Mike Richter couldn't believe his luck. His coach at the Northwood School, where Richter was playing as a prep, had previously coached Tom Barrasso at Acton-Boxboro High School. The other goalie was, already, a legend, having jumped straight from high school to the NHL, taking the League by storm and winning the Calder Trophy voted as its top rookie, the Vezina Trophy as best goalie and finishing ninth for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in 1983-84.

And now Richter got to sit down for dinner with Barrasso, in his second NHL season, and Tom Fleming, the coach and common link. Barrasso seemed impossibly old and worldly, even though only a single year separated the two goalies.

"He was just so mature and accomplished and experienced," said Richter, who played 14 NHL seasons and won the Stanley Cup with the 1993-94 New York Rangers. "When you're young like that, all you want is, 'How do you do it? What do I need to do? What changed? What was a hurdle?' And he was saying some things like, 'Well, you know, when guys are coming down, you know where they're going to shoot.'

"I'm thinking, 'Do I?'"

It was that ability to see the game, that sheer confidence, that helped Barrasso go on to the career he would have, one that will result with him going into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Barrasso finished his 19-season NHL career 369-227-18 with 86 ties, a 3.24 goals-against average and .892 save percentage in 777 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues from 1983-03, and played for the 1991 and '92 Stanley Cup champion Penguins.

His was a career that would hit impossibly high highs, like the rookie year unlikely to be replicated and the Stanley Cup wins, and impossibly low lows, like the cancer fight his daughter Ashley went through, which combined with the death of his father caused him to take off the entire 2000-01 season.

But it all started with that brilliant first season, one that introduced him to the NHL with a lightning bolt.


Then-Sabres coach Scotty Bowman had seen Barrasso play at Acton-Boxboro, a rare right-handed catching goalie, and targeted him for the No. 5 pick in the 1983 NHL Draft. From there, Barrasso joined future Olympians in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in August for Olympic camp, which was why he didn't exactly feel like a high schooler by the time he got to Buffalo, even if that's how he was viewed by everyone else.

But for all his confidence, Barrasso never felt like he had it down that first season, even as he went 26-12-3 with a 2.85 GAA, .893 save percentage and two shutouts in 42 games (41 starts).

"I was rookie of the year and at the roster freeze I was nervous I was going to be sent to the American (Hockey) League," Barrasso said from Italy, where he coaches Asiago of the ICE Hockey League. "It's not something I was ever comfortable with as an American kid.

"Every day I was happy to go to the rink. Every day that was the most fun I had. And every day I had the opportunity to get better playing against those guys. Tried to take advantage of it."

Barrasso on bonds with teammates in his career

Phil Housley, who himself came out of high school and into the NHL the previous season, had a front-row seat. The pair lived in the same group of town homes and drove to the rink together each day, both staying long after practice was over.

"I'd literally be taking slap shots from the hashmark, and he'd be on his knees," said Housley, now a Rangers assistant coach. "We played a little game. We did that quite a bit after and I just couldn't believe that he was going to let me take slap shots at him from just above the top of the hashmarks. He was working on his game, and I was working on my game, and it was just a really good fit."

Housley immediately saw all the traits that would yield greatness, especially the puck handling that would lead to the most points by a goalie in NHL history with 48, one more than Martin Brodeur and Grant Fuhr. As Richter said, "He handled the puck better than almost anyone else in the League the moment he stepped in. … He was a rare combination of keeping the puck out of the net and being able to turn it into offense."

Bowman said, "He was like another defenseman."

But it wasn't just the ability to handle the puck. It was the maturity that would allow him to settle in at a young age, the size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), the competitiveness, the technique. It was also that confidence, confidence that told him not only that he could do it, but that he should.

"I mean, physically he could shoot the puck damn near the length of the ice in the air and very accurate passing, knew when do it, when not to, but also [had] the confidence to even call upon that," Richter said.

He was a revelation.


"High school hockey in America is good and in Boston it's particularly good, but it's stunning to see somebody make that leap anywhere," Richter said. "He didn't just make a team. He was spectacular.

"You have to have great physical gifts to be playing at that level, but at that age it is a real showstopper to have somebody walk in and do that. He put himself on the map very, very early."

That didn't wane when he got to Pittsburgh, where he had his lengthiest stay, as he reached the pinnacle of the NHL, winning the Cup with luminaries like close friend Mario Lemieux. Seven members of those teams -- Lemieux, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Joe Mullen, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and Mark Recchi -- are in the Hall of Fame, where Barrasso will join them, and Jaromir Jagr eventually will too.

"When [general manager] Tony Esposito made the deal for him, it was the right deal because he was perfect for our team," said Eddie Johnston, the assistant GM when the Penguins traded for Barrasso on Nov. 12, 1988. "The big games, he just rose to the top. Any big games or a final game in a series, you'd know he was going to be excellent. He had that attitude."

He was going to be the key to the Cup.

That first season the Penguins made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and took some steps as a young team. They could sense something was building.

"And then the next year was, for me personally and for the team, was just a catastrophe," Barrasso said.

His daughter, Ashley, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at two years old in July of 1989. Her chances of survival were put at 10 percent. She had surgery and then, in February of 1990, a bone-marrow transplant.

"I broke my hand very early in the season and missed a bunch of time," Barrasso said. "Just the weight of a 2-year-old that didn't look like she would live was very difficult, so it was just a really hard, hard year on the ice and off the ice."

By the next summer, Ashley's health improved. There was hope. And Barrasso was able to, once again, consider hockey and get back to the professional dreams he had harbored since those days at Acton-Boxboro.

"Then you win two Stanley Cups in a row," Barrasso said. "It was going from a very low level both professionally and personally to the highest of highs in both, in that my daughter looked like she was going to be given a chance to survive for some time and I was fulfilling the childhood dream of being part of those Stanley Cup championship teams."


That wouldn't be the end of the personal heartache for Barrasso, who took the 2000-01 season away from hockey after his father, Tom Barrasso Sr., died in February of 2000, 10 months after a glioblastoma diagnosis and his daughter had a recurrence of her cancer in June of that same year.

"It was a very low moment," Barrasso said. "Hockey was not a particular priority at the time."

He returned to the NHL, playing two more seasons before ending his playing career. His final season was two decades ago, which was why some wondered if he might ever make the Hall of Fame.

For Barrasso, the wait was hardly a concern. He said he hadn't even thought about it since 2007, when Francis was inducted. Francis kept telling him that he was going to get in, he was sure of it.

"At that point, I was really of the opinion that my work is done," Barrasso said. "There's no more influence left to be had. And if happens, it happens, and if it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm happy to write down what I've accomplished in my career, the trophies that my name is on. I stick with that."

But, in the end, that wasn't all.

Francis was right. Barrasso would indeed get the call from the Hall of Fame, the final piece in a legacy that started in dramatic fashion.

At this point, Barrasso rarely thinks of the career that got him here or about the on-ice piece unless it illustrates a point in his coaching work. But during the Hall of Fame process, he has considered the most important part of what he did on the ice.

And for him, it all comes down to that first season, that flash across the stage when he was too young, too American, too unseasoned to do what he did, a season when he was just hoping not to be sent down to the minors -- and instead produced greatness.

"For an 18-year-old American high school goalie to be drafted in the first round, fifth overall, and then be rookie of the year, win the Vezina Trophy and be a first team All-Star," Barrasso said, "is not going to happen again."