VANCOUVER -- The setting was a gala awards show convened inside a raucous party tent. So, it should have come as no surprise that the guests of honor were greeted like rock stars when they hit the stage.
But the triumvirate that formed the gift-bearing receiving line – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, IIHF president Rene Fasel and legendary Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak – made it clear that this was something special.
What it was, on the 30th anniversary of the most celebrated event in international hockey history, was the inaugural ceremonies of the Triple Gold Club – an IIHF designation that celebrates those fortunate and talented few who have won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and an IIHF World Championship as players.
Only 22 men have managed that hat trick. And the attendance was perfect. All 22, including seven players competing in the current Olympic tournament, made their way to Vancouver and the Molson Hockey House to receive a hero's welcome along with a name-and-numbered sweater of their national federation, a Tissot watch and gold TGC lapel pin.
"Remarkably, through all the decades, through all those great events in the hockey world and the thousands of athletes who have played in them, only 22 have won championships in all three major competitions," Bettman told the crowd. "The NHL is extremely proud of the character and sportsmanship of every player who has contributed to the winning of all three championships."
The members of the Triple Gold Club were introduced in chronological order of their having won the third required championship.
First up: Tomas Jonsson (Islanders Cup), Mats Naslund (Montreal Cup) and Hakan Loob Calgary Cup), who became TGC members when Sweden won Olympic gold in 1994.
The second group: Valeri Kamensky and Alexei Gusarov of Russia and Sweden's Peter Forsberg, who entered the club upon winning the Cup in '96 with Colorado.
Up third: The men who changed the hockey world by defying the old Soviet system and fighting their way to the NHL – Viacheslav Fetisov and Igor Larionov, who joined the TGC upon winning the Cup with Detroit in 1997.
Said Fetisov, one of the greatest defensemen the game has ever known: "The one thing we're missing is a goalie. Otherwise, this is a pretty great team. To see all of these great players together, it's a privilege to be on the same stage with them."
Next: Russians Alexander Mogilny and Vladimir Malakhov, who punched their TGC tickets by winning the Cup with New Jersey in 2000.
Then, to a deafening roar from the crowd: Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake and local boy Joe Sakic, who earned their TGC credentials by winning Olympic gold for Canada in 2002.
Current Canadian captain Scott Niedermayer was next – he completed his required troika by winning the World Championship with Canada in 2004.
Czechs Jaromir Jagr and Jiri Slegr were inducted next. They hit the milestone by winning the World Championship in 2005.
Nicklas Lidstrom and Fredrik Modin, current Swedish Olympians, were introduced next, having earned their TGC stripes by winning Olympic gold in Torino in 2006.
Current Canadian defenseman Chris Pronger was honored as the lone member of the Class of 2007 – he won the Cup with Anaheim that year. Immediately upon taking his bow, he and Niedermayer quickly departed due to a Team Canada meeting.
The final group was comprised of 2008 Detroit Cup winners Niklas Kronwall, Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Zetterberg.
Sakic, of nearby Burnaby, B.C., got the loudest ovation. And he played to the crowd beautifully.
Asked by one of the MCs, Gord Miller of TSN, if he had a prediction for Tuesday's game, Sakic broke up the audience by saying: "Which game?"
Then he brought down the house by saying his prediction was: "Gold medal for Canada."