"How did you know when it was time to retire?"
Chris Chelios, Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan and Geraldine Heaney had to think about it. They seemed a bit surprised that such a question, one that was sure to garner an emotional response, especially on this weekend of reflection and induction for the soon-to-be enshrined legends, came from such a young person.
Chelios went first.
"Zero goals, zero assists, zero points," he said, referring to his numbers in seven games with the Atlanta Thrashers at the end of 2009-10 season, his 26th in the NHL. "Time to go."
Niedermayer didn't have it so easy. He said he thought about retiring after winning the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He sat out the first two months of the following season, but the pull to play was too great. He returned for the final 48 games of 2007-08 and played two seasons after that.
He capped his Hall of Fame career by winning an Olympic gold medal as Canada's captain in his home province of British Columbia. But even when he retired in 2010 it was difficult to say goodbye.
"[I] actually really enjoyed those [last] two years knowing it was going to end pretty quickly," Niedermayer said. "Even when I did make the decision it still wasn't easy. It was a lot of fun to be part of those teams competing for the Stanley Cup. It was a difficult choice, but I've felt good about it ever since."
Heaney hung up her skates after winning gold at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. She played 22 years for the Canada National Women's Team and established herself as one of the elite defensemen, pioneering the game for women and drawing comparisons to Bobby Orr.
"I did everything I wanted to do," Heaney said. "You put your life on hold and I wanted to get to that next stage in my life, have children, and I didn't want to do that until I finished playing."
Shanahan said he retired despite the game still being fun for him. He finished with 654 goals.
"It was very difficult," he said. "You ask questions: Can I still play? Can I play at a level that would satisfy me and not embarrass me? For me the answer was no. I couldn't play at the level I enjoyed the most."
Four years later Shanahan has a long weekend in Toronto, not far from his childhood home in Mimico, Ontario, to talk about the days when he could play at that level. Shanahan, Chelios, Niedermayer and Heaney spent an hour Saturday doing just that.
Here are more snippets from the Fan Forum at the Hall of Fame, an annual event since 1999, when Wayne Gretzky was inducted:
Recalling the first time they played for their country
This was one of the funniest segments of the event.
For Niedermayer and Heaney it was straightforward. Niedermayer had fond memories of playing for Canada and winning gold at the 1991 World Junior Championship. Heaney said her first World Championship in 1990, which was the first World Championship for women, was a time she'll never forget, even though the team was wearing pink instead of red.
However, Shanahan and Chelios had different memories.
For Shanahan it was the 1987 World Junior Championship, when Canada and the Soviet Union were disqualified after a 20-minute benches-clearing brawl.
"For me it was World Juniors, and we got kicked out of the tournament and disgraced our country … so not good," he said, smiling.
"I'm right there with Shanny," Chelios said. "Maybe the worst experience of my life, junior nationals in Minnesota, 8-0 down to the Russians after the first period, we're getting booed out of the Met Center and we didn't even want to come out of the dressing room. At least the Russians had the decency not to shoot again for the rest of the game, and that's how it ended, 8-0.
"Horrible experience. We went back to our colleges and were so embarrassed to be American at that point. It was bad. We took a beating."
Their favorite teams and childhood idols
Chelios grew up in Chicago so naturally he was a Chicago Blackhawks fan.
"We didn't see a lot of games on TV back then, but they had great players," he said. "Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. Keith Magnuson was the heart and soul of the team, so he was one of the fan favorites. I loved them all."
Heaney and Shanahan are from the Toronto area, so they grew up fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Each acknowledged that Darryl Sittler was and still is their idol.
Niedermayer didn't necessarily have a favorite team growing up in Cranbrook, British Columbia, so he rooted against the team everybody watched.
"I was probably a secretive fan of the Oilers, but everyone else was cheering for them so I felt it was my duty to cheer against them," Niedermayer said. "I was a fan of whoever was playing against them."
Memories from their first Stanley Cup championship
Chelios, who won the Cup for the first time with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986, said he will never forget the parade down Sainte-Catherine Street.
"I think it was supposed to be an hour-and-a-half, but each fan passed me a drink and it turned into a four-hour parade," he said. "We stopped to go to restaurants and talk to people. Without a doubt what stands out most in my mind is that parade down Sainte-Catherine Street."
Niedermayer won the first of four Stanley Cup championships in 1995 with the New Jersey Devils. He was 21 years old.
