TORONTO – The Hockey Hall of Fame added four new players to its pantheon of greats at its annual induction ceremony in Toronto last night, honouring Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Pavel Bure, and Adam Oates.
The celebrations were muted by a lack of hockey in the city and across the continent as the lockout drags on, but for one night fans of the game got to enjoy the achievements of four of the game’s greats. Three of the four not only had spectacular NHL careers but also starred for their national team in IIHF events over the last two decades.
Sakic was one of the longest-serving captains in NHL history and played his entire career with the Quebec/Colorado franchise. He won the Stanley Cup twice, had 100 points in a season six times, and twice reached 50 goals in a year. He played in 13 NHL All-Star Games, and by the time he retired in the summer of 2009 his place in the game’s history had long been established.
His career totals of 625 goals, 1,016 assists, and 1,641 total points in the regular season rank among the greats, and throughout his career he was known as one of the game’s great gentlemen.
“When I was a kid, I dreamed of playing one game in the NHL,” Sakic said. “You can never dream about an honour like this.”
Internationally, he is a member of the Triple Gold Club, having won Olympic gold with Canada in 2002 and gold at the 1994 World Championship. He also won gold at the 1988 U20 tournament and helped Canada win the championship at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Sundin had an extraordinary career in the NHL and for Tre Kronor and given his place in the city’s hockey history his reception was the most enthusiastic of the evening. He was the first European to be selected first overall at the NHL Entry Draft, by Quebec in 1989, but he made his name with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom he served as captain for eleven of his 13 seasons with the team.
His 564 career goals, 785 assists, and 1,349 points in 1,346 games is testament to his incredible consistency. He was as big as he was graceful on the ice and possessed arguably the finest backhand shot in the modern era.
Although he never won a Stanley Cup in the NHL, Sundin was a frequent winner and even greater leader when he donned his national team sweater. He captained Tre Kronor to Olympic gold in 2006 and won seven medals at the World Championship, including three gold medals.
But nothing matches his performance in the decisive game of the 1991 Worlds, against the Soviet Union, when his third-period, end-to-end rush gave Sweden a goal to win gold. It was one of the most spectacular international goals ever captured on film.
Pavel Bure was nicknamed the “Russian Rocket” in tribute to both his heritage and his blazing speed which was like Maurice “Rocket” Richard for Montreal in the 1950s. He started his NHL career in 1991 with Vancouver and promptly won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
He played seven seasons with the Canucks before being traded to Florida, and while with the Panthers he won, appropriately, the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer twice, in 1999-200 and again the next year, with 58 and 59 goals, respectively.
Bure didn’t just score goals – he scored with flair and panache. Dazzling moves, tricky and risky plays as he tore in on goal, all made his goals more dramatic and thrilling. “I loved to score,” he said, “but I was trying to do something creative, to beat goalies with different moves.”
His career came to a premature end in 2003 after several knee injuries took away his blazing speed, but he, too, had an outstanding career in IIHF events. Bure won silver and bronze at the Olympics, in 1998 and 2002, and a gold and bronze medal at the World Championship. He also played at three U20 events, winning a gold and two silver, at a time when the world was just starting to appreciate his talent.
Although Adam Oates never played for Canada, the Toronto native had a remarkable NHL career in which he established himself as one of the best passers of the modern era. Over the course of his 19 NHL seasons he accrued 1,079 helpers, fifth highest in league history when he retired in 2004. He is the only player to play centre for three 50-goal scorers, namely Brett Hull (St. Louis), Can Neely (Boston), and Peter Bondra (Washington).
Although he never won the Stanley Cup, he went to the finals twice, first with the Washington Capitals in 1998 and then with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2003.
Perhaps most remarkable, Oates was never drafted and made his way to the NHL through dedication and perseverance. Incredibly, he received his phone call from the HHOF Selection Committee only 15 minutes after being named the new head coach of the Washington Capitals. “You can imagine what a day that was for me,” he said rhetorically.
All four inductees were given video introductions by people closely associated with them. Sundin was introduced by NHL nemesis (think Toronto versus Ottawa) and Tre Kronor friend and teammate Daniel Alfredsson; Bure was introduced by then-coach of Vancouver, Pat Quinn; Sakic was introduced by Nordiques goalie Patrick Roy; and, Oates was introduced by the man who scored so many goals from Oates’s passes, Brett Hull.
The gala ceremony was attended by many inductees from the last years, notably Borje Salming, Peter Stastny, Johnny Bower, Igor Larionov, Glenn Anderson, Ron Francis, Joe Nieuwendyk, and Doug Gilmour.