TORONTO -- Each November, the ring ceremony for the Hockey Hall of Fame becomes a time for the honorees to reflect on their journeys as they become poised to join the most elite club in the sport.
It was no different for Guy Carbonneau, Vaclav Nedomansky, Hayley Wickenheiser, Sergei Zubov, and Jim Rutherford on Friday when they gathered as the Class of 2019 for the first time.
Jerry York, the sixth member of the class, could not make it for the ceremony as he was in Burlington, Vermont, to coach Boston College against the University of Vermont.
All six will be formally inducted during the ceremony here Monday.
Rutherford, who was elected as a builder for the work he has done as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes and now the Pittsburgh Penguins, said when he received the call from Lanny McDonald, chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame, about his induction earlier this year, his life flashed before his eyes.
"I was 5 years old again, putting on my skates with my mom and dad standing there watching me," said Rutherford, who was named NHL General Manager of the Year in 2016 and is the only GM in the NHL expansion era (since 1967-68) to win the Stanley Cup with multiple teams (Carolina in 2006; Pittsburgh in 2016, 2017).
Zubov, one of the most gifted offensive defensemen to play the game, also couldn't help but think back to his roots in Russia, where he began his hockey journey that saw him win the Stanley Cup twice (with the New York Rangers in 1994 and the Dallas Stars in 1999) and a gold medal at the 1992 Albertville Olympics with the Unified Team of former Soviet states.
"You do go back, you look for the beginning," said Zubov, who had 771 points (152 goals, 619 assists) in 1,068 regular-season games with the Rangers, Penguins and Stars. Sergei Gonchar (811) is the only Russia-born defenseman to score more points than Zubov in the NHL.
"I was 3 years old and my dad bought these Czech-made skates that we used to have back in Russia. They were like five sizes up, but it was cool. It was the thing I already wanted to do. I used to play at home in the small apartment. So he just put [the skates] on and threw me on the ice and it was basically my first steps on the ice. It all started there and then you just go step by step throughout the career. A lot of emotions."
For Carbonneau, his journey to becoming one of the most accomplished defensive forwards in NHL history started outdoors as well in Quebec.
"The winter was really long, and I was lucky enough that at our cottage we had a lake and it froze pretty early," said Carbonneau, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Montreal Canadiens (1986, 1993) and once with the Stars (1999). "My neighbor where I lived was working at the rink, so there was always an ice rink outside and a bunch of parents in the neighborhood had [backyard] rinks that were ready for us to play on.
"That is really where it started. I always enjoyed being on the ice, I always enjoyed playing hockey. I played every sport imaginable, but the only place I was really happy was on the ice."
Wickenheiser, who grew up as a young girl with dreams of playing hockey, looked to the NHL for guidance because women's hockey had yet to grow into the higher-profile sport it is now, in part because of her contributions.
Wandering through the hall before the ceremony, Wickenheiser searched for the plaques of those that had influenced her path from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, to a 23-year career with Canada women's national team, which included winning the IIHF World Championship seven times and four Olympic gold medals (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014).
Wickenheiser said she first sought out the women inducted before her and then Gordie Howe, the iconic Detroit Red Wings forward who was born in Floral, Saskatchewan. She followed that up by finding Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur.
"I think you always look for the names of the guys you grew up looking up to," Wickenheiser said. "I really was a student of the game, I appreciated the players from the '60s, '70s and '80s. I watched a lot of that hockey. All these guys, just great names on this wall for sure."
As she sat, waiting to be called upon to receive her ring, she whispered with Rutherford about those names on the wall surrounding them.
A wall of which they are now a part of.
"You're in here, so it is pretty cool," Wickenheiser said.