"I was pretty young at the time so there wasn't a lot of analysis or deep thought, it was just, 'This is great, let's party,'" he said.
Shanahan recalled being among so many first-time winners in 1997 with the Detroit Red Wings. Mike Vernon, Larry Murphy and Joey Kocur were the only players on that team who previously had won the Cup.
"To be able to bring it home to party with your friends, I think we had it two days here and we made the most of the days," Shanahan said.
Emotions entering championship-clinching games
The Red Wings had a 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Final, but on June 7 everyone knew the Stanley Cup was in town and could make its way inside Joe Louis Arena.
How did Shanahan feel in the hours leading up to that game? Quite normal, actually.
"It's always in the back of your mind, you don't forget about it, but what always amazes me is that day of Game 4, somehow I was able to take a nap that afternoon," Shanahan said. "We all were. The fact that all of us were able to keep our gameday routine, have a morning skate, some lunch and actually sleep on the day when the whole city started to party already is really scary."
Niedermayer couldn't do that on June 24, 1995. That was the day of Game 4 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final and the Devils had a 3-0 lead against the Red Wings with a chance to win the Stanley Cup on home ice.
"I wasn't able to sleep during my nap. It felt like forever," Niedermayer said. "You get in those situations, and if you're going to have success and win that game you're going to have to maintain your composure and focus. It's not easy when you're anticipating being able to win the Stanley Cup."
The Devils won 5-2.
"It was an amazing game," Niedermayer said. "A couple of times we had big leads, you know the Stanley Cup is coming out and you've got teammates crying. It's a fun experience."
Chelios went 16 years between Stanley Cup wins. It taught him to take nothing for granted.
"Until you get to that point where you can close a team out, you're still scared," he said. "I won the Cup my second year and I thought, 'Geez, this is going to be great, I'm going to win a ton of Stanley Cups.' I went  years in between. It's hard. And the older you get the more you think. Not thinking is the best thing in the world."
Who did they hate playing against?
Chelios is a Chicago guy, but it didn't take him long to adapt to the Montreal-Quebec rivalry. Asked for the team and player he despised playing against, his answer was quick.
"So easy," Chelios said. "Quebec Nordiques and Dale Hunter. The whole Montreal-Quebec thing was it, but every time I saw Dale Hunter's picture I'd cringe."
Heaney's obvious rival was the United States women's national team. She said Cammi Granato, the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame, would give her fits.
Niedermayer said he actually enjoyed going to enemy arenas, especially when the place was packed and filled with energy. But he hated playing against the so-called pests.
"It was the guys that wouldn't leave you alone, like Esa Tikkanen and players like him," Niedermayer said. "They'd follow you around on the ice and try to take you off your game."
Shanahan looked at Niedermayer and said he was essentially a pest to play against, not because he set out to annoy Shanahan but because he did by the way he played.
"I would take my shot against Scott Stevens any day as opposed to Scott Niedermayer," Shanahan said. "The guys that were just good skaters and they'd come and you'd be waiting for them to hit you and they'd just take the puck away from you instead were tough. Guys like [Brian] Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer and Brian Leetch, those are the guys that drove me crazy and made it no fun to play."
What about the team or teams?
"In my time in Detroit it was Dallas and the Avalanche," Shanahan said. "I remember looking across in warm-ups and seeing either Adam Foote or Derian Hatcher and thinking, 'Oh no, I'm going to have to fight one of those guys tonight.' Most of the tough guys would leave me alone because they were in a different class, but the guys like Adam Foote and Derian Hatcher, good players, they'd run a guy and I'd be like, 'Oh, again.'"
One thing they all have in common is their competitiveness. You don't get to the Hall of Fame without being competitive. And it doesn't go away so easily, according to Shanahan.
"I took up tennis a couple of years ago and a guy at the club used to beat me all the time," Shanahan said. "I timed it until the end of the summer when I knew he had just had a five-hour drive and I played him then and I beat him. I was talking about it all summer. We all have that sickness. I kept talking about it. My wife was like, 'Grow up.'"
Shanahan said he gets just as pumped watching his son win as when he did. Chelios, Niedermayer and Heaney feel the same way.
"My daughter plays hockey and she won the state championship last year in an overtime game and I still got the same goosebumps," Chelios said. "I got them last year when I was with a Calder Cup championship team in Grand Rapids. It's the same goosebumps. There's nothing like winning a championship and sharing it with a group of players, teammates."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer