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Induction: Recchi joins a prestigious group in Hall of Fame

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Mark Recchi sat in a white chair in the middle of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Great Hall on Monday afternoon. He couldn't help but occasionally look up and gaze at the plaques surrounding him. 

Hobey Baker. Lester Patrick. Syl Apps. Toe Blake. Ted Lindsay. Maurice Richard.

Recchi, looking up in awe, fiddled with a ring on his right hand. Maybe it was in respect. Maybe it was in disbelief. Maybe it was just in gentle reflection. The ring was gold and signified membership into the most prestigious hockey club in the world. Encircling an outline hockey figure were the words "HOCKEY HALL of FAME MEMBER."

"'Rex' if somebody had told you in 1988, when you were drafted, that you would be in the Hall of Fame, what would you have told them?" asked an interviewer sitting across from the newest member in the hallowed halls.

Recchi, 49, let out a giggle before he said, "Not a chance. I would have been happy playing five or six years, never mind the 22 years that I ended up playing. Pretty incredible."

Recchi, again, glanced upward at the faces starring back at him through history.

Terry Sawchuk. Jean Beliveau. Gordie Howe. Glenn Hall. Johnny Bower. Guy Lafleur. Bobby Orr.

"Here we are Rex. Look around," the interviewer noted while gesturing to the scenery. "You're in the Hall of Fame."

"Yeah," Recchi said shaking his head. "Incredible."

Some of those members hanging on the walls were former teammates of Recchi's during the course of his two-plus decades long NHL career. And most of them, including his former idol, were his Penguins teammates during his first three seasons in the NHL.

Mario Lemieux. Bryan Trottier. Joey Mullen. Paul Coffey. Larry Murphy. Ron Francis.

"I grew up idolizing 'Trots,' and then I got to play with him," Recchi said. "I got to play with players like Mario, Trottier, Joey Mullen, Paul Coffey, a number of guys that are in the Hall of Fame now. It's just a special honor. I was very fortunate to play with guys like that."

But make no mistake, Recchi earned his way to the Hall on his own merits.

There were the team accomplishments - three Stanley Cup titles with three different teams (Pittsburgh, 1991; Carolina, 2006; Boston, 2011), only the 11th player in Stanley Cup history to win the trophy with three different teams. Recchi even won a Turner Cup with Muskegon of the IHL.

There was the longevity - 22 years in the NHL, while only missing around 20 due to injury, becoming the oldest player to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Final at 43 years of age.

There are the numbers - ranking fifth all-time in the NHL with 1,652 career regular-season games played, totaling 577 goals, 956 assists and 1,533 points, playing in seven NHL All-Star Games.

Recchi's visage belongs alongside hockey legends of the past.

Wayne Gretzky. Ray Bourque. Scott Stevens. Brett Hull. Steve Yzerman. Nicklas Lidstrom. Mark Recchi.

Recchi stood up and the production staff unhooked the microphone that was attached to his shirt. In eight hours, he would stand before a crowd and become formally inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2017.

Recchi had already received his ring and jacket this weekend - both emblazoned with the Hall of Fame logo. There was one final order of business until that evening's ceremony.

"Now I have to go finish my speech," Recchi said.

The Hall of Fame spent an entire weekend honoring Recchi. He would use his speech at Monday night's Induction Celebration to pay tribute to and honor those in his life that made this day possible.

Appropriately it would be his boyhood idol, Trottier, that presented Recchi with his Hall of Fame plaque.

"Wow," Recchi said as he stood at the podium in front of an admiring gala filled with family, former players, fans and past Hall of Fame inductees. He cleared his throat and began:

I thought I'd be lucky to play five or six years, never mind 22 years. Did it go quick. It was an amazing ride and an amazing run. There are a lot of people to thank over the next short bit here.

First off I have to thank the players who paved the way for players like me to play in the NHL and get this opportunity to get into the Hall of Fame, or even to play in the NHL period. I'm forever grateful for the history of the game and the players before me.

*

Mike Bossy. Bobby Clarke. Eddie Shore. Bobby Hull. Stan Mikita. Lanny McDonald.

*

I'd like to thank the Hall of Fame staff that made it incredible for my family this whole weekend. Everything went so seemless. It was very easy. 

Lanny McDonald, that call and the committee, thank you very much. It was one of the greatest days of my life. I truly appreciate it.

*

Recchi sat in a draft meeting in mid-June with the rest of the Penguins scouting staff when his phone rang. The area code was 416 - Toronto. Recchi had been eligible for the Hall of Fame for the past three years, and hoped to one day receive this very call.

"Not until near the end did I even think about it," said Recchi, who retired in 2011. "When you've won a few times and had been successful, I thought maybe I had a chance. You just hope that your body of work is good enough and that they think you're worthy enough to get in here. Fortunately I got that call and I couldn't be more excited."

Recchi exited the Penguins meeting to answer the call. Indeed, on the other line was McDonald, chairman of the board for the Hockey Hall of Fame. And McDonald informed Recchi that he was chosen by the Hall of Fame's selection committee to be inducted.

