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Hall of Fame

Result unimportant, Legends Classic means everything to participants

Sights, sounds from Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend's showcase on ice

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

TORONTO -- The optics, Mark Messier agreed, didn't look good.

Messier, the captain of a team representing Canada, and Jari Kurri, the captain of a team representing the world, didn't merely arrive at Air Canada Centre at the same time for the 2017 Haggar Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic on Sunday.

 

[RELATED: Kariya, Selanne reunite on ice | Selanne remains legend among Finnish players]

 

They arrived in the same car.

Messier laughed about that as he walked toward the ice for the start of the game, and to see the famously intense man they call Moose laughing on his way to the rink told you all you needed to know about this game. Dispense with any idea that anything serious would unfold over two periods of breathtaking -- for the players -- hockey.

History will record that Team Messier won 10-9 in a shootout, the result entirely secondary to the entertainment value. It looked like a blowout after one period with Team Kurri up 5-1, but Team Messier roared back in the second and earned a popular victory using the mandated shootout.

The scoreboard showed 19 goals scored with zero shots on goal, so the save percentages of Team Kurri's Martin Biron and Team Messier's Jean-Sebastien Giguere took a bit of a beating.

"My goal is to not embarrass myself," Giguere said before the game.

Notwithstanding nine goals allowed, he didn't. He might want a half-dozen back, but still, defense wasn't part of anyone's game plan.

Biron spoke of previous alumni games, of "standing there, getting hit by shots and watching the action." But when he looked at Team Messier's roster, he knew he was in for a different experience.

The Legends Classic is a featured part of Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, various lineups over the years of enshrined players and other alumni filling a couple of rosters for two-plus hours of campy entertainment.

The only serious part of the afternoon is the pregame ceremony to present Hall of Fame blazers to those elected that year. And so it was that seven were so dressed Sunday, players Dave Andreychuk, Danielle Goyette, Paul Kariya, Mark Recchi and Teemu Selanne, and builders Jeremy Jacobs and Clare Drake, the latter represented by one of his daughters.

The mirth took center stage from that moment on.

For the enthusiastic fans who filled most of the lower two-thirds of Air Canada Centre's bowl, it was soaring fun. At ice level, behind Team Kurri's bench for the first period and then Team Messier's for the second, it was downright hilarious.

The Hall of Fame afforded this writer bench access, and I had to duck to avoid being hit not by deflected pucks, but by the wisecracks, taunts, good-natured insults and threats of benchings.

"Igor told me, 'Show me what you've got,' " a winded Glenn Anderson of Team Messier joked of Team Kurri's Igor Larionov after a hard shift, "and I said to him, 'That's ALL I've got.'"

Messier leaned over his opponent's bench 15 minutes into a warmup skate and said to coach Bryan Trottier, "That's a l-o-n-g warmup," a sentiment that would be shared by many.

Beside Trottier was fellow Hall of Famer Rod Langway, the former defenseman who showed up at the rink and simply decided to put himself on Trottier's staff.

It was early in the game that referee Kerry Fraser, delighted to take part as he battles leukemia, climbed onto Trottier's bench and told the coach, "One more word out of you and you're gone," to which Trottier immediately pointed to me and said, "It was him."

"Any money on the board?" I asked Trottier, suggesting he might have given his players a financial incentive to win the game.

"No need to," he replied. "Those other guys are afraid of us."

For the first period, at least, he seemed to have a point.

Late joining the action were the Hall of Fame inductees, who had to change out of blazers into hockey equipment. Andreychuk, Goyette, Kariya and Recchi arrived to fill out Team Messier's bench, and Selanne joined Team Kurri.

An intermission trade sent Kariya to Team Kurri for a player to be named later -- he never was -- so that he could again play with old friend Selanne.

Team Messier coach Lanny McDonald thought that was his masterstroke of the day, even if it had been arranged days ago.

"Kariya was the (expletive) problem, so I shipped him out. Now it's up to you!" he yelled at his bench early in the second period as the rally began.

McDonald threated everyone with benching, a return to the minors, just one more shift to prove themselves or expulsion from the Hall of Fame, prompting perspiring defenseman Ray Bourque to holler over his shoulder, "You can bench me any time you want."

The moustachioed legend in the Hall of Fame blazer paced up and down behind his bench, never once calling a line change but forever encouraging his players with equal parts praise and abuse.

"Oh, I gave it to them in the intermission, like you wouldn't believe, dropping (expletive) bombs at everyone. Including the girls," he crowed, speaking of Goyette and Geraldine Heaney.

Midway through the second period, a ghastly 1970s TV commercial starring McDonald and former Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Brian Glennie was shown on the scoreboard to the laughter of everyone.

Video: Team Canada coach Lanny McDonald encourages his team

"That commercial was supposed to run for one six-week cycle," McDonald said as players moved up and down the ice. "It ran for 2 1/2 years, and I made more money with it the first year it ran than I did with the Maple Leafs that season."

The coach was constantly haranguing Goyette, who couldn't stop laughing.

"It was the hardest any coach has ever been on me," Goyette joked. "If I'd had him at the start of my career, I'd have quit hockey at age 10."

McDonald chose Andreychuk as one of his shootout snipers, the latter missing on his attempt. He returned to the bench saying, "I was 0-for-2 lifetime in shootouts -- penalty shots actually," to which McDonald slumped his shoulders and replied, "Now you tell me …"

All was well that ended well for Team Messier, however, the home team skating into the sunset as winners of a game when the result meant nothing.

The game did, however, mean everything to every player who took part. At one point early on, Patrik Elias produced his smart phone and threw it to someone behind the bench to take a photo of himself as the play moved up the ice.

"It might be my last time here," he said, sticking his thumb up and mugging happily for the shot.

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