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Rutherford "can't put into words" HOF selection

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

Jim Rutherford put on his first pair of skates as a young boy in Beeton, Ontario. The young Rutherford glanced up and saw his mother and father. 

That was the memory that flashed in Rutherford's mind nearly 70 years later when he answered a phone call from Lanny McDonald and John Davidson. 

"The memories go all the way back to when you were a kid and it all starts and you don't know where it's going," Rutherford, 70, said. "You start a journey."

Rutherford's journey has taken him from youth to a 13-year NHL playing career with Pittsburgh, Toronto, Los Angeles and Detroit to general manager in the Ontario Hockey league to a 25-year run as a general manager in the NHL with Hartford/Carolina and Pittsburgh, capturing three Stanley Cup championships and NHL General Manager of the Year award along the way.

And, as of Tuesday, that journey has come full circle in Toronto, a city 60 miles south of Beeton and home of the Hockey Hall of Fame, with his election into the Hall's Class of 2019. It became official when Rutherford answered that call. 

"I was driving, about 10 minutes away from home and I answered the phone and it was Lanny McDonald and John Davidson, and I said, 'O.M.G.'" Rutherford laughed. "I knew what that call was about, and it was a great call.

"It was probably the most humbling experience that I've had in my hockey career. I didn't know what to say and I'm still at the point where l'm really sure how to put this into words. It's a great honor, and an exciting day for me and my family."

Rutherford's dream, like most children growing up in Canada, was just to play in the National Hockey League. As a player and manager, Rutherford has 38 years of NHL experience.

"When you're growing up and you think about what you want to do or what you want to be a part of, as a kid you'd like to be part of the NHL," Rutherford told last year. "I didn't know if I'd get 38 minutes or 38 days in the NHL. To be able to look back on it, you say, 'boy, you're a blessed guy.' I just feel very fortunate."

Rutherford has been more than a part. While he was lucky enough to spend over a decade as a goalie in the league, his biggest contributions have come as a general manager by winning three Stanley Cups (he will enter the Hall of Fame in the builder's category). 

After his playing career ended, Rutherford had no intentions of walking away from the game. 

"I didn't know how to do anything else so stick with the game of hockey and do what I know," Rutherford said. "I loved the game and I wanted to stay in the game."

Rutherford stayed in the game with stops in Compuware Sports Corporation, the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, the Hurricanes franchise and finally ending up in Pittsburgh. He helped orchestrate Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup title and the Penguins back-to-back championships in 2016-17. 

"I remember winning that first Cup in Carolina in a year we weren't the odds-on favorite to win," he said. "You always have that excitement of winning the Cup. To win my second Cup in Pittsburgh and go back-to-back, that feeling was special. But everything is happening so fast at that time when you win. So much is going on and you don't have time to think about it.

"Today's (call) there aren't as many people around. It hits you in a different way."

But Rutherford is not done yet. In fact, when asked how he would celebrate his Hall of Fame inclusion, he responded: 

"Probably (going) back to my office and see if we can change this team like I've been trying to do for two months," Rutherford said. "(The election) is a step in my career, but I still have that drive to be successful. I still think the Penguins can win at least another championship here in the next few years. 

"I'll enjoy the moment. I'll enjoy my weekend in Toronto in November (at the Induction Ceremony), but I still have the drive to win. And that's what I'm going to try to do."

Rutherford made sure to thank many people along the way such as his family, former teammates, the players that won Stanley Cups, Peter Karmanos for his loyalty and believing in him, Jason Botterill, Bill Guerin and Jason Karmanos for helping the transition to Pittsburgh, to all the people that he's worked with throughout his career. 

All of them played a part in Rutherford's selection, and now he'll join an elite group of individuals to be enshrined in hockey's hallowed halls forever. 

"It's so hard to put into words," Rutherford said. "You know all the people in the Hall of Fame, so many great people that I'll have a chance to join, all the great people I've met in the game."

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