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Hall of Fame panel enthralls lucky group of fans

by Dan Rosen /
TORONTO -- They lined up outside the downstairs entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame starting at 6:30 Saturday night, tents and sleeping bags in tow as they awaited the doors opening a mere 16 and a half hours later.

Of course, there was incentive for these folks, who some would consider just a little off their rockers. The first 500 fans to find their way inside the Hall on Sunday morning received a copy of the limited edition 2009 inductee poster signed by all five inductees.

However, once inside, a lucky portion of the hundreds of fans who arrived either Saturday night or early Sunday morning got to find a seat in the NHLPA Be A Player Zone. They were treated to a light, funny and informative Q&A with Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Lou Lamoriello, Luc Robitaille and Steve Yzerman.

The Fan Forum began in 1999 with Wayne Gretzky and it has grown into the main attraction for fans during Hockey Hall of Fame Weekend.

Hosted by Gord Stellick, a former GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs who now works for the Fan 590 and Rogers Sportsnet, this year's inductees didn't disappoint the 200 or so who gathered for the Forum.

They dished on a variety of topics, including great teams they were on, great players they played with, great captains that led them, big goals they scored and so much more.

Hull had the line of the day after one fan proudly asked the panel of inductees to pick the goalie they would want in net if they had to win one game.

"I didn't think any of them were any good when I was shooting," Hull quipped.

Hull eventually gave in and said he would pick Ken Dryden. Yzerman, who has to pick the goalies for Team Canada this year, also said Dryden. Apparently he didn't want to show any favoritism to Martin Brodeur, at least not yet.

Lamoriello obviously chose Brodeur and Leetch didn't hesitate in taking his good friend and former teammate, Mike Richter. Robitaille, a Montreal boy, took Patrick Roy.

That question, though, capped a fun-filled hour-long session with the legends.

They were asked by Stellick to divulge their favorite team and their favorite player from when they were kids.

Hull first said his father, Bobby, but then admitted (surprisingly considering his previous comment about goalies) that his son, who was in the crowd, plays nets and he probably gets that from his dad because Brett was always partial to goalies like Doug Flavell and Bernie Parent.

Leetch, who is from Connecticut, said his favorite team was the Bruins and his favorite player was, of course, Ray Bourque.

"I was amazed that a defenseman could be that dominant in both zones," Leetch said.

Robitaille said the Canadiens and Yvan Cournoyer were his favorites until he was 13. That's when he switched to the Oilers and Gretzky. Yzerman was always partial to Bobby Orr and the Bruins, but after 1977 he switched to Bryan Trottier and the Islanders.

"I wore No. 19 because of Trottier," Yzerman said.

Lamoriello, though, had the best story. He grew up in Rhode Island around the American Hockey League's Providence Reds. Hall of Fame goalie Johnny Bower and his wife, Nancy, actually lived with the Lamoriello family for a short while.

"I got to know him for who he was and that's why he sticks out," Lamoriello said.

Soon after talking about their childhood heroes and teams, the inductees were asked to choose: If you could win one game, a young fan asked, would you pick Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final or the Olympic gold medal game?

Without stuttering, Hull, Leetch, Lamoriello and Robitaille said the Stanley Cup.

"We grow up dreaming of doing it and we put all the hard work in to do it," Hull said.

Yzerman was conflicted.

"With the Olympics coming up, I think that's the most difficult question I have ever been asked," Team Canada's Executive Director said. "Seeing that the Olympics are in February and the Stanley Cup Final isn't until June, we'll deal with the Olympics and then go from there."

With that, Stellick jokingly asked Yzerman if he was going to take Sidney Crosby?

"We'll watch him closely," Yzerman answered. "Is he Canadian?"

Earlier in the session, a fan asked the panel who was the greatest captain they ever played with? Hull, who was sitting on the far left, looked over to Yzerman, who was on the far right, pointed and said, "He's right there."

Hull, Robitaille and Yzerman helped the Red Wings with the Stanley Cup in 2002.

Leetch mentioned Mark Messier and Robitaille mentioned how lucky he was to have Gretzky, Messier and Yzerman as his captains during his NHL career. Lamoriello said former Devil Scott Stevens was the ideal captain in his mind.

"Every day in practice, from the second he stepped on the ice, it was like a Stanley Cup game for him," Lamoriello said.

Yzerman, who was captain of the Red Wings for 20 seasons, didn't have a Hall of Fame captain to choose. He was the Hall of Fame captain, so instead he thought back to his early days in the NHL and mentioned guys like Danny Gare, who was the Wings' captain from 1982-86, Colin Campbell, Brad Park, Dave Lewis, Mel Bridgman and Bill Carroll.

"Jim Devellano knew the right guys to bring in to our team," Yzerman said.

Lamoriello gave a surprising answer when a fan asked him to name the move or acquisition he made that stands out the most to him.

Instead of saying the drafts that landed the Devils Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer and Zach Parise or the trades that brought Scott Stevens or Claude Lemieux to the Garden State, Lamoriello actually mentioned a trade he made with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2003 to get super-grinder Grant Marshall.

Marshall had six goals and two assists during the 2003 playoffs, helping the Devils to their third Stanley Cup. He scored the series-clinching goal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Tampa Bay in triple-OT and assisted on Jeff Friesen's series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Ottawa.

"He was a key player for us in that playoff run," Lamoriello said. "You expect the quality players to do what they do, but to have a good team you need other teams to respect the role players for what they do."

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