How do you get to the Hockey Hall of Fame?
You could play hockey at a high, high level for 27 seasons as Igor Larionov did; you could play 17 NHL seasons and score almost 500 goals as Glenn Anderson did; you could officiate in the NHL for 33 years as Ray Scapinello did or you could reshape the face of Canadian junior hockey as the late Ed Chynoweth did.
Those four men will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night.
Or, and this is a big OR, you could let a sports-jock radio host tease your wife over the air while you listen in your car on your homebound commute, as Montreal restaurant owner Gord Raza did. Raza and his family live in Pointe Claire, Quebec, on the west end of the Montreal island, near Dorval Airport. The Razas own Marlowe's Restaurant in Pointe Claire.
Raza and his college roommate, Ken Thomas, were two of 400 hockey fans waiting patiently in line Friday afternoon for the chance to get autographs from Hockey Hall of Famers Larry Robinson, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard and Frank "The Big M" Mahovlich. All four played for the Montreal Canadiens and are a part of the celebration of the Canadiens' 100th anniversary that is being celebrated by the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Raza was the winner of a contest held by Team 990, the sports-talk radio station in Montreal. He successfully answered a trivia question, and his name was thrown into a pool of other solvers of Team 990 trivia-questions.
"The question was, 'Bill Plager and his two brothers played for the St. Louis Blues in the 1960s and 1970s. Name his two brothers.' I was the first one to call in and tell them the brothers were named Barclay and Bob Plager," Raza said. "They threw my name into a hat and picked the winner last Thursday.
"Mitch Melnyk is the host of the show and he called my wife," Raza continued. "I couldn't believe it. I heard him talking to her while I was in my car with our kids. She never realized she was on the air and he kept talking to her for five minutes and then told her that I won. I love her but she sounded like the typical 'chick' when they win a radio contest:
"Oh, I won, I won, oooooohhhhh, I won," Raza said, cracking up his friend and college roommate, Ken Thomas.
"Then she starts asking him, 'When is it?' and he tells her, and she says, "Oh, I don't know if he can go that weekend.' Yeah, well, here I am."
NHL.com encountered Raza and Thomas on the street level of Toronto's Brookfield Place, at the corner of Yonge and Front Streets. They seemed indecisive about where they were going but had that look of hockey fans and so they were asked if they needed help.
"How do you get to the Hockey Hall of Fame?" Raza asked — and NHL.com avoided the temptation to say, "practice, practice, practice," instead, pointing them to the elevator and then listening to their fun-filled story. It's a "boys' road trip" for Raza and Thomas.
"Yeah, she said she didn't know if I could go," Raza giggled. "I'm here with my college roommate. Ken and I went to Acadia College in Wolfeville, Nova Scotia, in the Annapolis Valley. It's been 22 years since I've been to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The last time, I was here to play in a tournament in Brampton.
"I went to the Hall then and saw all those curved sticks that Stan Mikita, Freddie Stanfield and Phil Esposito used. I was using a CCM Bobby Hull stick with the fiberglass taped around it. Remember them? I also liked the Sherwood PMP. I had a Claude Larose game-used stick that I got from my uncle, Eric Taylor, who worked for the Canadiens.
"My uncle started as a scout for the Canadiens, working for Claude Ruel and Ron Caron, who later went to the Blues. He moved up until he was the general manager of the Junior Canadiens. He was the one that talked the parents of Jimmy Carson and Pat LaFontaine into letting their boys leave the United States, Michigan or something, to play Canadian juniors. I'd say it worked out. They scored a lot of goals and got noticed, instead of going to college and having to play some grinding defensive system."
It's funny, everyone in hockey respects everyone else's roots — but the hometown prejudices are thinly veiled. Raza is right, though. LaFontaine had 104 goals and 130 assists for 234 points in 1982-83, his one season with the Verdun Jrs. Two years later, Carson had 44 goals and 72 assists for 116 points for Verdun and then broke out with 70 goals and 83 assists for 153 points in his second QMJHL season.
