TORONTO — While growing up in Sweden, Peter Forsberg never dreamt of going into what he called the “NHL Hall of Fame.”
That was a slip of the tongue, and after announcing a six-man class of 2014 that includes Forsberg, Canadian defenceman Rob Blake, American centre Mike Modano, Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek, late coach Pat Burns and referee Bill McCreary, selection committee chairman John Davidson expressed pride in the diversity of this group.
“We make it very clear that this is the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s a world renowned hall of fame,” Davidson said Monday. “When we have a class like this coming into the Hall, I think that says a lot about our game and how worldwide it really is.”
In total, this group includes six Stanley Cups for five different NHL franchises and three Olympic gold medals for three different countries. McCreary said he’d need an hour to be able to reflect on his memories of the five men who will go into the Hall of Fame with him.
Hasek will be the first Czech player inducted when this class is honoured Nov. 17 in Toronto, McCreary will be the first official to go in since Ray Scapinello in 2008, and Modano will enter as the highest-scoring U.S. born player in history.
Burns will be posthumously inducted as a builder four years after his death at the age of 58. The only coach to win the Jack Adams Award three times, he did so once each with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins and then captured the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils.
The Montreal native’s induction was considered long overdue by many in the hockey community.
“I know that Pat would’ve been so happy, so grateful, so proud to accept this honour,” said his wife, Line. “It’s a very emotional day for the Burns family, I can tell you that.”
Blake was the only one of the four players who had to wait beyond his first year of eligibility to make the Hall of Fame. The longtime defenceman said he approached this day much as he did a year ago when it was his initial chance, only this time his phone rang.
“Very rewarding when you answer that phone call,” Blake said.
“Kind of speechless when it happens and then you start recalling all the things that helped you get to where you are.”
Blake, a native of Simcoe, Ont., won gold for Team Canada at the 1994 and 1997 world hockey championships and then at the 2002 Olympics. In 2001, he won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, the premier team achievement of a career that included 777 points in 1,270 games.
Forsberg was Blake’s teammate on that 2001 Avalanche team and also helped Colorado hoist the Cup in 1996. He also won gold at the Olympics and the world championship for Sweden, and he had 885 points in 707 NHL games. He won the 2003 Hart and Art Ross awards as league’s MVP and top scorer, respectively, as well as the 1995 Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
His career was cut short by injuries, but his Hall of Fame case seemed clear well before that.
“I had a couple tough years in the last part of my career, but thinking back in the first 10 years of my career over there in the NHL and getting awarded like this, it’s an unbelievable day,” Forsberg said.
Hasek, a six-time Vezina and two-time Hart Trophy winner with the Buffalo Sabres and two-time Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings, said earlier this year he never considered the Hall of Fame as a goal. On the day his shoe-in candidacy became official, “The Dominator” was reflective.
“What a fantastic time I spent over there,” said Hasek, who had seven straight seasons with a save percentage of .930 or higher. “I’m very thankful to say that I played hockey for such a long time (with) such great players.”
Modano was one great player who prevented Hasek from winning a Cup with Buffalo, beating him with the Dallas Stars in 1999. He owns the record for points scored by an American-born player with 1,374.
The Livonia, Mich., native almost went to play for Burns with the QMJHL’s Hull Olympiques as a teenager in 1986 but ultimately chose the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders. He complimented the team and his first coach there, Rick Wilson, for helping spark his long NHL career.
“I wanted to play the game, I thought Canada was the best place to go as far as competition and the type of travel and commitment the WHL had at the time,” Modano said. “The passion and the excitement that the Canadians had for the game of hockey I would’ve never been exposed to in Detroit as much as I was in Prince Albert.”
McCreary, a native of Guelph, Ont., is the 16th on-ice official to go into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He worked 1,700 regular-season and 282 playoff games, but his best story about a fellow inductee came from the first Olympics that involved NHL players
That was in 1998 in Nagano, when he was on the ice for Canada’s semifinal game against Hasek and the Czech Republic that went to a shootout. After a coin flip to determine who would shoot first, linesmen Janne Rautavuori and Kevin Collins went to the coaches to get the lineups while McCreary skated down the ice to where Hasek was.
“He came out of his crease and said to me, ’Is Gretzky shooting?’ Of course I didn’t know because I had not witnessed the list,” McCreary recalled.
“I found that unique that that was the only question he had to ask. … Of course everyone from Canada knows the result of that question.”