COLOGNE – While all days are good for hockey, not all days are the same. Some are better than others. The final Sunday of the 2010 IIHF World Championship is one of the better days, getting its start with the IIHF Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The class of 2010 - Vladimir Krutov, Dieter Hegen, Arturs Irbe, and Riikka Nieminen in the players category, Rickard Fagerlund in the builders - as well as the 2010 Paul Loicq Award winner, Lou Vairo, had come together in Cologne, to receive their well deserved accolades. Nieminen is the first European woman to be inducted.
Between the six of them, they were involved with most of the hockey highlights in the past 30 years. Krutov was one of the Soviet stars in the 1980s, Hegen a five-time Olympian for Germany, playing way into the 2000s.
“I'm very happy that I'm not forgotten at the international level. And I would like not to be forgotten in Russia as well,” said Krutov, famous as the K in the Soviet KLM line, with Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov.
“We were hard workers. Speaking frankly, we were the same human beings as everybody else, but we were fond of hockey and we gave our best for the game. It was a great pleasure for us to play hockey,” Krutov said.
Arturs Irbe was elected Best Goalie at the 1990 World Championship with Soviet Union and in 1996 he was an integral part of the Latvian team that was promoted to the World Championship top division, playing another eight top division tournaments.
“I’m used to just talking with my teammates, talking back to back to coaches, or now, talking to the goalies I coach,” says Irbe, now the Washington Capitals goaltending coach.
“I was four years old when my uncle took me to my first game in Riga. I didn’t understand much but I realized it was something I wanted to do. At ten, I didn’t even know there was the NHL, at 19 I became the goalie of Dinamo Riga, and even got to play for my country. I couldn’t even imagine that when I was a kid, and all of it happened,” he said in his speech.
Finland’s Riikka Nieminen-Välilä represented Finland in 118 national team games scoring amazing 109 goals, 95 assists and 204 points with only 24 minutes in penalties. Nieminen won the scoring title in the first Olympic ice hockey tournament with women’s participation in Nagano, Japan when Team Finland won bronze. She also won four World Championship bronze medals between 1990 and 1997, and three European championship titles between 1989 and 1995.
Nieminen also played bandy, rink bandy, and Finland’s national sport, pesäpallo, a baseball-like sport, winning over 20 different Finnish championship medals in different sports. She was elected Finnish pesäpallo player of the year three times.
“I started playing hockey when I was seven or eight, and played with boys until I was 12. Jyväskylä, my hometown, didn’t have a women’s team then, so I switched to bandy,” said Riikka.
“In the winters, I’d sometimes have games with my bandy, rinkbandy, and hockey team at the same time, so I would have to choose which of the teams had the most important game, “she said, smiling.
Rickard Fagerlund, who passed away New Year’s Eve, was inducted into the builders category. He served as president of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association for 19 years, from 1983 till 2002. He was represented by his daughter Helena Fagerlund-Keef.
“I’m glad he found out about this before he passed away. He was really glad to be inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame. I think he was so respected because he was so good at arguing – and laughing,” she said.
Lou Vairo, a USA Hockey veteran, the Team USA head coach in several World and World Junior Championships, and the 2010 recipient of the Paul Loicq award, reminded everybody how the hockey world has to pull together.
“I came to Germany in 1965 as a young soldier and fell in love with the country. I saw the beautiful country and the wonderful people and realized that the world should work together. Other countries have helped U.S. hockey, and we want to help others,” he said.
Vairo said that in every U.S. player on the ice, they carry a bit of the other hockey nations expertise, as they have helped U.S. in the past.
“Legendary Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov invited me to the Soviet Union many times and we learned a lot. We want to thank all our friends for the help,” he said.
When Arturs Irbe met Phil Pritchard, the Hockey Hall of Fame curator, and the master of ceremonies at the IIHF Induction event, he reached out his hand and said, “I thought maybe I’d have to come and introduce myself, that nobody would recognize me.”
He did. And the hockey world won’t forget.
Click here for the biographies of the 2010 inductees.