BERNE – Always remember to celebrate the people who made international hockey the success it is today. That's the sentiment behind the IIHF Hall of Fame, which welcomed five new members on Tuesday evening at PostFinance Arena.
The new inductees included three players, Rudi Hiti (Slovenia), Alexei Kasatonov (Russia), and Jan Suchy (Czech Republic). Inducted as a builder was USA Hockey's Walter Bush Jr., and Laszlo Schell (Hungary) was added as a referee.
It's always a tough job to pick inductees, with hockey played in 65 IIHF member nations worldwide, but this year's selections are a credit to the sport we love. All proudly sported their country's national jersey as they were inducted.
Szymon Szemberg, secretary of the IIHF Hall of Fame selection committee, announced that the plaques for the inductees would be mounted in the international wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada. Phil Pritchard, vice-president of hockey operations and curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame, served as the master of ceremonies.
“It's another great day for hockey, as our friend [former American coach] Bob Johnson always said,” said IIHF President René Fasel, who paid special tribute to his longtime friend and colleague, Walter Bush Jr. He also confessed to being a “big fan” of Kasatonov with the USSR team, and described Suchy as “his hero” with the Czechoslovakian national team.
When you talk about Slovenian hockey, you can't leave the name of Rudi Hiti unmentioned. With 17 IIHF World Championships and two Olympics (1968, 1972) to his credit, he got an invitation to the training camp of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1970 at a time when Europeans, even from the bigger hockey nations, were virtually unknown in the NHL. A three-time champion with Italian clubs, Hiti also played for Yugoslavian clubs, and coached the Slovenian national team for nine years.
“It's a great honour for me and my country,” Hiti stated simply.
The “Green Unit” of the Soviet national team that dominated IIHF competition in the 1980's featured five members, and Alexei Kasatonov made a valuable (if often underrated) contribution as the blueline partner of Slava Fetisov. Winning five World Championships, two Olympic golds, and the 1981 Canada Cup, the Leningrad-born blueliner brought great on-ice vision and defensive awareness. He also played seven NHL seasons, and managed Russia to silver at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
“I would like to thank all those who taught me from the beginning, including coaches like Anatoli Tarasov and Viktor Tikhonov,” said Kasatonov. “It's a great day for me and my family. I am very pleased to see [Russian Hockey Federation president] Vladislav Tretiak here today as well.” He also thanked Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov, the other members of the “Green Unit.”
Some dubbed Jan Suchy the “Bobby Orr of Europe” in the late 1960's and early 1970's. With his great offensive game for Czechoslovakia, he was twice named Best Defenseman at the IIHF World Championship (1969, 1971).
Walter Bush Jr., an IIHF Council Member from 1986 to 2008, spent 50 years working with USA Hockey, including almost 20 years as the organization's president. Among many other accomplishments, he was a proponent for women's hockey at the Olympics, helped bring the NHL to the state of Minnesota, and was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“This has been a long road for me,” said Bush, who nostalgically recalled being the GM of the US team that played in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1959. “I just think of how far the IIHF has come over the years. If you surround yourself with really good people and stay around long enough, you end up getting some of these awards.”
Hungary's Laszlo Schell worked as an IIHF linesman from 1977 to 1982, working top-division games in Prague 1978, Moscow 1979, and Helsinki 1982. He also officiated 1,500-plus games in Hungary between 1967 and 1990.
Schell offered special thanks to the Hungarian federation as well as the IIHF for his induction.
Also honoured was Harald Griebel of InFront Sports, who received the Paul Loicq Award for outstanding contributions to the IIHF and international hockey. The native of Kiel, Germany participated in marketing and developing every IIHF World Championship from 1981 to 2008. Griebel retired at age 68 following last year's IIHF World Championship in Quebec City.
“Even if I never played the sport, I'm very glad that I was part of this ice hockey family,” said Griebel.
LUCAS AYKROYD (with files from IIHF.com staff)