"Sometimes people have to wait a little bit longer than they should have," McDonald said. "When you think about 5th all-time player (in games play), longevity in the league, 22 seasons, his goal totals, assist totals and then you look at three Stanley Cups with three different teams. Winning two more with Pittsburgh as director of player development, so richly deserving."

*

My journey began in the great town of Kamloops, where I was born and raised. Played minor hockey there. It was absolutely incredible. I was blessed. It had a big influence on me when I was 7 until I left at 15 years old to play juniors.

The next phase took me to Langley and New Westminster for two years. It got me started in juniors. Then I had a great opportunity, I got traded back to my hometown, the Kamloops Blazers, where I grew up watching them. A dream come true to go back home and play for my hometown junior team in front of my family and friends on an every night basis. I couldn't have been more thankful for that. It helped me get to the next step. I don't think I would have made it without that opportunity to go back and play in Kamloops.

*

One of Recchi's Kamloops teammates was Rob Brown. The two formed a friendship during those junior days, and that bond grew as they played together for Canada at the World Junior Championship and with the Penguins in the late 80s and early 90s.

"Looking back and sitting on a bench in Kamloops, playing junior, or even in Russia in the World Juniors, we always had dreams," Brown said. "We always hoped that we would do well and our buddies would do well. But I don't think we would fathom we'd have a Hockey Hall of Famer amongst us, or a Stanley Cup.

"You always dream that those things happen for you. You always dream that they happen to your buddies so that they can enjoy what they put into it. To see someone have success, and a good person have success, you're excited about that. I'm excited for everything that Rex has done, and everything that he's done, he's deserved."

I got drafted at 20 years old, a little older than normal. Pittsburgh Penguins, Bruce Haralson, Eddie Johnston. Bruce Haralson got to know me in Kamloops, I was around all the time. I think he even saw me out at the bar a couple times - I wasn't supposed to be there, but… They took a chance on me, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It's something I and my family were so excited about. My dream was getting closer to being fulfilled to play in the NHL.

*

On Nov. 16, 1988, Recchi played in the first of his 1,652 career NHL games. It was, fittingly, in Toronto at historic Maple Leaf Gardens. The following season - 1989-90 - Recchi made the leap to the NHL for good. He scored 30 goals and 67 points in his first full season in the league. Recchi played with a reckless abandon on the ice that earned him the nickname 'Wrecking Ball' from longtime Penguins play-by-play broadcaster Mike Lange.

"He was the wrecking ball, he had a lot of energy and he brought that to the team," former teammate Bob Errey said. "I thought that was the greatest thing about Mark Recchi. He'd just go about his business. He'd get banged up and keep going. You could knock him down, he'd be down for a second and back up."

"He had a controlled recklessness about his game," Phil Bourque said. "You saw the skill, but you always saw a guy that wasn't that big in size that was pretty much fearless. He would bounce around like a wrecking ball and cause some damage." 

Recchi also caused some damage on the scoreboard. He was a left-hand shot that played right wing, and was known for his quick shot off the rush with one foot in the air - the incorrect foot.

"He was small, quick feet, quick strides and that shot off of the wing," Errey recalled. "He reminded me of Mark Messier the way he would go down that offside, snap it off the other foot and put it inside the goal post. He was accurate."

Recchi was an integral part of the Penguins' 1991 Stanley Cup championship team. He scored the series-winning goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against Boston. And to this day, he points to that moment as his favorite memory on the ice.

"The one that always jumps out is the Game 6 against Boston in the '91 Cup run," he said. "I scored the winning goal there with four minutes left. That one always sticks out to me because it propelled us to the Stanley Cup Final. It's a special moment early on in a young career."

*

My journey took me for 22 years to some amazing cities, some amazing teammates. Tampa Bay to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Carolina, Montreal, Boston to finish my career. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end my career, in British Columbia (Vancouver), winning a championship with (Bruins owners) Mr. Jacobs. That team hadn't won in 39 years, something I'm very proud of. It was a great way to end my career. It was just incredible.

*

With his third Cup in 2011, Recchi became the eighth player in history to win the Stanley Cup in three decades. And he won his third Cup 20 years after winning his first.

It was a remarkable run for a player that most scouts thought was too small to play in the NHL. But it was what couldn't be measured - his heart - that allowed Recchi to thrive against the top athletes in his sport for over two decades.

"He was an undersized forward, but he was driven," Troy Loney said. "The whole 'you're not big enough to play' was incentive for him to come out and prove everybody wrong."

"He was never a big player. I'm sure he heard many times through the NHL Draft to playing in the minors that he's too small and not going to make it," Brown said. "Yet, he just kept getting better and better, and his work ethic was phenomenal. He wanted to be the best. It was his drive that allowed him to become a Hockey Hall of Famer."

Not only did Recchi make it in the NHL, he became one of the league's best players. He was selected to play in the All-Star Game seven times, and won All-Star Game MVP in 1997. He was a second-team NHL All-Star in 1992. And most importantly, Recchi won two more Stanley Cups in his veteran years.

