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Hockey Hall of Fame getting international identity

by Dan Rosen

TORONTO -- The setting was fitting given the accents of the four NHL player inductees in the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2015.

Instead of conducting the media session in the Esso Great Hall, surrounded by every trophy and the 375 plaques depicting a drawing and biographical sketch of every honored member of the Hall of Fame, this year the inductees headed downstairs to the new Tisso World of Hockey Zone to do their interviews.

Why the World of Hockey Zone?

"It's a worldly class," said Lanny McDonald, chairman of the Hall of Fame and an honored member.

For the second straight year, the Hall of Fame is inducting a class that has four former NHL players from four countries. It had never happened before last year.

Phil Housley (United States), Chris Pronger (Canada), Sergei Fedorov (Russia) and Nicklas Lidstrom (Sweden) will be inducted on Monday with U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero, Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr., and former Hall of Fame chairman Bill Hay.

Last year, Mike Modano (United States), Rob Blake (Canada), Peter Forsberg (Sweden) and Dominik Hasek (Czech Republic) were inducted.

Prior to that, the Hall had two classes with three countries represented among the NHL player inductees (2012 and 2001). Two countries have been represented seven times since 2000, but six of those have been players from Canada and the United States.

Canada dominated the induction classes prior to 2000.

"To have players from different countries go into the Hall adds to the influence of the Hall," Pronger said.

The changing of the Hall of Fame traces back to the changing NHL in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the European influx began and the top players from across the world began arriving and dominating the top league in the world.

Fedorov and Lidstrom are the perfect examples of that; they have a combined seven Stanley Cup championships.

Fedorov was a Hart Trophy winner and retired as the all-time leading Russian scorer in the NHL with 483 goals and 1,179 points in 1,248 games. Lidstrom was a seven-time Norris Trophy winner and became known as arguably the greatest defenseman of his generation, and possibly all time.

"This league invites the best players to play and we made it," Fedorov said. "I think it's awesome that the League has the ability and opportunity to give everybody a chance. On a political sense of the question, that's what the world should be all about. We're all on the same little planet and we have a game of hockey that gave us opportunity to say that to the world."

It was only a matter of time until the Hall of Fame started adding to its collection of flags on a yearly basis considering how much impact the Europeans had on the NHL. It couldn't happen in the 1990s or even in the early 2000s because the top European players were still playing.

The trailblazers are retiring now, which Housley said makes getting into the Hall of Fame these days tougher for a North American player, especially someone like him who is deep into his eligibility years.

Housley waited nine years to get his Hall call after becoming eligible in 2006. Top North American players Eric Lindros, Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi and Dave Andreychuk are still waiting.

"There are so many great players in this game, and that's why you understand when you get nominated what a great feeling it is," Housley said. "I just look back at the '80s, '90s and early 2000s, there were so many tremendous players that had an impact on the game. You're seeing it now, too, how many great players there are representing different countries. The game is the best game in the world for a reason, because it's the best competition and the best players are in it. A lot of those players who put the hard work into it and were successful are being rewarded."

Fedorov gave credit to the executives from three decades ago who had the guts and foresight to expand their horizons and accept European players when they weren't sure if those players would ever come to the NHL or if their style would translate.

"They had a vision and they fulfilled their visions," Fedorov said. "Here we are."

Pronger laughed at the notion that people used to wonder if Europeans with skill and skating grace could play in the NHL and have a similar impact as Canadians and, to a lesser degree, Americans.

"You know what, that's just a sign of the times," Pronger said. "Pre-Internet, pre growth of the game so to speak, and as players began to come over, you got the guys who were the trailblazers, the [Borje] Salmings of the world. He's in the Hall of Fame. Players start to take notice. Executives start to take notice and want to bring those players over. Now you're seeing them in the Hall. That generation of player is now going in."

Which takes us back to the World of Hockey Zone.

McDonald said the Hall of Fame spent $2 million to renovate that area to celebrate the international game, knowing full well the rapid growth of the number flags representing the honored members.

"You've got every country down here recognized, and you have four countries that are being honored and going into the Hall [on Monday]," McDonald said. "I think it's fantastic. It's where the global game of hockey is going, and has been for a while."


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