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Hall inductees share memories, humor at Fan Forum

by Dan Rosen /

TORONTO -- Phil Housley recalled the hit, being stunned by it, by Sergei Fedorov.

"It was probably the only time I didn't see him," Housley said during the annual Fan Forum Q&A at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Fedorov is most known for being one of the greatest skaters in NHL history, for his fluid motion, for making his white Nike skates look like a blur on the ice. But he could pack a wallop. He could hit. Years and years of the rigorous Russian training regimen made him powerful.

"He reminds me of somebody that just attacks the game," Housley said of Fedorov.

Fedorov also remembers hitting Housley. He called it an accident.

"I hit him, but we both can agree it was his fault," Fedorov said, bringing laughter from the crowd of mostly Red Wings fans inside the Esso Great Hall. "It was an accident because Phil was impossible to hit because he was so smooth. We both understood it was his fault."

That's only a snippet of the memories and stories that were shared during the Fan Forum. It was, as it has been during every Hall of Fame weekend for the past 16 years, an informative, entertaining and hilarious hour with the player inductees.

The five this year -- Fedorov, Housley, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Angela Ruggiero -- participated in the event, which has been a tradition since 1999, when Wayne Gretzky asked the Hall to create something so he could interact with the fans during his induction weekend.

Here are some of the highlights:

Can you talk about your fellow inductees and what they did best?

Lidstrom said he always marveled at Housley's ability to skate.

"Mobile," Lidstrom said. "He was tough to play against as a defenseman because he could join the rush and be part of the offense."

Lidstrom said Pronger was difficult to play against for a different reason.

"You knew he'd play half the game," Lidstrom said, "and he could be a mean player too."

Pronger and Housley praised Lidstrom, talking about his hand-eye coordination and ability to always be in the right place at the right time.

"He was very difficult to get around because he always knocked pucks out of the air," Housley said.

Pronger looked at Fedorov when talking about Lidstrom.

"His ability to send guys like this (Fedorov) in on 2-on-1s and breakaways, legendary," Pronger said. "His hockey IQ and sense was up there with Gretzky and Lemieux, and I think that's the biggest compliment you can give a guy."

Fedorov praised Lidstrom for his vision and precision.

"He always put the puck on my stick with no one around me," Fedorov said. "He kept me safe for quite a while."

Ruggiero remembered playing with Lidstrom at a charity game in Michigan during the 2004-05 lockout.

"I was just blown away," she said.

She said her first memory of Fedorov was him in his white Nike skates.

"I remember those were cool, and no one is going to move them quite like Sergei," Ruggiero said.

Pronger said Fedorov was "one of the best, if not the best, fluid skaters in the game."

Housley and Fedorov said Pronger's ability in the offensive zone was underrated. They said he was intimidating there too.

"Skill coupled with fierceness," Ruggiero said of Pronger. "I loved to be an intimidator on the ice, and this guy did it the best."

What is the role of a captain in the NHL?

"You have to back up your words from the locker room," Lidstrom said. "If you say we are expected to do things out there, you have to lead by example. You have to rally the troops. You have to get everyone on the same page. And you have to have good communication with the coaches to get a feel for how the group is doing."

The question, and Lidstrom's answer, gave master of ceremonies Gord Stellick the window to ask the inductees about the best leader they ever played with.

Housley said his was Gilbert Perreault, his first captain with the Buffalo Sabres when he was an 18-year-old defenseman coming to the NHL straight out of high school hockey in Minnesota.

"He made me feel comfortable as a young player," Housley said.

Fedorov's answer should have been obvious.

"I think Nick would agree, it's Steve Yzerman," Fedorov said.

Pronger named Scott Niedermayer, the captain of the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup championship team in 2007 and of the Canada gold-medal winning team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"It was his uncanny ability to be humble in the moment," Pronger said. "Inside, I don't know if he was churning, but outside he looked pretty calm, cool and collected. Because of him, the team never got mad."

Ruggiero named Hall of Fame member Cammi Granato, the captain of the U.S. gold-medal team at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. She said Granato was like a big sister and a mentor, especially to Ruggiero, who was 18 years old at the time.

"She just provided that guidance of what a captain should look like," Ruggiero said.

Can you tell the story of how you defected, Sergei?

Fedorov's defection is detailed through the words of former Red Wings vice president Jim Lites in this story. Fedorov confirmed it in response to a question from a fan on Saturday.

He said he wasn't sure what hockey was going to look like in the changing political times in the Soviet Union, and the Red Wings were very interested in bringing him to North America. He thought it was going to be after the 1990 Goodwill Games, but the defection date was pushed up to before the tournament began.

