When IIHF President René Fasel announced the 2013 inductees into the IIHF Hall of Fame on November 23, he stated: “Classes of international hockey greats can probably not come any better than this.” That raises an interesting question: which year has featured the best group ever?
The answer, of course, depends on your definition of “best”. There have been plenty of worthy candidates for that title since the IIHF Hall of Fame was inaugurated in 1997.
That year, a whopping 30 inductees were honoured to kickstart membership, including such notables as Harry Sinden, Vaclav Nedomansky, Anatoli Tarasov, and Vladislav Tretiak. If you favour sheer volume, it’s safe to say that 1997 won’t ever be surpassed.
(Nowadays, the annual ceremony in the host city for the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship final in May features five or six inductees representing the categories of Player, Builder, and Referee, plus the Paul Loicq Award for lifetime achievement in the service of international hockey.)
What if you’re thinking along nationalistic lines?
Russian fans might well point to 1998, when legendary forwards Valeri Kharlamov (also named to the IIHF’s Centennial All-Star Team in 2008) and Anatoli Firsov were inducted, along with ultra-tough defenceman Valeri Vasiliev and the winningest coach in IIHF history, Viktor Tikhonov.
For Americans, it’s hard to beat 1999, when three key members of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team that defeated the Soviet Union and claimed Olympic gold in Lake Placid made the cut: head coach Herb Brooks, goalie Jim Craig, and forward Mark Johnson.
If you’re thinking in terms of massive contributions to Czech hockey, then 2004 would be the way to go. Inductees included Mike Buckna (the Canadian coach from Trail, BC whose tactical emphasis on finesse and passing would hugely impact the Czech style), Frantisek Tikal (sometimes dubbed Europe’s best defenceman in the 1960s), and the late Miroslav Subrt (the longest-serving high-ranking official in ice hockey from 1953 to 2003, named IIHF Life President after his 2003 retirement).
And in 2013, surely the inclusion of Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin is difficult to top for Swedish fans. Those two powerful centres played huge roles in almost every big IIHF tournament Tre Kronor won in the 1990s and 2000s, from Forsberg’s shootout winner against Canada in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics to Sundin’s captaincy at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Those who long yearned to see the achievements of women’s hockey stars recognized will have a soft spot in their hearts for the class of 2008. That year, Canada’s Angela James and Geraldine Heaney were inducted, along with the greatest American female player of all time, Cammi Granato.
2008 also saw Mario Lemieux and Igor Larionov enter the IIHF Hall of Fame. Has there ever been a better pair of playmakers inducted?
Some would contend that for pure talent combined with hard work and leadership, only 2000 boasted better forwards. That year, Wayne Gretzky got in, along with Slovakia’s Peter Stastny. Add wingers Jari Kurri, Gretzky’s right-hand man with the Edmonton Oilers and arguably the top Finnish player ever, and Boris Mikhailov, captain of the dominant 1970s Soviet national team, and you can see why 2000 is special.
There are dozens of other names we could cite. Although arguing about which year was the best in IIHF Hall of Fame history is entertaining, there’s no argument that every year spotlights some remarkable contributors to the game we love.
The next Hall of Fame class will be inducted on the day of the gold medal game (May 19, 2013) at the 77th IIHF World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden.