TORONTO -- One of the greatest developments for hockey in the latter part of the 20th century was the increased globalization of the game and the development of star players from all over the planet.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2014 embodies that movement as well as maybe any group inducted to this shrine to the sport. The four players, from four countries, each played a pivotal role in an important international triumph. Someone from the Class of 2014 won every major international tournament from 1994 to 2002.
Peter Forsberg authored one of the most memorable goals in the history of hockey to help Sweden win gold at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics; Mike Modano helped the United States win the 1996 World Cup of Hockey; Dominik Hasek claimed tournament MVP honors while leading the Czech Republic to gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics; and Rob Blake helped Canada atone for losses in the previous three tournaments with a victory at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
"We were all talking about our international experiences and we realized they were all against each other," Blake said. "Whether it was playing against Mike in '96 or Dom in '98, you have that competition and then you are able to look back and enjoy this time together."
Those four players, plus referee Bill McCreary and coach Pat Burns, comprise the Class of 2014. They kicked off induction weekend by receiving their rings Friday in the Great Hall of the Hockey Hall of Fame, where their plaques will ensure their time in hockey is immortalized.
As TSN's Gord Murphy noted during the event, Forsberg not only is a member of the "Triple Gold Club" for winning a world championship, the Olympics and the Stanley Cup, he "took two laps around" by winning each twice. Forsberg's NHL career was short compared to other Hall of Fame members, but his international resume has few equals.
Modano's career was defined by his impact on the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise, but also for being one of the best American players and one of the first marketable U.S. stars in the NHL (much like Forsberg and Hasek for their respective countries). The win for the United States at the 1996 World Cup was the seminal moment for a generation of players who helped prove USA Hockey was no longer a major underdog on the international scene, that miracles were not needed to defeat the superpowers.
"It is hard to say," Modano said when asked whether he was surprised about the lasting impact for American hockey. "Like us all at the time, we looked back at '80. That was kind of our moment in the sun and what everyone our age would go back to. I think for Zach [Parise] and [Patrick] Kane and [Ryan] Kesler and [James van Riemsdyk], they go back to '96 as one of those tournaments that they recollect about and remember. It helped get them excited for international play."
Those same superpowers that Modano's United States teams proved they could contend with were humbled by Hasek and the Czechs in 1998. He became the story of the first Olympic tournament with NHL players, defeating the United States, Canada and Russia on the way to one of the most important moments in the country's sporting history.
"This is something I will never forget," Hasek said. "We won the gold medal, we flew with a charter our president sent for us and we came back to Prague and we spend one night in Prague and this night I will never, ever forget. The cheering and big ovation at the airport and the old time square. This is something you will appreciate for the rest of your life."
Canada was the runner-up in each of those iconic moments for Forsberg, Modano and Hasek. Blake became part of the group that restored some order for Canada and earned a measure of revenge for the '96 World Cup when the Canadians defeated the Americans in the 2002 gold-medal game in Salt Lake City.
"When they allowed the professionals to play in the Olympics and the hype of it all, not winning the first one in Nagano and then coming home and having four years to think about it and with this one being in North America and playing the U.S. in the final," Blake said, "that was the height of my international experience.
"I don't know if it was payback, but when you grow up in Canada, the expectations are incredibly high. To be able to accomplish that sticks with you."
McCreary had an ice-level view for this generation of globalization and increased international parity. He was on the ice for the gold-medal games in Nagano and Salt Lake, and has seen how the international players and game have impacted the sport.
"Certainly I think people in North America have been turned on to the Olympic style of play -- speed, skill, passing the puck, lots of odd-man rushes and turnovers and scoring opportunities," McCreary said. "Bringing that style of play to the smaller ice surface has meant eliminating some of the hooking and holding and interference and the center line. That has opened up the game, so you have the speed. The same players who have played in those Olympic tournaments play in the NHL, so you have that skill set and that makes it more exciting. These guys were certainly part of the transformation."