The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto held its annual induction ceremony last night, and the lineup heading into the Hall was stacked with legends.
Niklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov, two of the all-time greats, led the 2015 class. They were joined by Sabres great Phil Housely, Chris Pronger, and U.S. Women’s National Team star Angela Ruggiero. Bill Hay (the first NCAA graduate to be a regular NHL player) and Peter Karmanos Jr. (an executive) were inducted in the Builder category.
“[Lidstrom and Fedorov,] those guys were in the first wave,” Dallas Stars president Jim Lites told the Associated Press. “Twenty-five years ago, Europeans were extras in the league. Those guys were once-in-a-generation superstars. And the NHL hasn’t been the same since, because every team has players from all over the world.”
Lidstrom and Fedorov were both drafted by the Red Wings in 1989. Lidstrom was a third-rounder, Federov went in the fourth.
Lidstrom played his entire career in Detroit, winning four Stanley Cups. With the last one, in 2008, he became the first European NHL captain to win an NHL title. He also led Sweden to a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Fedorov played 13 seasons in Detroit, two in Anaheim, three in Columbus, and two in Washington. He finished his career in Russia with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He won three Cups with the Red Wings, as well silver and bronze medals playing for the Russian national team in the Olympics.
“I had a lot of learning to do both on and off the ice,” Lidstrom said at the induction ceremony. “I had to learn to be a pro, learn to lead, learn what it takes to win and I learned it from Steve Yzerman. His dedication was at a level I had never seen before. The lessons I learned from Steve were some of the biggest reasons why I was so successful.”
Pronger was one of the league’s most fearsome defenders in his 18-year career with the Hartford Whalers, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, and Philadelphia Flyers. He was also one of the game’s most disciplined players. He was hit with fines and suspensions eight times for overly physical play.
But he was on the receiving end of a lot of big hits, too. His career ended after he he was hit in the eye with a stick in 2011. The post-concussion syndromes he suffered after the injury forced him to hang up the skates. Today, he works in the league’s front office in the department of player safety.
"I remember when we decided to bring him aboard and he wanted to be a part of it, there was some commentary about, how could you take a player as skilled and terrific as he was, who had been disciplined eight times, and put him in player safety?" Commissioner Gary Bettman told the AP. "That's exactly what we wanted from him because he knows the game, he understands the game, he's committed to the game, and I think he's thriving on the opportunity he's had to be a part of the game again."
The newly-minted Hall-of-Famers knew they didn’t develop as players and executives alone. They had a lot of help getting to Toronto, and they used their speeches to thank former teammates and coaches.
“Not only the greatest hockey coach, but he’s a great human being,” Fedorov said about legendary bench boss Scotty Bowman. “He showed me a lot, taught me a lot, he made me understand and realize what life is all about, on the ice and off the ice.”
Lidstrom and Housley also played for Bowman and tipped their helmets to him. Pronger celebrated his high school and OHL teams. Fedorov praised former coach and current General Manager of the Ottawa Senators Bryan Murray, who is battling cancer.
But Housely used his speech to get kids to think beyond the ice.
“If there’s one message I’d like to deliver, it’s why are kids focusing on one sport?” Housely asked. “I remember playing football, hockey, and baseball when I was a kids and looked forward to the change of sports and seasons. I got the chance to meet new friends and just enjoy being a kid."
“There’s always time for the sport you love.”
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images (inductees), Paul Warner/AP (Fedorov and Lidstrom), Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images (Pronger)