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Chance of a lifetime for hockey fans

Sunday, 11.09.2008 / 7:55 PM / Hall of Fame

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Elena Romanova waited 26 years for this moment.

Sunday afternoon inside the Hockey Hall of Fame, Romanova, a 33-year-old who was born in the Soviet Union but now lives in Toronto, finally got to ask her hockey hero a question.

During the Hockey Hall of Fame's 10th annual Inductee Fan Forum, Romanova stood up and said to Igor Larionov, "I've had the privilege of being your fan for 26 years. Having had the career that you had what are you taking away personally, and what have you gained and learned besides lifelong adventures?"

Larionov talked about his journey from Russia to North America, breaking barriers for Russian players and the opportunity to raise a family in North America.

The answer, though, didn't matter as much as the question and who was asking it.

Like several other fans Sunday, Romanova finally got her chance.

"It's huge. It's massive," Romanova told NHL.com. "I'm just honored to be a part of the celebration. As far as I'm concerned it's been a long time coming. He's one of the most distinguished players and he's always brought a different level of skill on the ice that was a few steps above most hockey players. It's just spectacular to see that it is being recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame."

The Hall of Fame introduced the Fan Forum in 1999, the year Wayne Gretzky was inducted. Hall of Fame Weekend used to be limited to a 1-day event, but over the last several years it has evolved into a 4-day spectacle celebrating the history of the sport and that year's inductees.

The weekend culminates with the enshrinement of the new honored members Monday night, but the Fan Forum has become one of the most popular events on the schedule. It is hosted by Canadian sportscaster and former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Gord Stellick, who opens the casual discussion by asking the inductees his own questions before tossing it out to the fans who can ask whatever they want as long as it stays within the barriers of good taste.

"The Fan Forum is a wonderful thing," Kayvon Zahedi, 28 and a passionate Glenn Anderson fan, told NHL.com. "It's one thing to come to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but this gives you a chance to ask the questions you've always wanted to ask of your favorite ice hockey stars."

Romanova said she met Larionov as a 6-year-old when she attended a Central Red Army exhibition game in May of 1982. She hadn't seen him since. Sunday's Legends Game at the Air Canada Centre was the first time she had ever seen him play live.
But she grew up admiring Larionov for his talent, charisma and ability to break down barriers for fellow Russian players. Sitting anonymously among a crowd of more than 100 fans, Romanova said she had no pre-planned question in mind.

"It just came to me," she said blushing.

Zahedi's questions and statements directed toward Anderson were not of the spur-of-the-moment variety.

Zahedi, a Toronto resident, proudly proclaims himself as Anderson's biggest fan and admits his fanaticism borders on insanity. He believes Anderson is the reason the Edmonton Oilers won 5 Stanley Cups -- not Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey or Jari Kurri, all former stars who are already Hall of Famers.

"When I was young enough to sit in front of a TV screen, he just captivated me," Zahedi, who was born in England, told NHL.com. "He stood out from the rest. He was different. He was the most exciting player I've ever seen. He was multi-dimensional and unique. He was the fastest players I ever laid eyes on. I couldn't believe how this guy could skate and move the puck around and split defenders. He had these ways of getting through traffic like no one else.

"Those dynasty years were really captivating and he was the key guy for me, more so than guys like Mess and Gretzky. I don't know why. He was always my favorite."

Zahedi, who was wearing a Rangers jersey (not Anderson's) and a jacket bearing Anderson's name, said he has been in touch with Anderson's dad and has many signed pieces of memorabilia from one of the newest Hall of Famers.

Sunday, though, he was able to publically ask Anderson questions on his take on the level of international play today as well as what his feelings were on being signed by Vancouver in his final season, but 3 days later being claimed off of waivers by the Oilers?

"I've asked (Anderson) questions, but never to this level where I get to do it in public forum," Zahedi said. "That was a real thrill for me and it will bring tears to my eyes to see him getting inducted (Monday) because I really thought it was his last chance."

 
 
Nearly a dozen fans, including one wearing a Larionov jersey who said he flew up from Florida with his wife for the weekend, asked at least one question during the hour-long Forum.

They were good questions, too. One fan asked Larionov what it's like being a global ambassador of the sport and what it was like to help open the doors to the NHL for fellow Russian players.

"It is a global game, so to me there is only one way to describe it, and that's just to do your best and play the game for the people that were watching us every night and paying big money," Larionov responded. "In my case, I fought for human rights for hockey players in Russia to get some respect for the system and to get the opportunity so they are not locked in a country. I'm proud that 20 years ago I fought for the rights."

Anderson was asked to reflect on the day Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles - Aug. 9, 1988.

"That's the day the music died," he said. "You could see by the interview how it impacted him. As far as what happened to me, just look back at my stats from that year and you'll know what kind of impact it had. In my mind, I lost my brother."

"I'm just honored to be a part of the celebration. As far as I'm concerned it's been a long time coming. He's one of the most distinguished players and he's always brought a different level of skill on the ice that was a few steps above most hockey players. It's just spectacular to see that it is being recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame." -- Elena Romanova
Anderson had 38 goals during the 1987-88 season and the Oilers won the Stanley Cup. He had 16 goals the following season and Edmonton was knocked out of in the first round by Gretzky and the Kings.

Of course, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup the following season.

"It took us that long to get over it," Anderson said.

Ray Scapinello was asked why, when Anderson scored his 1,000th career point during the 1992-93 season were the Toronto Maple Leafs issued a delay of game penalty for emptying off the bench to congratulate him.

"It must have been Kerry Fraser," Scapinello responded, filling the room with laughter. "No, if that really did happen, and I'm sure it did … when there was the potential of a player reaching a milestone we got a directive just like the visiting team and the home team and under no circumstances should there be a penalty involved."

Anderson chimed in and said, "I remember it very well and I'll tell you exactly what happened. Denis Morel was the ref. Denny didn't like me very much for some reason and I don't know why. We took the penalty for too many men on the ice or delay of game and I served the penalty.

"Gretz had many milestones before that and they would stop the game and bring out a red carpet and there was no penalty."

Everyone in the room was laughing now and having a ball.

Another year. Another Fan Forum. Another success.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com



Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season