The red carpet walk before the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony is a place where legends are found and legendary tales are told. This year was no different.
Mats Sundin, Pavel Bure, Adam Oates and Joe Sakic brought out a crowd that included an array of former teammates, respected opponents, fellow honored members, family and friends. Here are some of the comments and stories many of the red carpet walkers told to NHL.com prior to the induction ceremony Monday night:
His Hall of Fame class
Pat Quinn, a member of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, has a special connection to this year's class, having coached three of the four inductees. Quinn had Pavel Bure in Vancouver, Mats Sundin in Toronto and Joe Sakic on Team Canada three different times, including at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
"I see it as good fortune for me to be around these men because not only did they turn out to be great athletes, they're all terrific people," Quinn said. "I think that's why I'm so happy with this class -- because of the quality of people in it. They were leaders for their team.
"Pavel lit up the room. When he went on the ice he lit everything up. Mats played with such a high level of consistency that he was like a big rock out there. And of course maybe the greatest game I ever score a Canadian play in the Canadian sweater was Joe in the gold-medal game in Salt Lake. He was just awesome.
"It was an absolute privilege for me to be around these men."
While Quinn never coached Oates, he recalls the horrors of trying to game plan against one of the game's greatest passers.
"It was almost impossible," Quinn said. "When I first saw [Wayne] Gretzky I said, 'Run over top of the guy, he's not moving for crying out loud.' We looked at Adam the same way, but you couldn't catch them. They were too smart. They evaded everything. They went to areas of the ice where there wasn't a lot of traffic. They had incredible vision. Your only hope was to pressure him quickly enough to take his time away to make a play, but he could beat you even then. He was an incredible playmaker. Not many were ever better."
Best time of their lives
"When you're playing with a guy like Adam Oates, it makes it a lot easier and it makes your sleep a lot easier," Hull said. "He wanted to set up goals and create plays, just have fun on the ice. It was almost like a pickup game for him every night -- that's how good he was."
For two-plus seasons Hull and Oates ran roughshod over the NHL. They were in their mid-20s, in the prime of their careers, and simply dominated the League, making it look like they were playing a pickup game on the world's stage.
Hull scored 72 goals in 1989-90 and 86 goals, including 50 in 49 games, in 1990-91. Oates had 169 assists during those two seasons.
Hull scored 50 in 50 again with Oates as his center in 1991-92, but a contract squabble led to the Blues dealing Oates to Boston late in that season.
"He was a special player and for two-plus years we had a relationship on and off the ice that I will never forget," Hull said of Oates, who also was his roommate during those years. "He made me a better person and he made me a better hockey player. I tip my hat to the Hall of Fame committee for looking above and beyond and seeing his attributes and skill level and what he brought to the game, to bring him to the Hall of Fame.
"He deserves it."
Oates' other huge fan
For as much as Oates means to Hull, there's a certain former Boston superstar who will argue he means even more to him. Cam Neely might not be in the Hall of Fame if not for his time with Oates in the mid-1990s.
With Oates as his center, Neely scored 50 goals in 44 games in 1993-94. Injuries limited Neely to only 153 games during Oates' four full seasons in Boston, but Neely scored 114 goals in that span.
"He's the best playmaker I ever played with," Neely said. "He helped elevate my game, obviously. I wish I could have played more games with him. Unfortunately, I was hurt too often. He was just very smart and actually underrated defensively."
Neely said he and Oates had a special connection that didn't require communication.
"When he first came to the team I told him where I'd like to get the puck and where I don't want to touch the puck, and after that we just connected on the ice," Neely said. "He just saw me and knew where I'd like to go and where I wanted to be when I received the pass."
Neely, like Hull, called Oates' vision "Gretzky-like." He said his backhanded passing ability was "probably the best the game has ever seen.
"To be able to dish it hard and in the right spot and flat the way he did was pretty special," Neely added.
