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Hall of Fame

Fan Forum huge hit at Hall of Fame Induction Weekend

Carbonneau, Wickenheiser, Nedomansky, Zubov delight questioners during annual event

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

TORONTO -- It's one of the highlights of Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, an hour of unfiltered conversation in the shrine's stately Great Hall between the incoming class of players and fans who lob lively questions to the stage.

"It stays here, right?" Class of 2019 forward Guy Carbonneau said with a laugh Saturday after having talked about his Dallas Stars teammates celebrating their 1999 Stanley Cup championship, players very quickly refreshed (not his word) in a victorious dressing room.

Of course, it doesn't "stay here," nor do any of the participants expect it to. That's the beauty of the Scotiabank Inductee Fan Forum, an annual event since Wayne Gretzky suggested in 1999 that a question-and-answer session on Hall of Fame Weekend would be a nice way for inductees to share a few stories with fans.

On Saturday, the Great Hall was crowded with those who had come from as far away as Czechoslovakia and England, many wearing the jerseys or T-shirts celebrating the four honored guests on stage: Carbonneau, Hayley Wickenheiser, Vaclav Nedomansky and Sergei Zubov.

The questions are mostly off the beaten path, the queries entertaining their recipients and sometimes finding them surprised, even a little off-guard.

The first question was from a fan who sought first-hand confirmation Zubov and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Mario Lemieux did not see exactly see eye to eye during Zubov's one season in Pittsburgh in 1995-96, leading to the latter's trade to Dallas. 

"It was an experience," Zubov replied, his laughter met with much more from the room. "Mario was probably the best player to ever play the game on that team. It was fun. It's business. It happens. You have to change places. It happened."

A few hours before the session began, Boston Bruins legend John Bucyk was seen in the Hall of Fame's Tim Hortons Theatre, sitting unnoticed as he quietly watched an NHL Centennial video. Bucyk, enshrined in 1981, had brought a half-dozen friends up from Boston for the Bruins' 4-2 win at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, the group making a short pit stop at the Hall before flying home early in the afternoon.

Just around the corner sat the presentation Stanley Cup. The "resident" Cup, the sort-of duplicate on almost permanent display in the Great Hall, is in Montreal being engraved with the names of the 2019 champion St. Louis Blues, so the sterling trophy being touched and photographed by fans on Saturday was the genuine article.

The Cup was moved upstairs as a backdrop for the four Hall of Famers who will be inducted on Monday, along with builders Jim Rutherford and Jerry York.

Wickenheiser reflected thoughtfully about the women's game, the direction she'd like to see it headed, the powerful U.S. women's program that in recent years has tilted the scales on once omnipotent Canada, and the career she is pursuing in medicine.

Her parents, Tom and Marylyn, sat proudly a row from the stage. Asked by event host Gino Reda whether they were more proud of their daughter's hockey career or the path she's choosing in medicine, Tom Wickenheiser brightly replied, "Her becoming a doctor will be a lot easier on our pocketbook."

The lightness was stitched with the gravities of life. Nedomansky related how he left virtually all he knew in his native Czechoslovakia in 1974, defecting to the West to play professionally first in the World Hockey Association, then the NHL. And then he more happily recalled a goal he had scored in Europe that went unnoticed by a referee until the official inspected the net's mesh to find it had been torn apart by the shot.

The four played off one another like old friends, now classmates for all time. Asked to choose the best or most underrated Russian they'd seen play, Zubov and Wickenheiser named the late Valeri Kharlamov; Nedomansky picked Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexander Maltsev.

"I didn't play with many of them," Carbonneau said, grinning. "So, I'd say [former teammate] Sergei Zubov." 

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