Al MacInnis never imagined that shooting pucks at a beat up piece of plywood would one day lead him to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But it did.
With not much else to do in Cape Breton Island, MacInnis would often help his father take care of a nearby ice rink in town. At night, the two of them would clean up, shut off the lights and lock the doors until morning. While his dad went through the nightly routine, MacInnis would walk around the rink’s perimeter, picking up pucks that sailed over the glass. Each time he visited the rink with his father, he took home a few more. By the end of hockey season, he had amassed nearly a hundred pucks with which he could practice his shot.
As spring came, the weather warmed up and the ice rink closed down. MacInnis spent hours each day standing near his family’s barn, shooting pucks at a sheet of plywood that by the end of the summer, had taken quite a beating.
“That’s some of the stuff you reflect on when you’re thinking about the Hockey Hall of Fame and how fortunate you are. There were times where there were blisters on my hands where I couldn’t hold a stick the next day,” MacInnis said. “I was just doing it to pass time. Never did I think it would end up getting me into the Hall of Fame.”
But nonetheless, it was right there, in a small fishing town in Nova Scotia, that MacInnis honed his famous slap shot. He wound up and took shots, went to gather the pucks and brought them back to take shots again.
There were no tricks to his trademark slap shot, just an old wooden stick with three rolls of tape wrapped around the blade. And lots of practice. It was very basic, yet it provided the foundation for MacInnis getting a chance to play in the NHL, and he made the most of it.
MacInnis recorded 340 goals and 934 assists in an NHL career that spanned 1,416 games. He ranks third all-time in scoring among NHL defenseman with 1,274 points and won the league’s hardest shot competition seven times in his career. He also became the first defenseman in Blues history to win the Norris Trophy when he claimed it in 1999. In 2002, he won an Olympic Gold Medal playing for Team Canada. The accomplishments just kept piling up.
On Monday night, he added another one, becoming the first player born in Nova Scotia to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s an honor that was enough to give the 6-foot-1, 12-time all-star butterflies.
“I don’t think you’d be human if you weren’t a little bit nervous,” MacInnis said. “It’s a big weekend, but there’s no bigger honor that the game can reward you with.”
MacInnis was inducted as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Monday with a class that included Mark Messier, Ron Francis and former Blues captain Scott Stevens. All four of this year’s inductees have won the Stanley Cup at least once. MacInnis earned his with the Calgary Flames in 1989, where he also claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
|MacInnis had one of the most feared slap shots in the NHL, winning the league's hardest shot competition seven times in his career (Getty Images). |
“I haven’t had enough time to let it sink in,” MacInnis said in July after learning that he would become part of the 2007 Hall of Fame class. “You don’t think of the Hockey Hall of Fame as a kid growing up. When you’re playing street hockey, you’re playing the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals, you score the winning goal and you carry the homemade Stanley Cup around the street. Those are the kind of things you dream of and think of. You never think about going into the Hockey Hall of Fame. You can’t imagine it, it’s just not real.”
It’s real now.
And while it’s not likely to top Monday’s induction, the Blues will have a ceremony of their own honoring MacInnis before the Nov. 16 game vs. Columbus.
"It would be interesting to take a poll in St. Louis for athletes and ex-athletes as to who is the most popular," said Blues president John Davidson, who played a part in MacInnis' selection as a 2007 inductee. "Al's got to be right up at the top for what he did all those years, how much he's meant to this city.
"He's kind of a treasure for St. Louis."
A treasure that still gets his time in the spotlight, even if he hasn't set foot on NHL ice since an eye injury ended his 2003-04 season earlier than he'd planned.
“I grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup, but I never imagined this type of recognition,” MacInnis said. “To be a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame with the greatest players in the world is truly an honor.”
For No. 2, it’s an honor that’s well deserved.