Fedorov was in Portland, Ore., for an exhibition game prior to the Goodwill Games. That's where he defected from, with the help of Lites, former Red Wings assistant general manager Nick Polano, and an interpreter.

He said he played in the exhibition game and upon his return to the hotel, when he knew he was going to leave, he turned to his friend and team masseuse Sergei Tchekmarev, handed him all of his money, and said he wasn't sure what was going to happen, but he was leaving.

Fedorov said Tchekmarev didn't believe him.

"He said, 'What are you talking about? Let's go to dinner,'" Fedorov said.

Fedorov was obviously serious, but also worried.

"He was Chris [Pronger's] size, so I was worried he'd carry me to the elevator and take me straight up to the coach," Fedorov said.

Tchekmarev didn't do that. Instead, they parted, and Fedorov approached Lites, who was sitting in the hotel lobby reading USA Today. Fedorov said he knew only a few words in English, so he used them.

"Let's go Jim," Fedorov recalled saying. "We went out the back door of the hotel, drove to the airport, and four hours later, at 6 a.m., I was in Detroit."

Tchekmarev became the Red Wings team masseuse. He still is.

Hey, look, it's Lanny McDonald, what's your question?

McDonald, an honored member of the Hall of Fame and its chairman, raised his hand for the microphone so he could ask a question:

What is the one single best piece of advice you can give to young players and parents?

Ruggiero told a story about how when she was 9 years old she got cut from a team because she was a girl, and her father said someting that stuck with her.

"He told me the next time I go on the ice to pick out a fan in the stands and pretend they're a scout," Ruggiero said. "I would envision that person and use that mind trick. I used it even when I was trying out for my first Olympic team [1998]. It was a great piece of advice because every time I got on the ice I was supposed to be nervous, but I wasn't."

Fedorov said his love for hockey is the reason he was able to become great. He stressed to love it if you're going to do it.

"I loved the sport and was ready to skate 19 hours a day," he said. "If you keep that mindset, I think you can achieve anything."

Housley and Lidstrom stressed the importance of playing multiple sports and having fun.

"Enjoy being a kid," Housley said. "Enjoy playing other sports. Build athleticism. Meet new friends. There will always be time for your passion, but touch all the sports and find what you love."

Who was the best practical joker you played with?

Lidstrom and Fedorov each said Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood.

"There was always something going on and everybody accused Ozzie," Lidstrom said. "He never fessed up, but we all knew it was him."

"You knew when Osgood wasn't in the lineup something was going to happen," Fedorov said.

Housley said his was goalie Clint Malarchuk.

"He would yell at people in the airport," Housley said. "One guy would be running to catch his plane and he'd run after the guy and say, 'Hey, that guy stole my wallet!'"


* Fedorov was recognized and thanked by a fan who said he was from Central Ohio for being the first Columbus Blue Jackets player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He played 185 games over parts of three seasons (2005-08) with the Blue Jackets.

* Pronger on being on the Arizona Coyotes payroll after his rights (contract) were traded by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Coyotes on June 27: "I haven't gotten a jersey yet, so I don't know what number I will be. I'm taking recommendations."

Pronger works as a director with the NHL Department of Player Safety. He hasn't played since 2011, when his career was cut short because of a concussion symptoms.

* Pronger on getting under the skin of opponents: "You always knew you're in someone's kitchen when they start talking back. You know you've got them. They're not thinking about the game, they're thinking about you. I won't say what I said."

Fedorov's response to that: "I never talked back."

* Fedorov on what led him to leave Detroit after 13 seasons with 400 goals and 954 points in 908 games: "I didn't want to do it, but hockey is not only fun, but in this particular time it became a business too, so I'm going to blame the agents."

* Ruggiero on what she would have been if she wasn't a hockey player: "I was a hockey player for career day in second grade, so it was obvious that I wanted to be a hockey player."

Ruggiero, a Harvard graduate, said she is learning more about the business of sports to build a second career.

* A fan told Fedorov and Lidstrom they helped him win a lot of money when he bet on the Red Wings with some of his colleagues in the factory. Pronger, who lost a lot of games to the Red Wings playing in the Western Conference from 1995-2009, chimed in.

"I probably made you a lot of money too," he said, laughing.

Later in the program, Pronger was talking about playing for the Edmonton Oilers in 2005-06 and defeating the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He looked back at the same fan when he was talking.

"That was one proud moment, actually beating Detroit," Pronger said. "Sorry about your gambling loss there."


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