TORONTO -- They were lined up at least half the length of a hockey rink Friday, stretching back from the entrance of the Hockey Hall of Fame toward the food court.
Wearing national team and club jerseys from around the globe, these fans have descended on Toronto for the World Cup of Hockey 2016. As they got closer to the shrine, they were chatting about the greats whose legendary accomplishments they had come to see.
Video: Canada Post reveals new stamps featuring NHL players
What they didn't notice, standing maybe 10 feet from their queue, were Guy Lafleur and Phil Esposito, casually shooting the breeze like old friends. Which they are.
Lafleur, most famous with the Montreal Canadiens, and Esposito, a legend with the Boston Bruins, would be joined inside by fellow NHL icons Mark Messier of the Edmonton Oilers, Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings, and, by video, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, for Canada Post's unveiling of its 2016 NHL Great Canadian Forwards issue, the fourth in its five-year stamp series.
Crosby sent his appreciation of this honor by video, occupied by Team Canada's practice to prepare for its World Cup semifinal against Team Russia (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports).
The five retired legends, along with Crosby's parents, Troy and Trina, were led into the Hall of Fame's Esso Great Hall by two scarlet-uniformed members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for the ceremonial unveiling of their stamps. The room was packed with former NHL players, dignitaries and more than a few slack-jawed fans who likely never before had seen such a collection of talent under one roof.
All players attended the unveiling ceremony in the Esso Great Hall, home of the Stanley Cup®. The lineup (click here for stamp images)
Canada Post did the arithmetic: these six players, hailing from five provinces, played in more than 8,300 NHL games. They have scored more than 3,800 goals, assisted on more than 5,700 more, and won a total of 18 Stanley Cup championships.
And that's before their individual trophy haul, emcee James Duthie of TSN joking that they have "more hardware than Canadian Tire." The highlights: eight Hart Trophies as the League's most valuable player; 10 times recipient of the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer; 11 times named winner of the Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay Award as the League's MVP as voted by the players; and four times voted winner of the Lou Marsh Award, annually recognizing Canada's outstanding athlete.
They were joined on stage by Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald, who himself is enshrined here; Deepak Chopra, president and chief executive officer of Canada Post; and Brian Jennings, the NHL's executive vice president of marketing.
"I have to say," McDonald joked, "when I first got the invitation (to this event), I thought that I'd made the cut. Oh well…"
The six who are featured on the stamps are a tremendous group, among the very elite who ever played the game and, in Crosby's case, are still blazing a trail. The five retired players are all Hall of Famers and Crosby is guaranteed to join them one day.
The five-year series, conceived to celebrate the NHL's greatest legends as the League moves toward its 2017 centennial, began in 2013 with a series on team jerseys. It continued with Original Six defensemen and, last year, featured great Canadian goalies.
Chicago Blackhawks goaltending legend Tony Esposito had his own stamp issued last year, which brought a good line Friday from his brother, Phil.
"My brother, who got a stamp last year, he's younger than me, that's not fair," Esposito said to laughter. "He's been busting me about (the fact) he was first. But I scored 55 goals against him in 53 games… Yeah!"
Lafleur called it "a big, big privilege to have this honor. If I would have said to my mom when I was 12 years old (that I'd be on a stamp)," he said, grinning, "I think she would have whacked me behind the head."
Sittler noted the great partnership between Canada Post and the NHL, and spoke to this being a way to honor players of the past for the education of new fans.
Messier, looking like he could still draw a quart of blood from an opponent with just his stare, said he'd played against all of the men on the stage. And he made mention of Hall of Fame sponsor Esso with a reference that resonated with many in attendance.
"I remember back in the '60s, encouraging my mom to stop at Esso to fill up the car with gas," Messier said. "You'd get a free stick and stamps of your hockey idols that you'd put in a booklet. Amazing, 50 years later and here I am with these guys, getting a stamp. What a day."
Yzerman, vice president and general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, also looks to still be in game shape. He got a laugh from the crowd when he mistakenly referred to retired NHL penalty-box citizen Tiger Williams, who was in the audience, as Tiger Woods, then quickly excused himself for being a golf fan.
The players alongside him, Yzerman said, were his idols growing up in the 1970s and early '80s before he skated into the NHL. And he thanked Crosby for the latter's so-called Golden Goal, the overtime score against Team USA to win the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"As executive director of that team, had Sidney not scored that goal and the outcome been different, I might not be here today," Yzerman said to laughter. "Had that happened, I might be here in another capacity. I might be working for Canada Post."
The stamp series and other NHL series that preceded it are widely available from Canada Post outlets and online.Visit their website for more information.