TORONTO -- A player or coach who is successful enough to earn induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame has spent a lifetime celebrating, whether it was goals, victories, contracts or championships.
They've had fans shower them with adoration. They've accomplished things most people can only dream of.
Even for people who are heroes and role models to so many, this weekend, these days leading up to the induction ceremony, are a different kind of experience. The Hockey Hall of Fame will host the 2013 induction ceremony Monday night, and the coronation of the careers of Chris Chelios, Geraldine Heaney, Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan and Fred Shero will be complete.
"It's been like an amazing reunion with a lot of hockey fans, a lot of old high school friends and family," Shanahan said. "It's a weekend that I was probably approaching it like it was self-indulgent to ask people and come see me here. But as I said to my crew of friends last night, I'm all in now. I'm enjoying it."
Added Niedermayer: "It's been a lot of fun. The Hall does a great job. I have a bunch of family here, and a lot of friends. They're really having a great time. That's what this is all about. It is obviously a very special honor to get this recognition. Sometimes it is a little hard to fathom, but I'm going in there with the guys I grew up watching and idolizing. I'm still trying to get my head around it."
The induction ceremony is the final act of a weekend-long celebration for legends of the sport. There are countless autographs to sign and pictures to take. The 2013 inductees participated in a star-studded legends game Sunday at Mattamy Athletic Centre, which is inside the old Maple Leaf Gardens.
During a pregame ceremony, they received their Hockey Hall of Fame blazers, and Monday night it will become official. This weekend, though, is about fans being able to celebrate them ... and for them to honor the people who have helped them reach this point.
"Last night, I had a dinner with a lot of family and friends and some ex-teammates," Shanahan said. "At the end of dinner, some of the people stood up and took turns telling stories. To me, that was very personal and a real 'wow' moment."
"It doesn't get old because for my family, it's just great," said Ray Shero, who is here in honor of his late father. "For my kids to see their grampy in the Hall of Fame is just great, but also I just ran into Reggie Leach, who came down five hours from wherever. I haven't seen Reggie Leach in a long time and it was great to catch up. He said, 'Listen, your dad meant that much to me, I'm here.' Other guys are coming tomorrow for him. I think that says a lot about my father and what he was as a coach."
There were several Hockey Hall of Fame members among the other players who took part in the game Sunday, including Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk and the two women's hockey players who preceded Heaney as Hall inductees, Cammi Granato and Angela James.
The five new entrants into the Hall were the stars of the show.
"It's a great year and a great group, but I would venture to guess that every one is," Niedermayer said. "Those two guys that I played against a fair bit in the NHL were two guys that I didn't like playing because they were fierce competitors and made it tough. What Geraldine has done for the women's game is pretty impressive. For Ray to be here for his dad is pretty special. It is pretty amazing."
Everyone involved is still part of the game, but this weekend allows them a break, whether it is Shero as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chelios as an adviser for the Detroit Red Wings, Niederdmayer as an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks, Heaney as the coach of her daughter's team, which came to Maple Leaf Gardens to cheer on their coach, or Shanahan as Senior Vice President of the NHL's Department of Player Safety.
"We're still watching," Shanahan said. "I've asked my guys to do some of the [work]. We do this as a group. I told them they can always reach me if they need to reach me. So far, so good."
Sunday night would be another to enjoy with family, friends, former teammates -- anyone and everyone who helped forge a Hall of Fame career. It might also be time to make final alterations to the acceptance speech, though Shanahan said Brett Hull told him he came up with his the morning of the ceremony, and that's what he planned to do as well.
"Well, I tell you one thing, I wish he were here to give it instead of me," Shero said. "I think he would thank the people who gave him the opportunity to get to the NHL, including (Philadelphia Flyers owner) Ed Snider and (former Flyers general manager) Keith Allen. Even along the way, the Knox family in Buffalo that hired him, Jake Milford in Omaha and just the players. He'd talk about some of his old great captains, the leadership on the teams he did have.
"He was an innovator. I think he was ahead of the game at the time, which other people say, not me. I do think it's good in the builder's category, to see a coach go in again; it's been a while. I know that and I really hope this opens the door for other coaches like Pat Burns. Guys like this are so important to the game. I'm very happy for the family name."
"It's going to be emotional, talking about so many special people that have helped me along the way," added Niedermayer. "Especially when you start talking about your family. From my parents early on to my wife and kids now, the amount of work that my wife did while I was out having fun and playing a game, holding the homefront down. Yeah, there will be some emotion, no doubt about it."
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer