Hall of Fame inductees discuss careers at Fan Forum
TORONTO -- It was their turn to say thank you, congratulations, and to ask the question they've always wanted to ask to their favorite legend.
The Fan Forum on Sunday morning during Hockey Hall of Fame weekend has been a tradition since 1999, when Wayne Gretzky decided he wanted to do something special to get up close and personal with the people that followed his career and, in some ways, helped to make him the superstar he became.
Once again, the informal Q&A session, MC'd by ex-Maple Leafs GM and Toronto radio personality Gord Stellick, brought people wearing jerseys of all different colors.
They wore their old Nordiques jerseys to honor Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin. They came wearing their Vancouver sweaters and gold t-shirts to honor Pavel Bure. A few had on Blues' sweaters to pay homage to Adam Oates. There were plenty of Avalanche No. 19 jerseys in the crowd.
And, of course, the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs was obviously prevalent to honor Sundin.
"I loved it," Sakic told NHL.com of the Fan Forum. "That's the best thing. You get an opportunity to sit there and do questions and answers from the fans. They really enjoyed it and all of us for sure we enjoyed that interaction. It's just a great event."
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As usual, several fans had a chance to grab the microphone and say whatever they wanted to say, ask whatever they wanted to ask. They usually started with a thank you for creating so many memories or a congratulations for earning one of the highest honors in the sport.
But the questions, oh the questions were fantastic as usual.
Here is a sampling of some complete with the responses of the men that will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday:
Who was your favorite player and team when you were growing up?
Pavel Bure was the first to answer and he quickly said Gretzky was his guy when he was growing up in Moscow.
"I met Wayne when I was only 10 years old," Bure said. "He came to shoot a movie with Vladislav Tretiak and I got a small part in it. I still have a picture of me at 10 years old with Wayne Gretzky."
Bure didn't name a team -- it was actually Central Red Army in the Soviet Union.
Oates, who grew up in nearby Markham, Ont., was a Leafs fan growing up but he also had an appreciation for the Chicago Blackhawks because of his favorite player, Bobby Hull.
"Twenty years later I got to play with Brett," Oates said. "What a fabulous experience."
Sakic, known as "Burnaby Joe," was a British Columbia kid and a Canucks fan. He was also a big-time Gretzky fan, which even he admits never quite added up.
"It doesn't correlate because he always beat up on [the Canucks]," Sakic said.
Then Sakic told the story of the first time he faced Gretzky. It was Nov. 1, 1988, in Quebec.
"It was my 13th game and I went up against him on a faceoff," Sakic said. "He poked it forward and he scored. It was my first minus and the best minus of my life."
As for Sundin's favorite team as a kid growing up near Stockholm, "Actually it was the Canadiens," he said.
There were obviously some jeers from the Toronto crowd after he said that.
What advice do you have for all the kids out there playing hockey now?
This question was originally posed to Sakic. The fan asking went through his memory of Sakic bringing his kid to the boards to get a drink of water in the middle of the Avalanche's on-ice Stanley Cup celebration in 2001.
"I was thirsty, too," Sakic said to a round of laughs and applause.
As for the answer to the question, Sakic said: "Really, just support them and let them have fun."
Bure, who played in the streets of his Moscow neighborhood, said parents need to only give their kids a path and then let them play the game.
"Let him develop as much as he can, give him good advice as a parent and let him enjoy it," Bure said.
Oates said kids need to play in the street more.
"Play with their buddies, learn the game," he added. "Let them enjoy it and don't take the fun out of the game."
Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure, Barry Stafford and Adam Oates, pose for a photo prior to the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Game at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sundin, who is a first-time dad to a three-month old, said he thinks kids should be open to playing all kinds of sports and doing all kinds of activities with no restrictions as long as they're having fun.
"Let them do what they want -- play soccer, hockey, basketball, whatever it may be," he said. "Enjoy all the different sports. Kids need to be able to do whatever they want to do. Even if they want to do something else -- play an instrument, whatever it may be -- the most important thing is let the kids enjoy themselves."
Who was the one player that was the most difficult for you to play against?
None of the four inductees could name just one, but both Sundin and Oates said Scott Stevens. Sundin also added Ray Bourque and Oates claimed Doug Gilmour was the forward he struggled most against.
Sakic went with a different breed of defensemen.
"For me it was a guy like Scott Niedermayer. He was fast and he used his speed," Sakic said. "Obviously, Nick Lidstrom as well -- those guys weren't as physical as some of the other guys but you couldn't beat them one-on-one, ever."
Bure, who scored 60 goals twice and at least 50 three more times in his career to help him get to 437, went one position deeper.
"All those guys were so difficult to play against … but, for me, probably the most difficult was all the goalies because I liked to score and they were there to stop it," he said while laughing.
What was the moment in your career when you were like, 'Wow, I have a chance to do this, to make a career out of this?'
For Sundin and Sakic it was in junior hockey, when they started to get noticed at tournaments by NHL scouts.
