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Hall of Fame goalies bond at Kinsmen celebrity event

Brodeur, Parent, Fuhr, Hall, Belfour share stories, laughs at dinner in Saskatoon

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan -- The careers of the five Hockey Hall of Fame goalies spanned seven decades, from 1952-53 through 2014-15. Forty-one years separated them, from age 47 to 88, having played for 14 different teams in an NHL with as few as six teams and as many as 30.

But no matter their differences, and there were many, the distinguished head table at the 60th annual Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner on Feb. 7 featured men of a single club. They were all members of the NHL goaltending fraternity, lodge brothers who were bonded by the six-by-four-foot net they defended and the six-ounce disk of vulcanized rubber they tried to keep from entering it.

Over 36 hours in Saskatoon, in private functions and at the gala dinner, Glenn Hall, Bernie Parent, Grant Fuhr, Ed Belfour and Martin Brodeur -- listed here by career chronology -- regaled adoring fans and each other with life stories that you couldn't write as fiction.

From left, former goalie and dinner emcee Darren Pang with Hockey Hall of Famers Glenn Hall, Bernie Parent, Martin Brodeur, Grant Fuhr and Ed Belfour

"The Masked Men of Hockey," as the event was labelled, brought together five legends for an annual fundraising sports celebrity dinner that's regarded as the gold standard of its kind in Canada, and among the finest anywhere.

"Last night, I shook hands with Glenn Hall," Parent said at breakfast the day of the dinner. "I know I have a good handshake, that's very important. Well, Glenn almost broke my hand and the man is 88 years old. I'm just grateful to be here among these guys. It's incredible. They all bring a different beauty to the table. We're part of a big family and I could sit forever to listen to them."

Brodeur accepted the dinner invitation last summer when it was extended by his good friend and fellow NHL alumnus Kelly Chase, a native of Porcupine Lake, Saskatchewan and an event organizer who won't take no for an answer.

Video: Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner honors HOF goalies

Now the New Jersey Devils executive vice-president/advisor of hockey operations, Brodeur shook his head as he looked around a Saskatoon hotel boardroom while his four colleagues signed items to be sold at the dinner.

"It's a pretty good head table," he said in grand understatement.

Their combined accomplishments are stunning:

Regular-season games played: 4,611

Wins: 2,256

Shutouts: 364

Stanley Cup championships: 13

Vezina Trophy wins: 12

Jennings Trophy wins: 9

Calder Trophy wins: 3

Conn Smythe Trophy wins: 3

Brodeur holds a handful of regular-season NHL career records, most notably wins (691), shutouts (125) and games played (1,266).

But when this statistics inventory was run by him, he almost apologized.

"I wish I could have added to the Conn Smythe total," said Brodeur, who never was voted most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs during his three championship wins.

On April 6, 2007, Brodeur broke Parent's 1973-74 NHL single-season record for victories; the Philadelphia Flyers' icon was delighted when Brodeur won his 48th, giving him a miniature mask to mark the milestone.

"I think this guy is the best goalie in the league," Parent said that night. "It's happening to a wonderful person."

"Bernie was at my (2018) Hall of Fame induction, which meant a lot, and there's our French-Canadian connection," said Brodeur, who similarly congratulated Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals when he picked up his record-tying 48th win on April 9, 2016.

And then Brodeur looked down the table.

Bernie Parent (left) and Martin Brodeur bonded over their mother tongue of French and Parent's record of 47 victories in a season, which Brodeur would break by one

"Grant is a guy I idolized growing up. He used to wear D&R goalie pads and that's what my dad bought me when I was really young, so we have a special bond just because of the equipment we used to wear. He was one of the most fun goalies to watch as a fan, the Dominik Hasek of his day if you ask me, the way he played the game.

"Eddie and I have been teammates on Team Canada (gold medalists at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics) and we got to know each other throughout the years, playing against each other and in [three] All-Star Games.

"And I don't know Mr. Hall well, but I know what he's accomplished. I'd have loved to have gone after his consecutive games record (502) because I wanted to play every game, but they wouldn't let me. A lot of people talk about my wins record being one of the hardest to beat. Well, Mr. Hall's will never be broken. It's crazy just to think about it."

The Kinsmen dinner has grown from modest beginnings, the inaugural 1961 event held in a small Saskatoon restaurant/meeting hall with five-time World Series-champion pitcher Lefty Gomez as the guest of honor. Gomez was such a hit that organizers had to send out midway through supper for two more cases of whiskey.

