He’s one of the more decorated players in hockey history. He was a champion in the old Soviet Union, in the National Hockey League and at the international level. And on Tuesday, Igor Larionov’s efforts were rewarded when he was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Joining Larionov in the Hall was forward Glenn Anderson, who played on six Stanley Cup Champions – including Edmonton’s five-Cup champion dynasty of the 1980s.
“It’s a great honor to join this great group,” Larionov said. “It’s one of the highlights of my career.”
In doing so, Larionov becomes the first Sharks player to be enshrined in the HHOF. Larionov’s two-plus years of Sharks tenure may not have been extremely long, but it was eventful as he led the Sharks to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1993-94 and 1995.
Larionov’s influence was huge when San Jose went to their first playoffs in 1994. The Sharks started the year 0-8-1. The only game Larionov played in the first nine was the tie. In that season, San Jose was 3-15-5 when Larionov wasn’t in the lineup, but 30-20-11 when he played.
On the ice, Larionov played in 97 games in just over two seasons with the Sharks, posting 23 goals and 59 assists. For his career, the Russian legend scored 169 goals and posted 475 assists in 921 games, an amazing total considering he was forced to play in the old Soviet Union for the first 11 years of his professional career.
“To be recognized is nice and it’s nice to see European players recognized,” said Larionov, who entered the NHL when it was primarily a Canadian affair. “To join Slava (Fetisov) and my idol, Valery Kharlamov, is a huge honor.”
Larionov, whose off-ice accomplishments in breaking the barriers Soviet Union players faced in going to the NHL, were just as significant as his on-ice skills. Despite entering the NHL just a year before his 30th birthday, Larionov will never forget being one-third of arguably the greatest line in hockey history, the KLM Line, with himself, Vladimir Krutov and ex-Sharks winger Sergei Makarov.
“We didn’t have a chance to play in the NHL in our prime,” Larionov said. “I joined the League in ’89 when I was 29. To play like we did with five highly skilled guys, when we stepped on the ice, our freedom began to click.”
He still remembers getting his NHL shot with the Vancouver Canucks and then, of course, his second team in San Jose.
“Vancouver gave me my freedom from the Soviet regime,” Larionov said. “In San Jose I play with Makarov, (Johan) Garpenlov, (Jeff) Norton and (Sandis) Ozolinsh and it was the puck possession game.”
Players like Norton appreciated their time with Larionov.
“What can I say?” Norton said. “He was the best player I played with. He made everybody better. A lot of guys I played with were very good, but they didn’t make other people better. I think he saw the game from above in a way you can’t teach. Now I play in a men’s league and I know how he feels.”
Larionov never looked the part of a hockey player. He stood 5-foot-9 and weighed 170 pounds. And when he wore glasses off-the-ice, Larionov looked like a university instructor.
“He never won any races, but he didn’t have to,” Norton said. “He didn’t have a hard shot, but he knew where and when to put it. He’s the professor.”
Last year, Larionov just missed out on induction in his first year of eligibility. Besides Anderson, Larionov’s fellow inductees included long-time Canadian junior hockey coach and executive Ed Chynoweth and veteran NHL Linesman Ray Scapinello
Three former Sharks also received HHOF consideration (San Jose years in parenthesis): former defenseman and current Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson (1991-93), center Vincent Damphousse (1998-04) and goaltender Mike Vernon (1997-99).
The HHOF Class of 2008 will be inducted on Nov. 10 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
NHL ENTRY DRAFT The first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft will be carried on Versus at 4 p.m. PST on Friday. The remaining rounds will be aired on the NHL Network with round two scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. PST on Saturday.