Five greats inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame
On a night where “thank you” was repeated a thousand times, Chris Chelios wrote a heavy note of apology into his speech.
Near the end of a gracious acceptance as the first of five inductees to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night, the hard-hitting, plainspoken defenceman said his one regret was being part of two of the three NHL lockouts.
“Nobody won,” said Chelios, who would have been even closer to Gordie Howe in the longevity department had 2004-05 not been scrubbed. “Players, fans, everybody suffered. The worst thing was what happened with the relationships with my teammates and players throughout the league (who showed cracks in unity as the disputes dragged on).
“It’s politics, it’s business, I understand that, but I apologize.”
Chelios did recognize deposed union head Bob Goodenow’s administration and the old guard of the NHLPA, including pioneers Ted Lindsay and Carl Brewer, who “sacrificed a lot to make it good for us.”
Ignored in his remarks was commissioner Gary Bettman, of whom Chelios was very critical during times the game was idled.
Chelios had the most notable celebrity entourage at the ceremony, including John Cusack, Kid Rock, John McEnroe and Cuba Gooding Jr.
All week long, Brendan Shanahan took shots about having more than 2,000 penalty minutes — and being put in charge of NHL discipline. In that vein, he used his memories of growing up in a rough-and-tumble Irish-Canadian family and his eventful hockey saga to include a plea to today’s players.
“We are so lucky,” he said. “We are a unique brotherhood and no one knows what’s it’s like to be an NHL player except us. Like the (three) older brothers I grew up with, you’re going to have your fights and disagreements. We need to take care of each other and protect one another.”
Shanahan paid tribute to his mother, Rosaleen, who got her driver’s license after his fireman father died of Alzheimer’s, and drove from Toronto to London on weekends to watch him play junior with the Knights.
GIVING GRETZ ADVICE
Wayne Gretzky told TSN he went to the Hall incognito recently, wearing a big hat and accompanied by his 13-year-old son Tristan. When he went 0-for-4 against the interactive goalie, a young man in line politely suggested the NHL’s greatest scorer hold his stick a little higher.
“When I lifted my cap, the guy went, ‘Oh my God’, ” said Gretzky, though his son did outscore him.
When Serge Savard became general manager of the Canadiens in 1983, the fired hockey execs with the team such as Ron Caron gave him some advice on Chelios: Get the club’s 1981 U.S. college draft pick under contract ASAP.
“I went to the ’84 Olympics and signed him right away,” Savard recalled. “He brought us quite a contribution right away.
“You could look around the league and say, ‘This guy didn’t show up every night, this guy’s in a slump’. Chris always showed up. If he played a bad game, it wasn’t because he didn’t try.”
Chelios became as well known as Savard and some other great Habs defencemen, though was not the most loved.
“He played one way and he didn’t care if it was Gretzky in front of him,” Savard said.
THE BETTER HALF?
Sore-footed Geraldine Heaney said she was ready to trade her high heels for a pair of skates by the time she came at the podium as the third female elected to the Hall. But she said the real pain in her family is borne daily by her husband John, who must endure teasing by workmates “because your wife has a harder shot than you.”
She also paid tribute to her large Irish immigrant family, her late sister, and especially her parents who urged “never let anyone say you can’t play.”
Ray Shero was brimming with more stories about his late, eccentric father, the innovative Freddie (The Fog) Shero. One of his favourites was his bookworm dad’s claim in the 1950s to be the first Ranger to hold a New York Public Library card.
Shero coached the last all-Canadian Cup team in 1975 and the close-knit Broad St. Bullies, who almost all still live together in the Philly area almost 40 years later, were present on Monday.
Fellow American Brian Leetch on Chelios: “Canada had Mark Messier. Chris was our Messier.” ... After Europeans were shut out this year, Dominik Hasek is a favourite for induction in 2014 ... Gretzky said Bobby Clarke’s development under Shero likely led to No. 99 making the NHL. “He was the first small centre to play the corner and behind the net. My whole career was patterned after Bobby.” ... IIHF president Rene Fasel paid tribute to multi-champion Scott Niedermayer as probably “the most successful hockey player of all time.” ... When Heaney was the only inductee to flip a puck in the air and catch it during a photo op, Niedermayer chopped it off her stick. “See, he’s not that nice,” Shanahan said of the mild-mannered Niedermayer ... Watching at home Monday night was Maria Quinto, manager of the Toronto Aeros for 18 years when Heaney played there. “She was not only a great defenceman, who is going in the Hall with two other great defencemen — you could put her at any position.” ... Some of hockey’s lesser known personalities enjoyed walking the Hollywood-style red carpet and kibitzing with the media. Asked the standard Oscar question — “What are you wearing?” — Leafs radio colour man Jim Ralph quipped, “Same thing I had on yesterday.”