The dinner would become a marquee event on the calendar not just in this prairie city but on the agendas of some of the greatest names in sports, scores of legends having attended. More than 60 NHL players, general managers, coaches, officials and executives, many of them Hall of Famers, have been head-table guests through the decades, Montreal Canadiens superstar Maurice "Rocket" Richard the first in 1962.

Ed Belfour signs a souvenir canvas that would be sold in a silent auction

The event was twice headlined by the late Gordie Howe, who was born in Floral, Saskatchewan and raised in Saskatoon. Indeed, Mr. Hockey's final major public appearance was here in 2015 with his sons Mark, Marty and Murray, alongside Wayne Gretzky and three Hulls: Bobby with his son, Brett, and his brother, Dennis. In 2010, Gordie appeared with Gretzky and Stephen Harper, who at the time was Canada's prime minister.

The 2020 edition, organized by 60 Kinsmen volunteers under chairman Brad Hrycan and Kinsmen Club of Saskatoon president Robert Huck, saw 760 people fill a downtown convention center for a spectacular multimedia affair that raised about $130,000 through sponsorship, ticket sales and silent and live auctions. Many non-profit organizations throughout Saskatoon, including youth groups through programs for seniors, benefit from the money raised by the dinner.

Hosted by former goalie and current St. Louis Blues broadcaster Darren Pang, it also shone a spotlight on two fan favorites of the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders: kicker Brett Lauther and defensive lineman Charleston Hughes.

The five goalies probably left Saskatoon with writer's cramp, having signed hundreds of items ranging from photos, pucks and sticks to jerseys, stainless steel masks and canvases. And every one of them loved every moment of their stay.

They had arrived the day before the dinner from various points -- Belfour, Brodeur and Parent connecting in Minneapolis from Dallas, St. Louis and Philadelphia for a flight to Saskatoon. Fuhr flew in from his home in Palm Springs, California, while Hall arrived by road with his son, Pat, from Stony Plain, Alberta, 350 miles to the west.

For the first time ever together, you'd have sworn they'd been teammates on the same club, almost finishing each other's sentences, poking fun at themselves and each other and spinning one yarn after another.

"I went to a silent auction once… but I couldn't hear a thing," Parent cracked as he signed a poster.

Brodeur, on his left elbow, had a good laugh at that one, proving that a joke is never old because someone hasn't heard it.

Hall apologized to Fuhr, seated on his right, "because it takes me so long to sign my name," Mr. Goalie's familiar autograph unchanged since he began signing it with the Detroit Red Wings in 1952-53.

Grant Fuhr enjoys a joke on stage with his four fellow legends

Fuhr was happy to wait, basking in the glow of his former teacher. As a youngster of about 8, he attended a goaltending school to be mentored by Hall. They were practically neighbors at the time, Fuhr growing up in Spruce Grove, Alberta, five miles from the sprawling Stony Plain farm on which Hall has lived since the mid-1960s.

"I always felt that certainly Gretzky was the No. 1 guy on the Edmonton Oilers (winning the Stanley Cup five times between 1984-90), but Grant had to be very, very close to him as the guy who really contributed the most," Hall said. "I remember when I first saw him at the hockey school. We were talking about goalkeepers, about playing goal, and what stood out was that Grant was just listening. You know how kids are -- they're tapping sticks, distracted -- but he listened to every word that was being said."

Many of the items the five were signing would wind up in the hands of youngsters, won at auction by their parents and grandparents.

Fans take a close look at the Vezina trophy

"It's amazing how many of the kids know you," Fuhr said. "You must have left an impression on their parents because the kids aren't old enough to have seen you play. But they do have YouTube."

There's a soft spot in Belfour's heart for Hall, who last defended a Chicago Black Hawks net in 1967, Belfour's NHL debut coming for the same team in 1988.

"To be in the same room as Glenn, and as Bernie and Grant and Marty, is an amazing feeling," he said. "Glenn's record for consecutive games will never be beaten. I think the most I ever played in a row was 28 or 29. And he did that without a mask (Hall putting one on only during his final few NHL seasons with the St. Louis Blues). Glenn's a very special person. My hat's off to him, for sure. He was very supportive of me in Chicago, and that means a lot."

Belfour was practically destined to play for Chicago. Growing up in the agricultural town of Carman, Manitoba, he was in the third grade when he won the art contest of the annual summer fair with two posters he drew of Blackhawks goaltending legend Tony Esposito, a head-table guest here in 2001.

"A red ribbon and $5!" Belfour beamed of his first money earned from hockey.

Emcee Darren Pang makes friends with a young Chicago Blackhawks fan

A few hours before the dinner, the five sat to take a 10-question pop quiz, all wanting to know the answers scribbled by the others. Only one question was a straight right or wrong, the Vezina Trophy winners asked for the nickname of the Chicoutimi, Quebec-born legend for whom the award is named. Only Belfour had "Cucumber," but his answer should carry an asterisk, since he admitted to quick research on his phone while the teacher wasn't looking.