If they'd stayed home, they might have gone 17-24-41 and been named All-CCHA.
"Eric Taylor was a great man, in his own way," Raza continued. "He had access to all this game-used but serviceable equipment and he would drive home through the poorer neighborhoods. When he would see kids playing hockey, he would stop and distribute the equipment the kids needed. Stuff like that had no value in those days other than to be put right to use in kids hockey games. Think about it — used sticks of Montreal Canadiens players from the 1960s and 1970s! Just given away."
Restaurant Marlowe is definitely on NHL.com's must-visit locations during the year-long celebration of Montreal Hockey. They have a Web site: marlowerestaurant.com
You can go there for the fine food or just go to the site for the smooth jazz.
Sheer joy — There were exactly 400 people waiting in line late Friday afternoon to get autographs from the Canadiens' stars, including Gordon Richardson, who hit the jackpot when he got Robinson to sign a Larry Robinson rookie card. Richardson's no kid but he had a childlike enthusiasm as he showed friends and strangers alike an old hockey card from 1972, freshly inked with Robinson's signature.
"It cost $13 for adult admission and the autograph signing was included in the admission price," said Matt Mitanis, coordinator of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Web site, a "must" destination for all hockey fans. Mitanis was told that the "Legends" biography is outstanding.
"It's a huge database and something that we are very, very proud of," Mitanis said. "It's been a project that's been in the works for six or seven years, it predates my full-time work here, but now we have a biography on every player who played in the National Hockey League."
Getting their hockey fix — Hockey provides many benefits to its participants (broken noses, bone bruises, shoulder separations and bonds that last a lifetime), and one of the best benefits is family unity. "A child on ice is never in hot water," is far more true than not. All across the Northern Hemisphere, from Hermosa Beach, Calif., to Larionov's hometown of Voskresensk, Russia, to Peter Forsberg's hometown of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, to Jaroslav Spacek's hometown of Rokycany, Slovakia, children and parents head out to rinks to sharpen their skills and engage in clean-cut, rugged fun.
Jaye and Maria Barber, from the Toronto suburbs, brought their teen children, Alex, 14, and Erika, 16, and three adult friends, Chris Allair, and Wayne and Deron Bowdery. Toronto Maple Leafs tickets are harder to find than diamonds in your backyard, but Toronto hockey fans find a way to quench their thirst for high-level competitive hockey.
"We're all season-ticket holders to the Aurora Tigers, a Junior A team, 30 minutes up the 404 from Toronto" Jaye Barber said. "We got here at 8 a.m. and wandered the exhibits all day long."
"I liked looking at all the equipment from all the players and I liked playing all the interactive games," Alex said.
"I liked seeing all the hockey memorabilia and the old hockey cards," Erika said.
"This was a good experience, our first time here," Jaye Barber said. "I have to admit that I'm the biggest hockey fan in the family. The kids don't play but I think this is something that they should see. I think it's important."
Deron Bowdery lost his rookie status a long time ago.
"This is my 15th time here. I try to get here at least twice a year. The exhibits are great," he said. "There are always new exhibits and the game-worn equipment and other memorabilia are the best."
The Aurora Tigers have won the Ontario Hockey Association's North Division in nine of the past 10 seasons and won both the Dudley Hewitt and Royal Bank Cups in 2004 and 2007. The Junior A team plays about 30 minutes outside Toronto.
"Right here in the Hockey Hall of Fame, we saw the sweater that Chris Whitley wore when he won the Royal Bank Cup in 2004," Wayne Bowdery said. Whitley parlayed his Tier II success into a four-year career at Lakeside University in Thunder Bay.
One of the reasons that you should go to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and every hockey fan should make at least one visit in their lifetime, is that you never know what you will see.
Sure, there are other reasons.
"We're trying to bug the Montreal Canadiens fans," said Jaye Barber, a dyed-in-the-wool Greater Torontonian getting his game face on for Saturday's Hockey Night In Canada battle between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre.
Think anyone will be watching?