Could the schedule have been any more convenient? What a break to be slated for a game (and what a game it was) in Toronto on a Tuesday night. That meant the team would arrive the night before, and that just happened to coincide with the Hockey Hall of Fame’s 2014 Induction Ceremony!
Yes, timing is everything. Departing Nashville Monday afternoon after 1 p.m., the Predators’ arrived at their Toronto hotel around 5:30 p.m. EST. That allowed for a quick check-in, unpacking, freshening up and departure for the Hall 30 minutes later.
But – not so fast: In the lobby of that hotel – which just so happened to be the headquarters for the event, were many of the inductees. Heading out to the limousines were some of the Class of 2014: Rob Blake, Bill McCreary, Mike Modano and Peter Forsberg.
Walking through the lobby, you could see Hall of Famers Pierre Pilote (brother of the Dixie Flyers’ Flo Pilote); Ted Lindsay and Lanny McDonald. The celebration may have begun too soon for some, like one lady who thought I might be Ken Dryden. “I’m sorry, but I am not tall enough and certainly and not intelligent enough,” was all I could muster after that shock.
In short order, it was time to jump on the shuttle bus for the trip to the Hall a few cold blocks up Yonge Street. Just walking down the aisle of the bus to an open seat took me by hockey royalty.
On one side sat former Bruins and Avs defenseman Ray Bourque, on the other was Islanders’ goaltender Billy Smith and the general manager of that Islanders’ dynasty, “Bowtie Bill” Torrey. There were two great Nordiques: Peter Stastny and Michel Goulet. Shortly after I took my seat…who came to sit behind me but Hall-of-Famer-to-be Marty Brodeur!
The bus trip was short, and emptied almost directly onto the Red Carpet leading into the Hall. There were television and radio crews lining the path. Almost instantly I had the chance to chat with SiriusXM NHL Network radio buddies Mike Ross and Michael Lippa. Everyone lining the carpet was studying the arrivals looking for their next guest.
Among the “interview recruits” was actor Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Rod Tidwell” in the film “Jerry Maguire”). I have seen him at many Los Angeles Kings’ games, and he put on quite a show
at a Blackhawks preseason game this year.
Other guests on the various Red Carpet interviews included the NHL’s all-time leading scorer at left wing, Luc Robitaille and ex-Leafs defenseman and trailblazer for European players, Borje Salming.
Down the escalator from there were the Hall of Fame displays – and a cocktail party set up for those of us who did not have seats in the induction area itself. That was where some delightful conversations took place, many with previous Hall of Fame inductees.
Long-time NHL executive Cliff Fletcher, Igor Larionov, Jimmy Devellano and Brian Kilrea all fit into that category. So did this year’s media honorees: USA Today’s Kevin Allen (Elmer Ferguson award for journalism) and Blackhawks’ play-by-plan man Pat Foley (Foster Hewitt Award).
After the ceremony began, we walked through the displays, watching on the any number of monitors deployed throughout.
The conversations continued as we watched, catching up with Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC
is a great follow on Twitter) of Hockey Night in Canada and former NHL Broadcasting Director John Shannon, now with Rogers Sportsnet, the controlling body for Hockey Night. (@JSportsnet
The various hockey reunions were a pleasant, but minor part of the evening in “hockey heaven,” as my wife Claudia has termed this occasion. The focus properly was set on the inductees and the acceptance speeches.
Rob Blake was first, followed by the family (wife Line and son Jason) of ex-coach Pat Burns (who passed away in 2010). Then came the one I had been waiting for – that of the first player to have worn the Predators uniform to make it to the Hall: Peter Forsberg. (Watch his speech here
The night continued with three more: Dominik Hasek, Bill McCreary and Mike Modano. I have worked in and around hockey since the mid-1970s, but the Class of 2014 was something special to me. I was lucky enough to have broadcast games involving each of them. Two of them (Hasek and Forsberg) were key parts of the teams for which I called the action.
That evening, Hasek also hosted a party for many of his
former teammates. I saw ex-Sabres’ captain Michael Peca on the Red Carpet and had a great chat with Derek Plante (now assistant coach at his Alma Mater, Minnesota-Duluth), and his wife Kristi.
I doubt I will ever see a goaltender like Hasek, making so many spectacular saves, flailing away in the crease. Similarly, I don’t believe I will ever see a player combine the skill level with the robust physical style of Peter Forsberg. Both Hasek and Forsberg had compete levels that were incredibly high. Their greatness was defined this way: they won so much because they absolutely hated to lose – at anything – not just on the ice!
The night was indeed a trip to “Hockey Heaven.” It brought laughter, a torrent of great memories and emotions. The passion for the game was there for all to see. It was great to share the evening with Brent Peterson, who now can cross this off his bucket list. However, Brent, like me, will want to return every chance he gets!