On Monday, Igor Larionov became the first player who played for the Sharks to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame. While he was famous prior for his Olympic performances, and after for winning Stanley Cups with Detroit, in the Bay Area he will forever be linked to the Sharks for guiding them to their first playoff victory.
Ward credits the player and person he is today to the man they call "The Professor," Igor Larionov, who was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday.
"The best thing about Igor -- and I try to live that way now -- is his maturity and composure," Aaron Ward said. "They called him 'The Professor' because of his trademark glasses and he was so smart and even-keeled on the ice and off it. He played the game with ease and was just always under control. I remember when I’d lose my composure as a young man, he would always tell me, 'Just think the game. Make decisions as carefully as you can and think about how to approach your next move.'
"I mean, here's a guy who was maybe 175 pounds and maybe 5-foot-10, but he was so successful on both the international stage and then in the NHL because he always tried to learn the game and then preach what he learned to the young guys around him. He was, and is, one of the best character guys and smartest people I've met."
Larionov and fellow countryman Viacheslav Fetisov were instrumental in breaking the barrier that stopped Soviet players from joining the NHL.
Larionov was drafted by the Canucks in the 11th round of the 1985 Entry Draft, but he and Fetisov didn't begin their NHL careers until 1989. In the process, they opened the floodgates for many Russian players and served as pioneers in that respect.
Since retiring, Larionov has continued to connect the North American and Russian hockey cultures through numerous youth hockey tournaments in Russia, Michigan and California. For Larionov, it is his way of helping young hockey players experience new cultures and form friendships, just as he was able to do during his NHL career. It also is a way for him to stay connected to the game.
"Hockey is my life and I still love the game so much," Larionov said. "You can never get away from the game completely so I figured I'd start these tournaments for 7- to 15-year-old boys and help them experience what I did when I came to North America.
"This gives the kids a chance to experience different cultures and I think that's very important for us all. So for them to see the game in a different perspective and to form friendships with players from another country is very beneficial to them as they grow and mature."
As always, Larionov tries to practice what he preaches, which is to being willing to learn and exhibit patience and respect for whomever he may meet.
"Those are qualities that I always tried to have and use and, hopefully, these kids can learn to do so through this experience," he said.
Ready to add another highlight
Larionov is part of the 19-member Triple Gold Club, consisting of players who have won the Stanley Cup, and Olympic gold medal and a World Championship gold medal.
In May, Larionov was honored for his play on the international stage and inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. Now, "The Professor" is enshrined in the hallowed halls of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"I'm very honored to be inducted and I'm really looking forward to this event," he said on the even of his induction. "This will be one of the greatest highlights of my life and I’ll remember it forever. I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish internationally and I hope I was able to help others experience what I did."
Larionov won Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988 and a bronze medal in 2002; 4 World Championship golds; the 1981 Canada Cup; the gold at the 1980 World Junior Championship; and Stanley Cups with the Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
As anyone who knows Larionov will tell you, his enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame is a well-deserved honor. But to really honor Larionov, one should follow in his footsteps and spread what they have learned from him, as Ward and Davis pointed out.
"To have played with him and become friends with him was an honor, and there's not many more deserving than Igor," Ward said.