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Inductees recall earliest hockey memories

by Mike G. Morreale

BOSTON -- Long before each newly inducted member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame became an important part of American hockey history, there was a moment when they each fell in love with the game.

That was certainly the case with Angela Ruggiero, Chris Drury and Ron DeGregorio. Mathieu Schneider (New York, N.Y.), had a different outlook when asked for his first connection with the game.

"It's strange because I don't know that I ever felt comfortable in my career," Schneider said. "You're always trying to survive, always trying to play another year, and you're trying to hang on. That's your life and that's what you know."

Schneider, DeGregorio, Drury and Ruggiero were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday during a ceremony at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel. Bob Crocker and Jeremy Jacobs were presented the Lester Patrick Trophy, and Emile Francis was the recipient of the Wayne Gretzky International Award.

Schneider, who currently serves as the special assistant to the executive director with the NHL Players' Association, played for 10 NHL teams, twice for the Montreal Canadiens, during his 20 seasons in the League. He played in two All-Star Games (1996, 2003) and had 223 goals and 743 points in 1,289 NHL games.

Despite all of those accolades, Schneider found it tough to pinpoint a moment when he connected with the sport as a child.

"To tell you the truth when you're going through development stages I don't think you ever really feel like you can play in the NHL, even when I was playing in the NHL," Schneider said. "Chris Drury told me the other night that he's watched a ton of games but when he played, he rarely watched games on television and I was the same way.

"I would watch a game on television and think, 'Man, those are guys are good. I really didn't like watching hockey when I was playing because I felt like other players were so darn good that I couldn't compete with them. When you get out there, though, the game slowed down and then you're in your comfort zone but it is a game that people look at in amazement for the speed, grace, and physicality."

In addition to Schneider, the other inductees and award-winners were also asked for their first connection to hockey.

Angela Ruggiero, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

"The first day I played, when I was 7-years-old. My dad (Bill) threw me out on the ice and said, 'Just go figure it out.' I was crying and couldn't do it and I remember slipping all over. By the end of that first day I could let go of the boards and do it on my own. There were so many sports I could have played but I always thought that hockey was the perfect sport for me for my size, and being a team sport. There was really no other sport I would have rather played. I mention the story of career day when I was in the second grade when I showed up in my hockey gear; I wanted to be a hockey player. I didn't know where; I wanted to play for the Los Angeles Kings (laughing) but I loved the sport from day one."

Chris Drury, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

"I fell in love with hockey probably right from the pond. I remember having double runners on and not wanting to come off the ice in Trumbull, Connecticut. I think I was so lucky to have two older brothers (Ted and Jim) before me. Even if I did want to go home, they never would let me anyway so that was it. They were very driven older brothers and my oldest, Ted, got to play in two Olympic Games, went to Harvard University and then the NHL. When I watched him do those things, a big part of me said I want to do that too and it was great having those two to look up to and follow. They played a huge part in any success I had. Obviously we're all here and we love the game, it was fun and so good to me. I was so fortunate to play for such a long time."

Ron DeGregorio, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

"I fell in love with the game on a pond in East Boston, which is now part of Logan International Airport. We played morning, noon and night on that pond as long as there was some ice on it and sometimes when there wasn't. But the point is, it's never left me since; it was my calling."

Bob Crocker, Lester Patrick Trophy

"I was talking to Emile Francis about when I first fell in love with hockey, in fact. I had an uncle and he asked where I wanted to go one night. I told him that I had never been to a hockey game in my life and I said what about the Johnstown Jets against the Boston Olympics (in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League). So we went to the game. It cost $0.50 and we sat right in the stadium and I fell in love with the game. I couldn't get enough of it and when I turned 13-years-old I was basically a season ticket holder for the Boston Bruins. I remember working at a garage, changing tires and batteries, and every bit of the money I got, I bought tickets to the games. The ticket only cost $1.50, and I sat in the balcony. Great times."

Jeremy Jacobs, Lester Patrick Trophy

"Ok, let me take you back in history. In 1940, my father (Louis Jacobs) had two great events happen in his life. One, he had a bouncing baby boy he named Jeremy, and the second was he bought the Syracuse hockey team and moved them to Buffalo, N.Y. I have been involved in hockey ever since then and it's been a part of the fabric of my family for the past 75 years. So I grew up with the game and I really loved it as a sport. Among my contemporaries, I saw more hockey than anybody else did at that time so it was a fun time in my life. Watching that and the memories with my dad were great. He learned a lot and I learned a lot from him."

Emile Francis, Wayne Gretzky International Award

"I was 5-years-old and we had no television and the Toronto Maple Leafs' games always came on at 9 o'clock, our time, which was 7 o'clock in Canada. I was living with my grandfather and grandmother because my mother went back to work as a nurse and tried to save enough money so we could all survive. I'd be sitting in front of that radio and listen to the broadcast by Foster Hewitt on 'Hockey Night in Canada' of Maple Leafs games. When I tuned into every broadcast, the Leafs were leading, 1-0 or 2-1. Those were great memories and there were only six teams in the League at that time. That's when I really fell in love with the game and decided I wanted to play in the NHL."


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