"Of all the players that I've played with, hundreds of players in the minors, NHL and overseas, I don't know if there's another guy that I'd played with that I respect more than Mark Recchi," Bourque said. "Because of his size, where he came from, what he accomplished. He kept proving people wrong. A lot of people thought he was done in the mid-2000s. He just kept persevering and proving people wrong."

It was obvious to his Penguins teammates early on that Recchi had the skills. But Hall of Fame?

"When you watch those guys play, you don't think at the time that guy is going to be a Hall of Famer," Loney said. "But then 20 years go by and that guy is still there. He's still doing the same thing. It's a combination of that workmanlike ethic that he had. His competitive drive."

My teammates for 22 years. I could stand up here 20 minutes and name them all. But they know who they are, the special teammates that I have, the special bonds that I have with the players over 22 years. We all know we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for their help to be successful. I can't be thankful enough for all of them and appreciate everyone of them for their help over 22 years, it was incredible.

*

Of all the accolades and praise you hear about Recchi, there is one that seems to stand out most to his former teammates: character.

"He's just a good man. A great, great hockey career that he had and he worked hard for it," said former Penguins teammate Jay Caufield, who is the godfather of Recchi's daughter Christina. "He has great parents, a great family."

"You play with so many guys and form so many friendships, but you can count on one hand how many guys that you really, really value their friendship," Bourqe said. "When you're a friend of Mark Recchi's he doesn't put any boundaries on it. If you haven't talked to Rex in 10 years or 10 minutes ago, he's one of those guys that you feel a connection with. You feel a bond with. You almost feel privileged to be his friend because you know the quality person that he is."

"He's just a good person," Brown said. "When anyone asks about Rex I would say he's a great hockey player, but he was a better person. … Who Mark became as a person is all from the family and how he was raised. Just good people."

*

My three brothers - Michael, Marty and Matthew - I can't thank you guys enough for your support. You guys made me the person I am today with how competitive and growing up together. You guys have always been there for me. I love you guys so much. I appreciate everything you guys do.

My family, to say the least, I'm the modern day version of the Brady Bunch. I have my first wife, who I have four wonderful kids with. I have two children with my beautiful wife, my best friend, I love you very much. Thank you guys for your support. My three daughters - my eldest princess Christina, my beautiful Bella and Samantha my little peanut. She's the pistol. My three handsome dudes - Cameron, Austin, Brendan. … I look forward to all of the chapters that are ahead of us. Just know that I'll always be there for you no matter what. I'll always be there for whatever you guys need.

Last and no least, my amazing parents. My mom and dad, Mel and Ruth, they were there in Pittsburgh for the (Hall of Fame) call. It's like it was meant to be. My dad was the first one I was able to go tell. It was absolutely incredible. It's the first time I actually seen him tear up. It meant the world to me. My mom, she's the quiet one, but she's the rock of the family, raising four boys. I don't know how she did it, but she did it. I can't thank you enough mom. Papa, I love you. Thank you for all of your support. You guys have been there for me through everything.

*

To understand who Recchi is, look no further than Mel and Ruth Recchi.

"Being in Kamloops I got to know him and his entire family," Brown said. "I spent a lot of late nights at Rex's house and his mom would get up when we were over there, whether it be 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning, she always thought her boys had to eat. She would make grilled cheese sandwiches."

Mark was raised in Kamloops, British Columbia, where his parents still reside to this day (in fact, his father Mel's childhood home is now located on what is Mark Recchi Way). The Recchi's instilled in their son Mark - as well as his three brothers - the merits of hard work and humility. Mark still talks to or texts his parents everyday.

When asked who was the biggest influence on life, Recchi didn't hesitate to answer.

"Obviously my parents," he responded. "My dad is my best buddy, and my mom's been there for me right from the get-go."

Recchi never forgot where he came from. In fact, neither did Mel and Ruth. Or Melly and Ruthy.

"I still run into him mom and dad. And it's Melly and Ruthy," Brown said. "Most people its Mr. and Mrs. To them it was Melly and Ruthy. His brothers are all the same way. It was a fun atmosphere to be around. It was a fun family to be around. I was very fortunate to get to know them."

*

I'd like to thank everybody. This has been such a humbling experience. The inductees. I couldn't ask for a better group to come in with. This is absolutely outstanding.

Thank you.

*

Recchi concluded his speech to an ovation from the crowd. After every member of the Class of 2017 finished their speeches, the group gathered together around "the book." Inside the book is a collection of signatures from every member (or a member's representative) of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The signing of the book is the final act, and makes the induction official.

Recchi had left his mark on history, now he left his mark on the page. He put down the pen and officially closed the final chapter in his storied NHL career.

"This is the pinnacle of a 22-year career and being rewarded for that," Recchi said. "It's incredible. It's such a great honor."

Note: Portions of Recchi's speech were shortened for space restraints.

Video: Mark Recchi enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame

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