Europe takes HHOF by storm
by Andrew Podnieks|15 NOV 2022
Inductees Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Sedin, Bernice Carnegie, daughter of the late Herb Carnegie, Roberto Luongo and Daniel Sedin.
photo: Matthew Manor / Hockey Hall of Fame
The Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto hosted its most European induction ever last night at the Meridian Hall. Inducted as Players were three Swedes – Daniel Alfredsson, and Daniel and Henrik Sedin – and for the first time in HHOF history a European woman, the legendary Riikka Sallinen (Nieminen/Valila), who was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame back in 2010. Other inductees included Roberto Luongo as a Player and Herb Carnegie as a Builder.

The inclusion of the 49-year-old Sallinen was monumental for the women’s game and final acknowledgement that it’s not only Canada and the United States that produces world-class talent on the female side of the sport. She was a key member of Finland’s team at the first Women’s Worlds in 1990 playing under her maiden name of Riikka Nieminen. Throughout the 1990s Finland was the third-best team in women’s hockey, winning the bronze medal in all five events, notably the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. 

Nieminen racked up 30 goals and 53 points in 26 games in that decade, but soon after a 4th-place finish in Salt Lake in 2002 she retired. Her induction into the IIHF Hall of Fame started to rekindle her interest in the game, and four years later she returned to the ice, playing under her married name Riikka Valila. Thus began the second phase of her playing career, 2014-19, during which time she won three more bronze medals (two more Women’s Worlds and another Olympic bronze). Her career highlight, however, came in her final year when the now 45-year-old helped Finland eliminate Canada and advance to the gold-medal game of the Women’s Worlds for the first time, on home ice no less. 

“It meant a lot for Finland and other European countries to see it is possible,” Sallinen told Rachel Brady of the Globe & Mail of the team’s run in 2019. “It doesn’t happen that often, but it happened in 2019, and it could happen again some other day, too.”

Riikka later re-married and is now known as Riikka Sallinen, but unfortunately she wasn’t at the induction because she works in health care and would have had to have isolated for 14 days upon returning to Finland, time she didn’t want to take away from her patients as a physiotherapist. 

Carnegie was often called the finest player never to have made the NHL. The prime of his career came in the 1940s and ‘50s, and many believe it was the fact that he was black that prevented him from playing in the best league. Carnegie passed away in 2012 at 92 but was represented last night by his two children, daughter Bernice and son Rane. Despite facing years of racism, Herb remained very much involved in the game after he retired, spending years promoting diversity in hockey and trying to bridge a gap he had not been able to cross himself as a player. 

“It was just the most wonderful thing,” Bernice said tearfully of her call from HHOF Chairman Lanny McDonald. “I have to say, I didn’t really believe it was ever going to happen.”

Perhaps it was just high time Carnegie was so honoured, perhaps it was a changing of mores and standards, or perhaps it was the work of Rane, who collected more than 10,000 signatures supporting Herb’s induction. Bernice brought the house down with her passionate plea to learn from her father’s life and dedication to doing good. 

“I know my father is calling out to all of us to honour the sport he so loved by continuing to do it justice," she implored. "We are responsible for making the sport better. We are responsible for ending sexism, gender bias, racism, and homophobia. We are responsible for making all areas of our lives more accepting and inclusive. This was my father's life work. This is what I learned from him. This is why I'm grateful every day.”

Carnegie, a Toronto native of Jamaican heritage, started his own hockey school called Future Aces – and after his passing it continued as the Herb Carnegie Future Aces Foundation – to help kids get involved in the game. He also used hockey as a tool for mainstream education, and all of these factors combined to make him a perfect inductee in the Builder category.

But in many ways the night belonged to Tre Kronor. In one night the number of Swedish inductees into the Hall went from four to seven thanks to “Alfie” and the Sedins. Never before has a European country had three inductees in the same ceremony. They join the legend, Borje Salming, and Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, and Nicklas Lindstrom as Honoured Members. And in all cases, it was a combination of excellent NHL and international careers that got them inducted.

Alfredsson was born in Gothenburg and played with Frolunda from 1992-95. But he was never a top prospect as a teen, never played the Worlds Juniors, and was drafted a lowly 133th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 1994. He arrived to the Sens around the same time as Alexandre Daigle and Alexei Yashin, but it was Alfredsson who developed into the team’s best and star player, winning the Calder Trophy in 1995-96 and never looking back. A smooth skater with a great shot, he was also a natural leader and two-way player, eventually captaining the team from 1999 until 2013, when he left the team to play a final year in Detroit. 

At his peak, he played on a line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, taking the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007, the first European captain to do so. Alfredsson played 1,246 regular-season games over 18 seasons, having his finest statistical year in 2005-06 when he had career bests in goals (43) and points (103). In all, he had 1,157 points, but it was with Tre Kronor that he also had some of his greatest moments, notably 2006 when he helped Sweden win Olympic gold in Turin, his third of five career Olympic appearances. He also played at seven World Championships, winning four medals (two silver, two bronze) as well as the 1996 and 2004 World Cups of Hockey. 

He was given his HHOF plaque by Mats Sundin, an opponent for many years in Toronto but a long-time friend. “I looked up to him,” Alfredsson began. “He was a star even before I started playing in the Swedish league, winning World Championships. A great role model.”

