan when Fitzgerald was a  Leaf, is a possibility to attend.

“Jerry doesn’t want the stick to be taken out of your hand, he allows skill to be skill,” Fitzgerald said. “Structure is what you do with just a few little things he asks you to do on the ice — and then it’s just ‘play hockey’.

“But it’s the people skills and life lessons. Both my boys graduated and are playing pro. The networking power BC has in the New England area is probably greater than Harvard. The people Jerry brings in to speak, whether it’s Terry Francona, Bill Belichick or a BC grad who’s a CEO, it’s not about hockey, it’s about life.”

MAN BEHIND THE MASK

Rutherford was asked about the origin of his white mask with the Red Wings logo on each eye hole, one of the first to be decorated after Gerry Cheevers painted  the stitches on his with Boston.

“I got traded from Pittsburgh to Detroit and my mask was the Pittsburgh blue at the time,” Rutherford said. “Our first game was in Toronto and so the guy that makes my masks, I had him meet me at the airport. Because of my disappointment with the trade, I said, ‘Just paint it white, no red, nothing.’ ”

Ignoring Rutherford’s request, the artist added the Wings.

“I wasn’t very happy, but we won the game and people talked a lot about it. So it just stuck from there.”

COMING SOON

Joining the list of Hall hopefuls next year will be first-year eligibles Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan. Meanwhile, Alex Mogilny and Daniel Alfredsson, two of the players who didn’t make it last year, will be getting a lot of press prior to the selection committee in June. Zubov’s election increases the chances fellow Russian Mogilny will get a nod. Marian Hossa is also a possibility.

“So many deserving people,” said Hull. “You’re not always blessed with being drafted by the best team or best organization. Maybe you didn’t get to play with someone who could make you better as a player. But you go out and do your job.

“It’s not all about awards and stats. You have to rely on the (Hall selection) committee and believe they understand the game enough to pick the right people.”

Hull’s list of overlooked inductees included Pat Verbeek, Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick and Doug Weight.

“Now that Carbo is in, who will be the (next defenceman such as) Rod Langway who might go in. It’s great that the game is changing and so do things like the Hall. They adapt and understand that if you’re not put in a position like me to score 700 goals, it doesn’t mean you’re not a Hall-calibre guy.”

HALL MONITORING

Wickenheiser was the only first-year-eligible inductee … Hull on maybe making it to a second Blues Stanley Cup party: “Hopefully, I’ll remember this one.” … Rene Fasel, the outgoing head of the IIHF after 25 years, used part of his farewell speech to thank NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and to express his wish the NHL returns to the Olympics, prompting some murmurs of agreement in the crowd … Bettman noted Carbonneau was the first team captain he handed the Cup to in 1993 when Montreal beat the L.A. Kings, while Yvan Cournoyer was asked when another northern franchise would get the chance to hoist it. “I wish (the Canadiens) win one more before I go.” … Among the many people Rutherford thanked was forward Matt Cullen, who played on all three of his Cup teams … York had 12 former assistant coaches in the Hall audience. He began at age 26 at Clarkson, not much older than his senior players. He travelled to Northern Ontario to land his first big recruit, Dave Taylor, but had to wait for Taylor’s father to get off shift at the local nickel mine. The dad told him, “I want my son to have an education, not go down in the mine with me.” … York was glad to get to bed after a long travel day to Toronto on Saturday, but was awakened by Hall chairman Lanny McDonald coming into his hotel room carrying the Stanley Cup.

lhornby@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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