HHOF fan forum

TORONTO -- Who was the one player that had your number? What was your welcome-to-the-NHL moment? Who took you under their wing and helped you as a rookie? Who did you hate playing against?

All of these questions and many more had the five former players entering the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Class of 2023 thinking, remembering and talking. All of them were asked by fans who flew into Toronto this weekend from New York, Colorado, Ohio and even the Netherlands.

Henrik Lundqvist, Mike Vernon, Tom Barrasso, Pierre Turgeon and Caroline Ouellette took part in the annual exclusive Q&A at the Inductee Fan Forum inside the Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Saturday.

It was an hour filled with stories, memories, tributes and laughs, lots of laughs.

"Training camp, we're two weeks in, we're going away with the team and I think we were down to 30 players and four goalies, so I wasn't sure if I was making the team," Lundqvist said. "We check in at West Point (the U.S. Military Academy) and I look at the room list and it says ‘Lundqvist-Jagr.’ I'm like, you've got to be kidding me, I'm here two weeks in and I'm rooming with Jaromir Jagr. I couldn't believe it. That was my welcome-to-the-NHL moment."

The audience cracked up. Lundqvist did too. It was the type of light, conversational atmosphere that has been a staple of Hall of Fame induction weekend since 1999, when Wayne Gretzky came up with the idea to talk with the fans when he was being enshrined.

Many of the questions were asked by people who identified themselves as being from New York and fans of Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. They all thanked Lundqvist.

A fan from Colorado said he inspired him to become a goalie. Another from New York joked that Lundqvist, because of his looks, even converted his girlfriend into a Rangers fan. One from Seattle thanked him on behalf of his wife.

"I'll tell my wife you said hi," he said.

"Please do," Lundqvist responded.

A fan who identified herself as Danielle asked the former Rangers goalie what it was like to put on the Washington Capitals jersey, telling him it broke her heart.

Lundqvist signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Capitals after the Rangers bought out the final year of his contract following the 2019-20 season. But he never played for Washington, instead being forced into retirement because of a heart issue.

"Well, I never made it to camp, right, so I never really put it on," Lundqvist said. "But that summer was 15 years were up in New York and I thought it was time to retire because I couldn't really see myself playing anywhere else. I couldn't and I struggled with this for a month, month and a half. Then I started going to the rink and I realized how much I loved the game. I loved it so much that I realized I should try."

Lundqvist said he and his wife, Therese, made a list of 10 teams and ranked them with a point system for which team had the best coach, the best chance to win and best travel for his family. Washington scored the highest, he said.

Danielle asked him if the New York Islanders were on the list.

"No," Lundqvist said.

The crowd cheered. Not surprising.

Al Robinson from Buckhorn, Ontario, asked all five inductees to reveal the one player who had their number, whom they just hated playing against.

"Half the NHL," Vernon said, laughing.

Vernon specifically said it was two players: Claude Lemieux, "because he'd run me all the time," and Luc Robitaille, because "he could score goals sitting on his butt for crying out loud, and it drove me nuts."

Turgeon said it was Nicklas Lidstrom and Ray Bourque because they took away his time and space to make plays. Ouellette named the Lamoureux twins, Monique and Jocelyne, frequent opponents when she and Canada faced the United States.

Lundqvist said anybody he knew really well knew how to get to him.

"I remember one game Henrik Zetterberg, a good friend of mine, we had dinner the night before talking about all these different things, and the game the next day at [Madison Square] Garden of course he scores the first goal of the game," Lundqvist said. "The puck came through so many players, and I look up and I just see his face skating by me smiling like, 'I got you.' It annoyed me, a lot."

Barrasso said it was Michel Goulet, a Hockey Hall of Famer he ran into Friday night.

"He said, 'I remember scoring my 450th goal against you,' " Barrasso said. "I said, 'You probably scored more than that.' What he should do is come back and apologize for making me look so silly."

The fan from the Netherlands asked each inductee who took them under their wing when they were new to the NHL or, in Ouellette's case, the Canada women's national team.

Ouellette said it was France St.-Louis, one of the first Canadian women to star on the international scene. She said St.-Louis taught her about fitness and work ethic, about how talent alone wouldn't be enough for her.

Ouellette said St.-Louis inspired her to step up years later and become a mentor for Marie-Philip Poulin, the current captain for the Canada women's team. She said she made sure that Poulin would room with her at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the first of the four Poulin has played in.

"Last night she told the story of it being late in my career and I was playing in my last [IIHF Women’s] World Championship and I got the honor to hand her the 'C', the captaincy for Team Canada. It's one of the most special moments for me because no one was more deserving."

Responding to the same question, Turgeon mentioned Jacques Cloutier, a goalie with the Buffalo Sabres when he was a rookie in 1987-88. They lived across the street from each other, Cloutier with his family and Turgeon with a billet family. Cloutier was his translator at times.

"I couldn't speak a word of English, zero," Turgeon said. "‘How are you doing?’ No idea. I was calling Jacques to say, 'How do you say, “I'm hungry?”'"

Lundqvist answered with Darius Kasparaitis, whom he lived with for the first two months of his NHL career with the Rangers. Barrasso named Bob Sauve, the other goalie with the Sabres when he broke into the League in 1983-84. Vernon said Rejean Lemelin, his goalie partner with the Calgary Flames from 1982-87.

"I basically took his position and he was kind of forced out, but he would always say, 'Mike, it's not your fault, you keep going, you keep playing good, it's all right,'" Vernon said. "I really appreciated those comments."

It went on like that for an hour, five legends reminiscing about some of the biggest moments of their careers, memories forced out of hibernation by fans who idolized them then and still now.

"This is perfect," Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald told the audience. "This is my all-time favorite event of the entire weekend, where they get to be just them."