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Ciccarelli turned 'second chance' into HOF career

by Dan Rosen / Dallas Stars
Dino Ciccarelli can remember just once stumping for himself and his Hall of Fame credentials. It was in 2006 when his father, Vic, was dying of cancer, and Dino knew he wasn't going to make it to 2007.

"Maybe that one time I was politicking to get in," Ciccarelli told, "but other than that, you just have to wait and see if your peers and the committee make the decision for you."

It didn't happen for Dino and Vic in 2006, but when he stepped on stage Monday in front of the bright lights and TSN's cameras, Ciccarelli had several generous and loving words to say about his father's role in getting him to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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After eight years of waiting, Ciccarelli got his ring, his jacket and his plaque on Monday in Toronto. He joins Cammi Granato, Angela James, Darryl "Doc" Seaman and Jim Devellano in the Hall's Class of 2010.

Ciccarelli's parents, including mother Celeste, have died, but their 50-year-old son feels he's finally complete.

"It would have been nice (to go in when his father was alive), but you can't get upset at the committee," Ciccarelli said. "They have a process, obviously, and I'm just humbled and grateful that I'm going in whenever. How can you get upset? I wasn't even supposed to play. I broke my leg at 17, got a second chance and played 19 years in the NHL. I wasn't fortunate enough to win a Stanley Cup, but I had success in the playoffs, won individual awards. I'm pretty fortunate and grateful to be able to get there."

He got there because the Hall simply couldn't ignore his 608 goals, 1,200 points and 1,425 penalty minutes in 1,232 games anymore. They couldn't continue to ignore a player who twice scored 50 goals, including a career-high 55 with the Minnesota North Stars in 1981-82, and scored at least 40 five other times. They couldn't ignore a player who had over 100 points twice, and 86 or more in three other seasons.

Ciccarelli never had the size (5-foot-10, 185 pounds). He wasn't the fastest skater, the best shooter or the most creative stickhandler. But when it came to determination and willingness to absorb pain to gain the pleasure of scoring a goal, he was one of the best of his generation.

"He had the willingness to take a tremendous amount of punishment to get the good goal-scoring chance," Glen Sonmor, Ciccarelli's first NHL coach, told "He established himself as such a great goal scorer, so they would pound him, and in those days they let you pound away. The biggest thing those guys who are goal scorers have over the guys that don't score is the ability to get into places where you're going to get chances. Dino had a lot of that, and he was a tough son of a gun."

Ciccarelli realized early in his career that going to the net and taking the punishment that comes with it was his only way to survive in the NHL.

"If you think about it, at a minor level to a junior level to a pro level, every day it's on chalkboards: Get the puck to the net, hit the net, get traffic in front of the goalie," Ciccarelli said. "If you want to score goals, you've got to get to the net. You're going to take some heat to get there, but ultimately the puck has to go toward the net before you can score and goalies are too good that if they see it they're going to make the save. I've got to believe 80 percent of the goals scored today are rebounds, deflections and stuff like that."

His competitive nature and that willingness to take a beating to make a play made Bryan Murray gravitate toward Ciccarelli.

Murray, now the GM in Ottawa, was the coach in Washington when then-GM David Poile acquired Ciccarelli. Poile gave up Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy in exchange for Ciccarelli late in the 1988-89 season.

Ciccarelli scored 12 goals in 11 games with the Capitals in 1988-89 and had 41 goals the following season.

Now he's a Hall of Famer, just like Gartner and Murphy.

When Murray was GM in Detroit and Florida, he brought Ciccarelli in both times.

"We brought a guy like Dino into a team that had started to turn the corner but really needed another guy that would play a little different way, and that was the dangerous way, the gritty way," Murray told "Dino was not opposed to making a comment to a player to make him play better. He wasn't always the star, but he was always in the category of top player on your team. He was always a dangerous guy and you could play him on most every situation."

Ciccarelli almost didn't get to have an NHL career. He broke his leg as a junior player with the London Knights when he was 17 years old and went from a high-scoring, high-profile prospect to a teenager who wasn't even worthy of a draft pick by any of the 18 NHL teams selecting in the 1978 Entry Draft or the 21 in 1979.

It took the guts of former North Stars GM Lou Nanne to give Ciccarelli a chance, signing him to a two-way contract in 1980 that would pay him $18,000 to play for the Oklahoma City Stars of the Central Hockey League and $50,000 if he got called up to the big club in the Twin Cities.

"Lou met with my dad and said, 'Look it, we liked this guy before and we knew he could score goals and had passion for the game,'" Ciccarelli said. "I owe Louie a lot for giving me that opportunity. I basically ran with a second opportunity I was given. I think I pretty much played my career with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder."

Ciccarelli made his debut with Oklahoma City in 1980, scoring 3 goals in six games after finishing his career in London with 169 goals in 226 games. He played 48 more games with Oklahoma City in 1980-81 (scoring 32 goals) before Sonmor went to scout him.

Upon returning to Minnesota, Sonmor told Nanne that Ciccarelli had to be a North Star right away.

"I said, 'Lou, get this guy in here,'" Sonmor recalled. "He started scoring at exactly the same rate up in the NHL, too."

Sonmor immediately put Ciccarelli on his top line, along with Neal Broten and Tom McCarthy, and they flourished. Ciccarelli had 18 goals in 32 games with the North Stars in 1980-81 and put up his career-best 55 goals and 106 points the following season as a 22-year-old.

"One of the things I give myself credit for is I didn't put him on the fourth line and Dino thanked me for that," Sonmor said. "I put him with Broten and Tommy McCarthy and they were a great line. They had everything there. Broten was just a tremendous puck hound and controlled the play. Tommy McCarthy was a great playmaker, too. He provided the key pass so well and so often. But Dino was the goal scorer."

He always was. And now, at 50 years old, he's being recognized for it.

How proud Vic would have been to be there.

"I was a kid that loved this game and wanted just an opportunity to play," Ciccarelli said. "I got real close at 17 years old and things were looking great. I had a setback, got a second opportunity and now I'm fortunate that I played this game for 19 years and had success at it. The only thing I didn't do was win the Cup, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. I was very satisfied with my career and getting the call from the Hall makes me feel just a little more accomplished, a last piece of the pie kind of thing."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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