A trade Jim Devellano still regrets
The Detroit Red Wings have won the Stanley Cup four times since Hall of Fame executive Jim Devellano traded Oates to the Blues for Bernie Federko and Tony McKegney. However, the continued success of the Red Wings, one of the League's most stable franchises, hasn't been enough to stop Devellano from beating himself up over that "regrettable" trade.
"Let me put it this way to you -- I'll put it simple -- it's a deal I wish I hadn't have made," Devellano said. "Adam got much, much better after he left the Red Wings. We had him as a young boy just out of college. We were going through a tough time in Detroit at that time, but no excuses, I made a regrettable deal and he's gone on to become a Hall of Famer."
A trade Cliff Fletcher would make again
The question posed to ex-Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher had nothing to do with what he thought he was getting when he acquired Mats Sundin from the Nordiques in 1994. Instead, the question to Fletcher went like this: What do you think it would have been like in Toronto had you never traded for Sundin?
"After I left the Leafs in '97 Mats carried the team for over a decade," Fletcher said. "He was their leading scorer every year, their best player, their spokesperson in the community, their leader in the locker room, a coach's delight.
"I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't been there."
Outside of the fact that they still may not have won the Stanley Cup (Sundin got the Maple Leafs to the conference finals twice), had Fletcher never traded for Sundin, the organization never would have had the star who turned into arguably its best-ever player.
Sundin remains the Leafs' all-time leading scorer and was their captain for 11 straight seasons, from 1997-2008. For that, Fletcher had to give up the popular Wendel Clark. He'd do it again if he had the chance.
"Mats was just a great hockey player," Fletcher said. "The best part about his game is he was so consistent. Game in and game out you knew you were going to get a high level of play.
"In practice he led the way with his work ethic. New players and young players coming to the team, they stepped on the ice to practice and saw Mats the way he was working and said, 'Oh, I better get my butt in gear, too, if I want to stay here.' He was everything you'd want in a hockey player and person."
He saw it first
Bure came to Larionov's Central Red Army team as a 16-year-old in 1987. According to Larionov, a member of the Hall's Class of 2010, it didn't take long for Bure to impress.
"He was young at 16 but he had smarts, he had speed, he had hockey sense and when he was playing his first game you could see he was very promising," Larionov said. "He was a fine player that you wanted to see. He was one of the hardest-working people and in those first couple of games he was impressing everybody with his style of play and his feel for the goal. He was a really fine young man."
Bure turned pro at 20 and again became teammates with Larionov, this time in Vancouver. By the time Bure was 22 he was one of the League's rare 60-goal scorers.
"When you come to the National Hockey League at age 20 with so much talent and attention around him … it gives us an indication that Russia can produce great players and those players can come to North America and play in the best League in the world," Larionov said. "He grew up in the Soviet/Russian style of hockey and it's nice to see some of those players have success in the National Hockey League."
Larionov still wonders what else Bure could have accomplished in the NHL had it not been for his debilitating knee injuries. Bure finished with 437 goals and 779 points in just 702 games.
"It's too bad we didn't have a chance to enjoy him a few more years for him to get to 600 goals or 700 goals," Larionov said.
Paying it forward
Joe Sakic would lean on Peter Stastny for advice and expertise in his first two NHL seasons (1987-89). Stastny happily took the young center under his wing and guided him through the early, tough years in Quebec.
"He started by my side," Stastny said.
Eighteen years later Sakic, now the veteran in Colorado's dressing room, found himself in the same position as his old mentor -- only this time it was his turn to guide his mentor's son, Paul Stastny.
"It's like life coming full circle," Peter Stastny said. "[Sakic] was always a great man and I recommended him as the captain when I left. They asked me and I said, 'He's going to be captain, nobody else.' He was quiet, but he was respected and he was well-balanced.
"But what I loved is after 20 years he was in the same position with my son Paul. And his leadership and mentorship meant so much for Paul. Paul loved him. He was a hockey buff as a young kid. He studied Joe. He knew Joe when he was a young kid. Then studying with him under his wings, it really was full circle.
"[Sakic is] a great human being, and that's even more important than hockey player."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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