Today was my favorite day of Hockey Hall of Fame Weekend, and it has nothing to do with the Legends Game that concluded about 90 minutes ago at the Air Canada Centre, where I'm currently banging away on my poor keyboard.
No, today is my favorite day of the weekend because today the fans got to talk to the inductees in a way they rarely, if ever, get to do. The fans got to ask the questions today at the annual casual discussion the Hall of Fame calls the Inductee Fan Forum, which is hosted by Canadian broadcaster and former Toronto GM Gord Stellick.
I fell in love with this event last year when Scott Stevens, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis and Mark Messier dished their sacred stories to the inquisitive fans.
Today reaffirmed my belief that we have the smartest fans in all of sports.
Basically, today the fans became journalists, only they had no stories to write. All they had to do was listen and enjoy the stories that Glenn Anderson, Igor Larionov and Ray Scapinello wanted to dish.
Pro athletes today sometimes view the media as the enemy, or at least a nuisance. They stiffen up during interviews just to be careful with their words because lord only knows where they will be printed.
But when the questions are coming from fans, they soften up. They open up the vault and let out all the good stuff. Like today, when Larionov told a story of where he was when the "Miracle on Ice" happened in Lake Placid on Feb. 22, 1980. I'm sure Larionov has told this story before, but I have never heard it and neither had the journalists standing next to me.
It's long, but please read on because it's so worth it:
"Well, you're going back to the '79-80 season and I was playing in the World Junior Championship for the Soviet Union team and we won the gold medal. I was playing with Vladimir Krutov, my linemate," Larionov recalled. "We brought the gold back to Moscow right after that the national team was leaving for Lake Placid. … Our National team coach decided to go with just one young player and that was Krutov, so I didn't make it.
"While the Olympics were going on there was a tournament in the Ukraine for us just to fill the gap. I remember standing in line for breakfast and someone said a voice in America just announced that the Americans beat the Russians, 4-3. I didn't believe the same. I was going to watch the game at 7 that night. I had no reason for me to believe the Russians lost. When it became a reality everyone was shocked in our country because we had such a powerful team that lost. It was a huge story and it still is 28 years after.
"When I was playing for Detroit, Brendan Shanahan would always ask me, 'Igor, did you watch the game last night?' I would be like, 'Which one, Chicago against New York?' He said, 'No, on ESPN Classic, the Miracle on Ice.' I said, 'Shanny, go talk to Slava Fetisov. I wasn't at the game. He was. Go talk to Slava.' I'm glad I wasn't there so I don't have to answer those questions."
Larionov was then asked what he thought of Viktor Tikhonov's decision to take out Vladislav Tretiak, arguably the world's best goalie at the time, after the first period and insert Vladimir Myshkin.
"Well, coach will never admit it, but he made the biggest mistake in Russian hockey to take Tretiak out after the second period when Mark Johnson scored the second goal," Larionov said. "There were two more periods to play and gave them more hope that they can compete against the Russians. That was the biggest mistake in Russian hockey history."
My first reaction: Wow.
Followed by: No way an American journalist gets Larionov to say that.
And, finally: He's right.
Even Anderson got into the act. At one point he turned to his left and said, "Gord, Can I ask a question?" Stellick wasn't going to stop him.
"Scampy never missed a game, and I want to know how did you do that?"
"You know something, it was just dumb luck. My dad was an Italian immigrant and he died at 87 years old and he never missed a day of work," Scapinello said. "I was just in the right place at the right time … and being a half-decent skater helped me get out of a lot of situations. I have been hit a lot of times. I never wore a helmet and I have had tons of stitches. Any time I was injured I was lucky enough to have 3 or 4 days off and I was a quick healer."
One fan asked all three inductees, "If it weren't for the NHL, what would you have done with your lives?"
Anderson said he could have been a fisherman because he comes from 6 generations of fisherman. He did tell a story of getting sick at sea for a week when he was 11 years old, so maybe he wasn't quite cut out for that.
Larionov said he never thought about it only because he wanted to be a hockey player from the moment he first laced up a skate and that's what he was trained to be in Russia. He did say he enjoys European futbol and is a big Manchester United fan, "so I would have been happy to be a soccer player."
Scapinello had the most reasonable response. Before getting hired by the NHL to be a linesman he was working as a sales rep.
"If I wasn't in the NHL, I would be back there working," he said.
I was working today at the Hall of Fame, but it sure didn't feel like it.