|Hockey Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Jim Gregory, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens pose after receiving their rings at a ceremony for inductees in Toronto, Monday Nov. 12, 2007.
First, they were honored Saturday night before the Toronto Maple Leafs-New York Rangers game. Sunday, they were honored again at the Legends game at the Air Canada Centre, receiving their Hockey Hall of Fame blazers and playing with other retired NHL greats.
The honorees received their Hockey Hall of Fame rings Monday morning and the formal induction ceremony takes place Monday night.
Al MacInnis is a pretty unflappable guy. He played that way over a 23-year NHL career and remains the same while working in the St. Louis Blues’ front office. Everyone is teasing Mark Messier about getting emotional at these events, but you can see a bit of a tear forming in MacInnis' eyes, as well.
"You reflect back on your family. I had four older brothers and one younger brother who played hockey," he said. "Obviously, they were a big influence on getting me started, playing pond hockey out behind the house. Without them, I'd never be able to play the game. It's great to share this weekend with them … for them to be here and see all the festivities and all the activities going on. I told them that I hope they feel as big a part of this weekend as I do."
Hockey is close to a religion in Canada, but there are more Russians and Swedes in the Hockey Hall of Fame than Nova Scotians. MacInnis is well aware that he is the first from that Maritimes province to be inducted. For many years, he has endeavored to change that by leading by example and financially supporting hockey there.
"I'm the first Nova Scotian," MacInnis acknowledged. "I hoped, even before this weekend, that playing Major Junior A and going on to play 23 years in the National Hockey League, that if I had inspired one hockey player in Nova Scotia to have a dream, it's all worthwhile. There are a lot of good players coming out of there now. There's a young man, name of Crosby, from Cole Harbour, who I think is going to have a pretty good career. Then, there's James Sheppard in Minnesota, from outside of Halifax. I played against Mike McPhee, a great player with the Montreal Canadiens. Glen Murray is having a great career. With all of us, we feel that hockey is a bit bigger in Nova Scotia."
You could see MacInnis, subtly as he does all things except that slap shot, struggling with his emotions as his Olympic coach, Pat Quinn, read the inscription on MacInnis' Hockey Hall of Fame plaque.
"Feared by all goaltenders for his overpowering slap shot, Al MacInnis was one of the best defensemen of his era. During his 23-year NHL career, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff's MVP during Calgary's 1989 Stanley Cup run and earned the Norris Trophy with the St. Louis Blues. Selected to an All-Star team seven times, MacInnis would also earn All-Star honors while helping Canada win the 1991 Canada Cup and would then win an Olympic gold medal in 2002. He finished his career third all-time among defensemen with 340 goals, 934 assists and 1,274 points."
There was so much more, not all quantifiable. His steady presence, his generosity with teammates, his playoff game-winning goals, his leadership – there are no stats for those things, but he's here for that as much as the awesome numbers he posted.
MacInnis retired three years ago as the third-leading scoring defenseman in NHL history. He played in 13 NHL All-Star games and was named to the First or Second NHL All-Star team seven times. He was a seven-time winner of the hardest-shot competition at the All-Star Game. He helped his country win the 1991 Canada Cup and was named to that All-Star team. He led the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice in assists and once in overall scoring. The Blues retired his No. 2 on April 9, 2006.
When asked, every hockey player says his goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Having done both, is there a comparison to winning the Stanley Cup and being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he was asked?
"It's kind of a progression," MacInnis said. "When you start playing this game as a kid, you always dream of winning a Stanley Cup. You never dream of getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now that it has happened, you can never prepare for it. It's overwhelming. To go in with the other inductees is so special and overwhelming. To look down and see that I have a Hockey Hall of Fame ring on, it's unbelievable."
MacInnis had a cannon for a shot, and he was asked if there was a secret to developing a great shot. He shook his head, no.
"I was fortunate enough to do a lot of practicing when I was young," he said. "There's not a lot to do in a small town in Nova Scotia. Never did I think that it would give me a chance to play in the National Hockey League and get the recognition for it. Looking back, I know I'm thankful I worked on it."
Apparently, he wasn't the best conditioned athlete when he arrived in Calgary after being selected with the 15th overall pick in the 1981 Draft. He took some ribbing for that then and now.
"I give a lot credit to certain people, (former Flames GM) Al MacNeil for one. He took me under his wing and guided me in the right direction and gave me good advice. I started to realize the importance of conditioning and fitness. It was tough for the first couple of years. I'm thankful the Flames organization showed some patience."
The Hall of Fame ring has considerable heft and is quite beautiful. MacInnis' eyes, like his fellow inductees, kept going back and forth to the third finger of his right hand. There was a long line of people looking to shake that hand and congratulate him.
How's it feel, shaking hands with that ring on?
"Pretty cool," MacInnis said with a big grin. "It's been just a great weekend."