TORONTO — Chris Pronger going into the Hockey Hall of Fame someday was a no-brainer. Going in this year is unprecedented.
Pronger is part of the 2015 class announced Monday, along with Detroit Red Wings stars Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov, American defencemen Phil Housley and Angela Ruggiero and builders Peter Karmanos Jr. and Bill Hay.
But Pronger is still under contract as an NHL player, and his inclusion is the result of a bylaw change that allowed him to be eligible. He last played a game more than three full seasons ago because of post-concussion syndrome, so he knew this day was coming.
“Nothing I’ve done has been the easy way, so I guess this would follow suit,” Pronger said on a conference call.
Pronger won the Hart Trophy as MVP and Norris Trophy as top defenceman and capture the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks. He also led the 2006 Edmonton Oilers and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers to the final.
Along the way, he built a reputation as one of the most fearsome defencemen in hockey history.
“Chris was trying to get at me every game he played against me,” Fedorov said. “Hard, hard battles. You’ve got to prepare for it every game. Chris was playing 30, 35 minutes maybe a game and he was in game shape.”
The mild-mannered Dryden, Ont., native thanked his Finnish mother for his on-ice persona.
“I have a very short temper,” Pronger said. “It wouldn’t take much to set me off.”
Pronger, who works in the league’s department of player safety, was traded from the Flyers to the Arizona Coyotes over the weekend. He brushed off any awkwardness about going into the Hall of Fame with two years left on his contract.
Lidstrom’s inclusion in his first year of eligibility was a slam dunk with way less drama than Pronger’s. The Swedish defenceman won seven Norris Trophies and has his name on the Cup four times.
Fedorov also made it in his first chance after putting up 483 goals and 969 assists in 1,248 career games. He was part of three Cup teams in Detroit.
“It was a treat to play with Sergei,” Lidstrom said. “Sergei was such a dynamic player, being able to skate at that speed but stickhandle at the same time and have an excellent vision, too, so he was a very smart player.”
Housley had to wait a while since his final game in the 2003 playoffs with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has the most points of any American defenceman with 1,232 (338 goals, 894 assists).
“I’ve been patiently waiting and there’s been so many great players before me that have been inducted, but to finally get that call it’s still surreal, it’s a shock,” Housley said. “It’s a lot of emotions that I can’t describe.”
Ruggiero played in four Olympics as a defenceman for the U.S. team, which won gold in Nagano in 1998. The California native will be the fourth woman to go into the Hall of Fame as a player.
“I showed up to career day in the second grade with my hockey gear on — I knew I wanted to play hockey, just didn’t know where it would take me,” Ruggiero said. “I was lucky that I was able to pursue something that there wasn’t really a clear path for me.”
Hay, who served as president and CEO of Hockey Canada and the Calgary Flames, called being elected to the Hall of Fame “the greatest award that anybody in the game of hockey worldwide could accomplish.”
Karmanos earned induction because of his longtime NHL ownership of the Hartford Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes and his founding of the Detroit Compuware Hockey Organization, which produced the likes of Pat LaFontaine, Al Iafrate, Mike Modano and Eric Lindros.
“My interest is more in youth hockey than it was before I owned an NHL team,” Karmanos said. “The great thing about being involved in youth hockey is when they grow up to be outstanding citizens and people.”
Pronger went a long way from being the No. 2 pick in the 1992 draft to the Whalers, when Alexandre Daigle said, “I’m glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers No. 2.”