In a room off the stage 15 minutes before being introduced, talk among the five turned to the flashy lacrosse-style goals scored in the NHL this season, two by Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes, then one by Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators.

"They wouldn't score like that on me because I'd be standing with my shoulder against the post," Brodeur said.

Then, with a grin, simulating delivery of the butt end of his stick to the chin: "They score one and it's game on."

Glenn Hall (left) and Bernie Parent, and Hall wearing his Hall of Fame blazer and shrine induction ring

On stage for a wide-ranging roundtable, Pang lightheartedly admitted that his 81-game, zero-shutout NHL career paled just a little next to the men he was interviewing.

A couple of hours earlier, the almost painfully shy Hall had spoken in his hotel room about his discomfort with large events like this, saying this almost surely was the last he will do.

"I've done a few over the years," he said, "but I'm really [bad] at this kind of stuff."

And then, on stage, he stole the show.

"I'll tell you," Hall began, looking down the line, "it's great being associated with these guys, it really is. Not because they're such an ugly group, but they're nice people, really."

The audience was still laughing when Hall spoke about his distaste for training camp.

"As a goalkeeper, who would want to go to training camp?" he wondered aloud. "They put half the pucks on this side of the ice, half on the other, and gave the forwards a free run all the way up the rink to try to get you where it hurts."

From there, on to having learned the trade by himself in the days long before NHL teams employed goalie coaches.

"We were taught by people who knew nothing."

And then, chuckling: "My son down there is giving me a bad look. He told me, 'Don't be negative,' but it's so easy to be negative, the way we were treated. In Chicago today, you can't believe how good they are to us because I think they know how bad it was back then."

Off-stage, Hall joked, "I always said I'd rather be underpaid than overpaid, and the Black Hawks made it easy for me to accomplish that goal."

Belfour spoke glowingly of having won a gold medal with Canada in the 2002 Olympics and of having met Brodeur for the first time at a summer goalie camp run by legendary Russian Vladislav Tretiak.

Belfour would be mentored in Chicago by Tretiak in 1990 when the latter was hired as the Blackhawks goalie coach. He thought so much of Tretiak's counsel that he had a special ring made for him when he won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999.

Darren Pang models a signed Fuhr jersey while displaying a signed Belfour jersey, two items sold at the dinner

Parent recalled being shoved in net as a kid because of his poor skating, which he improved sufficiently to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe in 1974 and 1975 with the Flyers.

"I couldn't wait for the Saturday night game on TV, especially Chicago against Montreal," Parent said of his youth in Montreal. "Glenn Hall against my idol, Jacques Plante. God, it was awesome to watch."

From the stage, Belfour chipped in an unannounced live-auction item -- he would host two people at a Stars game next season, picking up airfare, accommodation and taking the winners to dinner. It sold for $7,000.

A few minutes earlier, five custom-made Canadian ash goalie sticks, signed and mounted in a frame measuring seven feet by 39 inches, sold for $8,000.

The goalie brotherhood was strong throughout their nearly two days together. Friendships were both made and strengthened, the unspoken bond of their position clear to all.

"It's a real quiet type deal," Hall said. "But if you see a goalkeeper, you just love to talk to him. In the Original Six days, with just six of us, you'd meet at the train station. Particularly with Gump [Worsley] and Johnny Bower, we'd find each other just to say hello. We'd talk a little bit about who was scoring goals and ask, 'How did this forward score on you?'"

Asked which of his four lodge brothers impressed him most, Fuhr said without hesitation, "All of the above."

At the end of their breezy 45 minutes on stage, Belfour put the Kinsmen Club into the sharpest perspective, thanking organizers of this dinner and, in broader terms, the national club as a whole. Eight hours earlier, he, Brodeur and Fuhr had done a little coaching at Saskatoon's Kinsmen Arena. The boys and girls on the ice, age 8-12, were members of the Inner City Hockey League, their equipment supplied by the Kinsmen.

"I remember as a little boy, a lot of kids didn't have the money to buy equipment," Belfour said. "From my start until about age 12, what I wore was given to me by the Carman Kinsmen Club. Maybe without them, I wouldn't have been able to play hockey and live out a dream in the NHL."

Photos: Steve Hiscock, Kinsmen Club of Saskatoon / Dave Stubbs

Dinner introduction video courtesy Sportsnet & Sports 10

The five goalies took an pop quiz before the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner. Here's what they turned in, in their own hand.

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