"It fuels the fire, too," Sundin said. "You want to eat right, train more and keep on it."
"The first year the Central Scouting rankings came out and I was ranked somewhere in the first round," added Sakic. "That was pretty cool and I started thinking, 'There is a chance at this.' "
Oates didn't know he could do it until his sophomore year of college at RPI.
"I kind of had I guess what you can call a breakthrough year and after the season my coach came in and said there were some scouts at playoff games," Oates said. "I was like, 'Really.' He said, 'Yeah, if you keep playing your game there's a chance you might get to the pros.' "
Bure said he didn't know until he was 14.
"I was pretty good in school until probably age 14 because I was unsure if I could make a living playing hockey or not," Bure said. "Then at age 14, I started concentrating more on hockey. It wasn't like I didn't go to school, but I started thinking to myself that I could make it to the professional team, which in Russia you could start at age 16."
What was the biggest goal you ever scored?
For Bure, this one was easy.
"Probably the double-overtime goal against Calgary," he said, referring to his series-winning Game 7 goal in the first-round of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Oates was quick to answer as well.
"I scored a goal in overtime in the playoffs right off the draw," he said, adding Pat LaFontaine was the guy he beat in the circle. "It's the only time I did it in my career."
"It's nice to be born with talent, but you have to work hard too because if you only have talent and you don't work it's not going to happen. If you only work but you don't have talent it's not going to happen." -- Pavel Bure
Sakic and Sundin had to think a bit. Hey, these guys did combine for 1,189 career NHL goals.
However, Sakic turned to a goal he scored in the Olympics -- one Canadian hockey fans remember quite well.
"Maybe the fifth goal in the gold-medal game [in 2002]," Sakic said. "I think we had it wrapped up, we were winning, but it was official then."
Sundin talked about a goal he scored a block away from the Hall of Fame.
"My 500th goal here at the ACC when it was a hat trick and I scored it shorthanded," he said of the goal he scored to beat Calgary in overtime on Oct. 14, 2006.
Did you ever have a fight in the NHL and do you remember it?
This question was posed because, obviously, the four inductees are known for their skill, not their fists. But, they each had their own memory.
Bure, who is not listed as having any fights on Hockeyfights.com, remembered one that was close.
"I didn't have too many, but I think once I tried and I got knocked down right away," Bure said. "It was against Ron Stern from Calgary. I got knocked down right away and I said, 'That's OK.' "
Sakic, though, was nodding his head as Sundin told the story of one of his first fights. It was against Buffalo's Dave Hannan late in Sundin's rookie season.
"I ended up getting punched 84 times in the forehead," Sundin said laughing.
Oates vividly recalls fighting St. Louis defenseman Charlie Bourgeois early in his second season.
"I felt the pressure that I had to," he said of the fight on Oct. 25, 1986. "It was about four seconds. It was at the end of the period so I went to the locker room and the guys came to me and were like, 'Way to go.'
"I was like, 'Yeah, way to go.' "
Question to Sundin: If you were the coach of the Maple Leafs, what would you do to make us contenders again and do you think we'll ever win the Stanley Cup again?
"You just have to keep believing as a Leafs fan," Sundin said. "It's tough. It's been a long time since they won a championship, but I think the Leafs organization is doing everything they can to get a winning team in the city of Toronto. The Leafs will win the Cup; it's just a matter of when."
Question to Sakic: Can you talk about handing the Stanley Cup over to Ray Bourque so quickly (in 2001)?
"Obviously we were very excited when he came to us to chase the Stanley Cup," Sakic said. "I knew he was going to get the Cup next and it kind of happened. It was in my mind. But also -- I don't mind saying this -- it was my second Cup that I had a chance to win, but if it was my first one he wouldn't have touched it. He would have waited."
Question to Bure: Did you get your speed from training or was it just God-given ability?
It should be noted that the fan asking this question was from Denver and wearing a Washington Capitals shirt, but he was asking a question to Bure.
"You are one messed-up dude," Stellick said.
Bure, though, gave him an honest answer.
"I'd say it's both," Bure said. "Obviously I was blessed to be born into a good family. My father was a professional athlete so the genes were there. But, I had to work at it. I was training in the summer for 2 1/2 months twice a day specifically on speed.
"It's nice to be born with talent, but you have to work hard too because if you only have talent and you don't work it's not going to happen. If you only work but you don't have talent it's not going to happen. You need the combination."
Question to Oates: Of all the guys you had a chance to pass the puck to, who was the easiest to feed?
"You know, I did score a couple of goals," Oates said, smiling. "But, obviously for me it was Hullie [Brett Hull]. He put me on the map. I thought we had an incredible connection. We were also at an age when we felt invincible. It was so much fun playing with him. Looking back it was only a couple of years, but it felt like forever in my mind."
At this point Stellick jumped in and said Hull recently said on the radio that the Blues had a lot of unhappy right wingers in those years.
"We probably didn't even know their names," Oates responded.