Wick, Big Ned inducted into HHOF
by Andrew Podnieks|19 NOV 2019
Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees Jerry York, Vaclav Nedomansky, Jim Rutherford, Hayley Wickenheiser, Guy Carbonneau and Sergei Zubov.
photo: Matthew Manor / Hockey Hall of Fame
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The annual Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies took place in Toronto last night as six new members took their place alongside the legends of the game. These include Players Hayley Wickenheiser, Vaclav Nedomansky, Sergei Zubov, and Guy Carbonneau, as well as Builders Jim Rutherford and Jerry York.

Wickenheiser’s numbers show that she is the all-time leader in scoring at both the Olympics (51 points in 26 games) and Women’s Worlds (86 points in 61 games), and that she has won more medals than any other woman (13—7 gold, 6 silver). The numbers show she won a record four Olympic gold medals and was twice named MVP (in 2002 and 2006) and that no female ice hockey player has appeared at more Winter Olympics than her five. (In between, she also appeared in one Summer Olympics, in softball in Sydney 2000.)

In total, she holds or is tied for eight Olympics records and four Women’s Worlds records, records achieved during a remarkable 22-year IIHF career.

Off ice, her moral and ethical character were so respected that she was asked to recite the athletes’ Olympic oath in 2010, and in 2014 she was Canada’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony. That same year, she was named to the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission, the most important function an athlete can perform in sport away from the field of play.

In the summer of 2018, Wickenheiser made NHL history when the Toronto Maple Leafs hired her as their assistant director of player development.

“It was not a common thing for a little girl to play hockey in my small town, but my mom and dad believed that a girl could do anything a boy could do, and they said yes when I asked if I could play hockey,” Wickenheiser, an IIHF Hall of Fame inductee last season, said during her speech. “My dad coached me and my mom fought, for me and for other girls to play in Saskatchewan. And for that I thank them both.”

Nedomansky was no ordinary hockey-loving boy. Born in Hodonin close to the Slovak border in 1944, he developed into one of the best hockey players in Czechoslovakia and one of the best in the world outside the NHL. 

He started his pro career with Slovan Bratislava in 1963, and over the course of the next eleven seasons he averaged nearly a goal a game. He had a greater contribution, though, to the national team. Between 1965 and 1974 he appeared in every international tournament for his country, including two Olympics and nine World Championships.

The ’72 World Championship was one for the ages. Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union tied midway through the tournament and later the Czechoslovaks won, 3-2. These results proved the margin of victory, giving Nedomansky and his teammates an emotional, and politically-charged, gold medal.

Perhaps his greatest performance, however, came at the 1974 Worlds. He led Czechoslovakia to a massive 7-2 win over the Soviets, CCCP’s worst loss ever, and “Ned” was named the tournament’s Best Forward by the IIHF’s Directorate. 

That July, Nedomansky defected to Toronto and started a career first in the WHA and later in the NHL. He had consecutive seasons of 38 and 35 goals with Detroit in the late 1970s, and in 421 games he had 122 goals and 278 points, playing into his late thirties and long past his prime. We can only imagine what he might have accomplished had he played in the NHL a decade or more earlier.

“Between 1962 and 1974 I had the chance to come to Canada and play in a lot of small cities, and it gave me a very good sense of what Canadian hockey was like,” he related. “I wanted to come there and play, and I thought I could do it the official way, so Cliff Fletcher and David Poile came over to Czechoslovakia to negotiate, but that’s when the trouble started. The government was not happy, and that’s when I decided to make my own decision and leave. It was difficult and complicated and stressful, but I was happy when it happened.”

Midway through the ceremonies, outgoing IIHF President RenĂ© Fasel was called to the podium representing international hockey. “Ladies and gentlemen, madames et messieurs, I stand here as IIHF President for the last time. For 25 years I have had the honour of coming to Toronto for the Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies, and during that time the IIHF and the Hall have had a special relationship. I want to thank especially Pat Quinn, whose leadership at the Hall only added to his legend, and to Walter Bush, my mentor, who pushed me to build a greater connection between the IIHF and the Hall.”

Sergei Zubov was the highest-scoring Russian defenceman in NHL history (771 points) when he retired and one of the few Russians to reach 1,000 games (1,068) during his 16-year career, 12 of which came with the Dallas Stars. He is also among a small group of players to win the Stanley Cup with two teams, in his case the 1994 New York Rangers and the 1999 Dallas Stars. Internationally, he won gold at the 1992 Olympics with the Unified Team, as well as an earlier gold with the Soviet Union U20 team in 1989 and a silver a year later.

“In 1996, I was traded to Dallas, and I did not want to go!” Zubov related with a smile. “But Bob Gainey sent my wife Irina a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and she told me maybe we should give it a try. So I did, because I have learned over the years that when I listen to my best friend, good things happen.”

A teammate of Zubov’s was Carbonneau, who also won the Stanley Cup with two teams. He developed under Bob Gainey when they were teammates in Montreal, and like Gainey, Carbonneau became the premier defensive forward in the NHL, winning the Selke Trophy three times. He won the Cup with Montreal in 1986 and 1993, and Dallas in 1999. Over 19 years he played more than 1,300 regular-season games and missed the playoffs only once.

“In 1982, my dream came true, and it lasted for the next 12 years as I had the chance to play for the Montreal Canadiens,” he related. “I had the chance of playing against many great players, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Peter Stastny, and they reminded me success isn’t measured by one night but over many years. I also had the chance to play with many great players, who taught me what leadership is all about.”

Jim Rutherford is part of a small group of general managers who has won the Stanley Cup with two teams. In his case, he built the Carolina Hurricanes that won in 2006, and in 2014 he moved on to Pittsburgh where he led the Penguins to consecutive Cup victories in 2016 and 2017.

“I first put on a pair of skates when I was five years old in Beaton, just 60 miles from here, but I never could have imagined I’d wind up being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Rutherford began. “My time in Pittsburgh has been the highlight of my career. The owners of the Penguins, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, have given us everything we need to be successful. Their input has been invaluable to me.”

Jerry York has been coaching NCAA Division I hockey since 1972, and in those 48 years he has won a record 1,067 games…and counting. His time behind the bench started with Clarkson (7 seasons) and continued with Bowling Green (15 years) before he joined Boston College in 1994. He has been with BC ever since. He has won the national championship five times, second-most all time.

“I might have been a teacher or lawyer, but I got a call from Harry Sinden after I graduated from BC,” York explained. “I had a pretty good career there and Harry said he had an opening at Oklahoma City. He invited me to training camp in September and said he’d love to have me try out for the team. I thought, this is my chance. But after four days I realized I was nowhere near that level of play. So I knew I wasn’t going to be in the NHL and decided I should go into coaching.”