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Andreychuk ready for Hockey Hall of Fame induction tonight

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

With 3,596 games of his experience under his belt, it's safe to say there's not a man more well-versed in the history of the Buffalo Sabres than Robert "Rip" Simonick, the longtime equipment manager who's been with the organization since its inception in 1970. 

It's telling, then, that when you ask Simonick about Dave Andreychuk, he'll be quick to tell you that Andreychuk was as tough as any player to don a Sabres sweater. It's the kind of impression that stuck with Simonick to when Andreychuk won his Stanley Cup as captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. 

"The happiest person in hockey was me when he won his Stanley Cup," Simonick said. 

Simonick will be smiling again on Monday evening, when Andreychuk joins Clare Drake, Danielle Goyette Paul Kariya, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne and Buffalo native Jeremy Jacobs when the Hockey Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2017 in Toronto. 

Andreychuk, who holds the NHL record with 274 power-play goals, had to wait eight years after first appearing on the ballot in 2009 before he finally received the call. But it wasn't until recently, he said, that his impending induction began to feel like a reality. 

"I guess it really kind of sunk in when they came down to Tampa," Andreychuk said. "I got fitted for my jacket and the ring, and that's really when it all started which was a couple of weeks ago now. I'm very excited. I'm excited for my family. 

"I have a lot of worlds and they're going to collide at one time, and it's going to be very, very cool."

Andreychuk's first world was his hometown of Hamilton, Ont., where his father, Julian, worked in the steel mill but still scraped together the time and resources necessary for his son to play hockey. 

Hamilton serves as a decent midway point between Buffalo and Toronto - it's 73 miles north of the former, 41 miles south of the latter - but Andreychuk said he never attended a Maple Leafs game in his youth, only Sabres games. 

It was fitting that on June 9, 1982, Andreychuk wasn't drafted by the New York Rangers with the 15th pick, which is what he expected when the day began. The Rangers opted instead to select Chris Kontos, who'd go on to play just 78 games with the organization.

Andreychuk's call came one pick later, from Sabres general manager Scotty Bowman. He'd go on to score 386 goals and 436 assists for 804 points with Buffalo, second only to Gilbert Perreault. 

"I was very, very fortunate," Andreychuk said. "I played 15 years an hour from my hometown. I was able to home as a young guy as a 19 year old. I was just fortunate. You look at today's day and age at all these young kids who come in, they really have nobody around them except other players and family. For me, I was able to slip home, get all of my laundry done, get a good meal, see my friends. We'd meet in Niagara Falls. I was really lucky that way."

Andreychuk was one of three first-round picks selected by the Sabres that year, along with current coach Phil Housley, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, and the late Paul Cyr, who years later would be traded for the fifth-round pick used to select Alexander Mogilny in 1988.

Andreychuk cites Dale McCourt, Ric Seiling and Jerry Korab among the players who influenced him early in his career. But no influence was greater than that of Perreault, a person that Andreychuk had watched growing up but marveled at after seeing him on daily basis.

 "I know John Tucker and I have talked about it," Andreychuk said. "John and I are together here in Tampa so we talk a lot, and we talk about those earlier days of following Gilbert around like two little puppy dogs, wanting to get information from him and just enjoying his company."

A testament to the toughness that Simonick referenced, Andreychuk scored the bulk of his 1,338 points at the net-front. One of Simonick's favorite stories calls back to the time that Andreychuk took a slap shot to the teeth, knocking his upper palate out of place.

Andreychuk used his fingers to push his jaw back into place and then tried to get back on the ice for a power play. It's a memorable story in itself, but more memorable for Andreychuk given who happened to be in the stands that night.

"It was the first time that my future father-in-law had come to a game," Andreychuk said. "The poor guy ended up taking me to the hospital to get my jaw wired back in shape. He probably thought, 'What is my daughter getting herself into?'

"My mother has the picture in her house of me on the bench, trying to get back on the ice because it's a power play and basically my upper palate is broken. So I sat in the chair for eight hours and then flew to Montreal and played that night. For me, I guess it's in our DNA. I just felt like I was going to do everything I can to get back out on the ice and help my team."

"He was one of the true net-front guys back in those days," Housley said. "You look at Dave and the competitive nature of just getting into the hard areas, because back in the 80s when you went in front of the net there was a priced to be paid. It's a little different nowadays."

Andreychuk's initial stint with the Sabres ended on Feb. 3, 1993, when he was sent from the Sabres to the Maple Leafs along with Darren Puppa and a first-round pick in exchange for Grant Fuhr and a fifth-round pick.

After stints with Toronto, New Jersey, Boston and Colorado, Andreychuk returned to Buffalo prior to the 2000-01 season.

I thought, 'Hey this is the perfect scenario for me," Andreychuk said. "Go back to Buffalo, I can retire there and all of life would've been good."

That wasn't how it worked out. Although he initially wanted to return to Buffalo the following season, a recruiting pitch from John Tortorella and Rick Dudley instead lured him to Tampa Bay, where he was tasked with serving as a veteran leader on a young team that had struggled in seasons prior.

Andreychuk was named captain in his second season with Tampa Bay and the team made the playoffs. In his third season there, he captured the prize that had eluded him for 21 seasons prior with a Stanley Cup victory over the Calgary Flames.

Throughout that Final, Andreychuk recalls his sole focus having been on shutting down Flames forward Jarome Iginla, so much so that he never had an opportunity to appreciate the moment until a tripping call landed him in the penalty box for the final 23 seconds of Game 7, his team up 2-1.

"It turned out to be just an awesome spot for me," Andreychuk said. "I took a deep breath. I was able to watch my bench celebrate. My parents and my family were on that side of the ice as I skated on, and I was the last guy on the pile. Just all of the hard work, and it finally happened."

When Andreychuk steps to the podium on Monday night, his Buffalo world and his Tampa Bay world will collide, along with the life he began in Hamilton and the time he spent with four other organizations. 

In some ways, they already have, and it can be seen in NHL rinks on a nightly basis.

"I laugh about it now, because there's a guy like Steven Stamkos that's in the league and has got a little bit of me in him, and ultimately he's got a little bit of Gilbert Perreault in him," Andreychuk said. "I passed it on to Marty St. Louis, Marty St. Louis passed it onto him.

"That's the cool thing about our game. I really believe, it's this league where we pass down things and we learn from guys and I hope that doesn't go away, that's for sure."

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