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Hall of Fame links hockey's past with present, shows way to future

Class of 2018's six members join 399 predecessors in shrine that encompasses game's history

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

TORONTO --This seems like a good time to remind the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2018 about the ghost that might dwell in hockey's shrine.

Built in the late 1800s as the head office of the Bank of Montreal, legend has it that the Hall's Toronto home since 1993 has been occupied for more than six decades by the spirit of a teller who is said to have taken her own life in the early 1950s, perhaps after a love affair gone sour.

The teller's ghost is said to loom near the refurbished vault, where Lord Stanley of Preston's original 126-year-old Stanley Cup is showcased under glass, beneath his unblinking gaze. It is mere steps in the Esso Great Hall -- once the main banking hall -- from where the six members of the Class of 2018 will receive their Hall of Fame rings.

On Monday, following three days of celebration, the Hall's current membership of 399 will grow by six. Inducted in a gala ceremony will be players Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Martin St. Louis and Alexander Yakushev, as well as builders Gary Bettman, the NHL's first commissioner, and Willie O'Ree, its first black player and longtime diversity ambassador.

 

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They all should forget, for a moment, about the ghost. If members of the Hall of Fame's new class could stop to listen during the next few days, they might hear a living museum breathing the history of a game that for more than a century has been played, and enjoyed, by men, women and children around the world.

This weekend, and forever, the Class of 2018 will view the Hall of Fame in a different light. Which is how they should, these half-dozen soon to be immortalized with the game's greatest players, builders and officials.

Twenty-five years ago, the Hall of Fame moved a few miles east, from its longtime home at the Canadian National Exhibition on Toronto's waterfront to its current downtown location. Since 1993, its address has been a breathtaking Beaux Arts-style building, a former bank headquarters that is rich in columns and stonework and fine architectural detail, mortar and marble, glass and chrome, with a soaring stained-glass domed ceiling perhaps its most impressive feature.

But the members of the Class of 2018 should not be in a hurry this weekend to walk up two flights to see stained-glass artist Robert McCausland's kaleidoscopic masterpiece.

They will see, immediately upon entering the Hall, two gigantic sentries, towering bronze statues of Pacific Coast Hockey Association superstar Fred "Cyclone" Taylor (a 1947 inductee), and Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden (Class of 1983).

Whether they then turn to the right, to the left or walk straight ahead, the magic of hockey -- its yesterday, today and a hint of where it's going tomorrow -- will consume them.

Surely the greatest appeal of the Hall of Fame is that it's organic, its displays changing regularly, linking the past to the present and beyond with a wide scope that includes sections on women's, international and para (sledge) hockey and diversity in the game.

Videos play in many corners and in two theaters, grainy film brought to digital life. Many of the exhibits are hands-on, multimedia celebrations of the legendary players and teams, builders and events. A highlight, no matter how often you visit, is the variety of priceless artifacts under glass -- trophies, sticks, milestone pucks, kitschy collectibles and the sublime heavy wool sweaters, before they were called jerseys.

Iconic coach Scotty Bowman, a nine-time Stanley Cup winner and 1991 Hall of Fame inductee in the Builders category, properly calls the Hall "a shrine for all of hockey (with) more depth to the collection than most realize.

"If we can understand where hockey comes from and how its equipment, uniforms, style of play, reporting and broadcasting have evolved, we can develop a much better feel for today's game and a better understanding of where hockey might go in the future," Bowman wrote in his foreword to the 2011 book "Hockey Hall of Fame Treasures."

More pieces are joining the shrine's dazzling inventory, with items donated by each member of the Class of 2018.

Their new glass induction plaques will be on display from this weekend in the stately Great Hall, where year-round, except for induction weekend, a replica of the presentation Stanley Cup and hockey's historic trophies punctuate the room.

Two flights down there's a cutaway reconstruction of part of the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room at the Forum. Not a part of that exhibit, it seems, are the mythical Forum ghosts that Canadiens opponents would say stymied their efforts during the building's 72-year life as an NHL arena.

If the Class of 2018 is looking for a specter this weekend, they should walk up from the dressing room and try the vault of the Great Hall. It will be there that the Hall of Fame's mythical spirit might be looking on from the back of the room, an unseen caretaker of a game and its history.

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