Alfredsson started the crux of his speech with a tribute to Borje Salming, in town but not at the induction. “I remember playing against Borje Salming,” Alfredsson began. “My first year in the Swedish Elite League. He had finished over here and came back to play in Sweden. He’s such a legend, and I found myself watching him intently. He’s the King. In the warmups, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I don’t think I shot one puck. I was just staring at him. You were a true trailblazer.”

Of course, it was only appropriate that the Sedin twins were inducted together. They have accomplished almost everything together in their lives and careers. Daniel was the scorer and Henrik the passer, and together they formed an effective duo wherever they played. They were born on Ornskoldsvik, the greatest small town in Europe for producing hockey players, and they rose to prominence in North America in 1999 when Vancouver general manager Brian Burke attended the NHL draft and declared he would acquire the rights to both players. Burke was true to his word, drafting Daniel second overall and Henrik third. They made their NHL debuts a year later and took the league by storm with their puck control, cycling, and no-look passes that created a steady stream of scoring chances. 

They played their entire careers with Vancouver, 17 seasons in all, and when all was said and done their statistics were as nearly identical as their faces. Henrik played 1,330 games and recorded 1,070 points; Daniel played 1,306 games with 1,041 points. Incredibly, Daniel’s points per game was 0.79 and Henrik’s 0.80. 

The Canucks had their best season in 2011 when they advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose to Boston on home ice in a heart-breaking game seven. In 2009-10, Henrik won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies and a year later Daniel won the Ross and Ted Lindsay awards. Never before or since had brothers been named NHL MVP in consecutive seasons. Although identical twins, the one thing that did visually separate them on ice was the “C” that Henrik wore on the front of his sweater from 2010 until their retirement eight years later. The only time he wore the “C” for his country was at the 2016 World Cup, but the twins played plenty of international hockey for Tre Kronor as well. 

In all, they appeared at three World Junior Championships and five senior World Championships, but like Alfredsson their career highlight was that gold in Turin in 2006. Their only gold at the Worlds came in their dual final appearance, in 2013, when they helped Sweden beat Switzerland, 5-1, in the finals.

But what many fans might not have known was their keen sense of humour. Daniel spoke first. “Henrik, I will only say this once. You have not only made a difference to my career as a hockey player but also as a person. In my mind, you are a better hockey player than me, a better person than me. I’m saying this sincerely…but also knowing you will be standing up here in about ten minutes. I can’t wait to hear what you’re going to say about me.”

Henrik began his speech with a friendly jab back. “As you might know, I’ve just recovered from covid. It came down to a last-minute decision to attend, but as our coaches always said, Henrik at 70 per cent is a lot better than Daniel at 100.” The crowd roared.

Henrik ended his speech with another zinger. “To end the argument as to who was the better player. I missed 30 games in my career, and Daniel’s production was not the same. In 2010, Daniel missed 20 games because of a concussion, and I had 11 goals and nine assists.” More laughter.

Roberto Luongo was one of the busiest and most dominant goalies of his era, and he is one of a rare group of goalies to have won two Olympic gold medals, first on home ice in Vancouver in 2010, and then again four years later in Sochi. He was also a rare example of a goalie being selected with a high draft choice, being taken a lofty 4th overall by the New York Islanders in 1997 during his junior career with Val d’Or in the Quebec league. At the time, it was the highest selection ever used to claim a goalie.

Luongo made his NHL debut in 1999 but only a year later was traded to Florida in a blockbuster deal that saw him become the Panthers’ number-one goalie for the next five years. In the summer of 2006, he was traded again, to Vancouver, and it was there he had his greatest success, making it to the Cup finals in 2011 with the Sedins. He finished his 19-year career back in Florida, where he retired after the 2018-19 season. He is one of only three goalies to have played more than 1,000 regular-season games (1,044, after Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur), and his 491 wins rank fourth all time. As well, his 77 shutouts are ninth on the all-time list. 

Luongo rarely turned down a chance to play for Canada in IIHF competition, starting with consecutive appearances at the World Juniors in 1998 and ’99. He also won two gold medals at the World Championship, in both 2003 and 2004, and he also played a game at the 2004 World Cup, which Canada won. In fact, Luongo was just that one game seven loss for the Stanley Cup shy of becoming the first goalie to join the Triple Gold Club. When a fan asked him which team he wanted to be associated with for his induction, Florida or Vancouver, he replied, “Team Canada.”

Looking to the Sedins as he spoke, Luongo recalled getting the phone call from Lanny McDonald informing him of induction. “When I got the call, the first thing I asked was if you guys were in, too… I wanted to go in with you guys,” he explained. “I hold you in such high regard. It’s tough to put into words.”

The theme of Luongo’s speech was family, family as a kid with two brothers, family being billeted as a junior, and eventually his own family as an adult. “We were three brothers, and we played hockey in the basement every night,” he recalled. “We destroyed it, but we had such great times. A lot of tears, a lot of laughter…Thank you guys for being there with me for all those years, not only as kids but as I grew up. You guys always had my back and were always there for me when I needed someone to talk to. That really meant a lot to me.”