IIHF names new Hall of Fame Class
by Andrew PODNIEKS|15 JAN 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
The IIHF’s Historical Committee met in Prague recently and nominated its newest members to the IIHF Hall of Fame. Eight new inductees will be honoured during the 2024 Men’s World Championship in May including Players Natalie Darwitz (USA), Jaromir Jagr (CZE), Kenny Jonsson (SWE), Igor Liba (SVK), Petteri Nummelin (FIN), Jaroslav Pouzar (CZE), and Ryan Smyth (CAN). Canada’s Mel Davidson will be honoured as a Builder.
Additionally, there will be a separate ceremony for four other presentations: the Richard “Bibi” Torriani Award will go to Desideriu “Dezso” Varga (ROU) and the Paul Loicq Award to Anatolii Brezvin (UKR). As well, the IIHF will introduce a new Media Award which will be presented annually to a member of print, television, or radio. The inaugural honouree is Al Michaels, whose famous call of “Do you believe in Miracles?” helped define the most important win in United States hockey history.

The Historical Committee also voted to award the Milestone Award to the Czech 1998 men’s Olympic hockey team that won gold in spectacular fashion, defeating Canada in a shootout in the semi-finals and then Russia, 1-0, in the gold-medal game.

The eight newest Honoured Members brings the total count to 244 members in the IIHF Hall of Fame, which was established in 1997.
Click here for the full list of IIHF Hall of Fame members.

Natalie Darwitz (USA)

 Natalie Darwitz represented the U.S. at eleven straight events between 1999 and 2010, winning three gold medals and five silver at the Women’s World Championship and two silver and a bronze in three Olympics. She was named to the All-Star Team four times and was the IIHF Directorate Best Forward at the 2008 Women’s Worlds.
Additionally, she wore the “C” for the Americans three times—the 2008 and ’09 WW and the 2010 Olympics. In 55 combined OG-W/WW games, Darwitz had an astounding 43 goals and 83 points. Darwitz also won consecutive NCAA championships with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and more recently was named general manager of the Minnesota entry in the new PWHL.

Mel Davidson (CAN)

Mel Davidson was the driving force behind Hockey Canada’s women’s program in the first decade of this century. She coached the Canadians to gold medals at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics as well as the 2007 Women’s Worlds, arguably the greatest women’s team ever. She coached Canada to gold at her first event, the 2000 Women’s Worlds, and also won silver in 2005 and at the WW18 in 2008, her last tournament behind the bench. She stayed on with Hockey Canada as general manager of the program and built the team that went on to win another Olympic gold, in 2014, and a silver four years later in Korea.

Jaromír Jágr (CZE)

Jaromír Jágr is a legend, plain and simple, and even at age 51 he still plays some games for his club team, Kladno. His last appearance with the national team was eight years ago, in Prague, where he was named tournament MVP at the Men’s World Championship, the culmination of a career that started in 1990 when he helped Czechoslovakia win a bronze medal at the World Junior Championship.
Over the ensuing quarter century, Jagr played in five Olympic Games, most notably 1998 when the Czechs won that aforementioned historic gold. He also appeared in nine Men’s World Championships, which included gold medals in 2005 and 2010, and three Canada Cup/World Cup tournaments.
In the NHL, Jagr is equally the stuff of legend, his 1,921 regular-season points second only to Wayne Gretzky. He won two Stanley Cups, with Pittsburgh, in his first two NHL seasons, and as such is a member of the IIHF’s exclusive Triple Gold Club.

Kenny Jönsson (SWE)

photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
Defender Kenny Jonsson of Sweden created success wherever he went, from IIHF competition, to the NHL and to his club team Rogle in Sweden. Jonsson was a leader through his play on ice, starting with the 1993 and 1994 World Juniors. He was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in ’93 but stayed with Rogle for two more years before making his way to the NHL.

During his last season in Europe, he was one of the youngest players on a Sweden team that won Olympic gold in Lillehammer, and, incredibly, he won a second Olympic gold 12 years later in Turin. He also won gold at the 2006 Men’s Worlds, the first time a team had achieved the golden double in one season. In all, Jonsson won a total of seven medals in 13 events with Tre Kronor.

Igor Liba (SVK)

Slovak Igor Liba never got to play for his country after the “Velvet Divorce” on 1 January 1993. During his career, he represented Czechoslovakia on many occasions but was later inducted into the Slovak Hall of Fame in honour of his heritage. Born in Prešov, Liba rose to prominence in the early 1980s when he helped the Czechoslovaks win three consecutive silver medals—at the 1982 and 1983 Men’s Worlds and 1984 Olympics. His crowning glory came a year and a half later, when the Czechoslovaks won World Championship gold after beating the Soviet Union, United States, and Canada in the medal round.
Liba made his NHL debut two days after his 28th birthday, but he didn’t stay long, appearing in 37 games with the New York Rangers and L.A. Kings in 1988-89 before returning home, where his heart was. In all, he played in three Olympics and six WM along with the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cup tournaments. A legend of the 1980s, Liba won seven medals in IIHF play for the Czechoslovaks.

Petteri Nummelin (FIN)

Petteri Nummelin, another defender, represented Suomi a staggering 15 times at the Men’s World Championship, including 13 in a row. None, however, was more memorable than his debut in 1995, when he helped Finland win its first ever gold medal in that tournament. His 104 career games is tied for 12th all-time in Men’s Worlds appearances, during which time he had 64 points.
Like Jagr, Nummelin enjoyed a career long as it was successful, in his case 30 years in leagues around the world. Yes, he played in the NHL, 139 games with Columbus and Minnesota, but Nummelin also played in Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and Japan.

Jaroslav Pouzar (CZE)

Jaroslav Pouzar didn’t know it at the time, but in his first international tournament for the Czechs he was a mere five minutes away from becoming the first member of the Triple Cold Club—some 18 years before the first Swedes in 1994. At the 1976 Olympics, the Czechs and Soviets played on the final day with the gold medal on the line, but the Czechs needed to win. They led 3-2 with less than five minutes to go, but two late goals by the Soviets relegated Pouzar and the Czechs to silver.
For the next six years Pouzar had tremendous success with the national team, winning gold at the 1976 and ’77 Men’s Worlds, seven medals in all. At home, he was a superstar for a decade with Ceske Budejovice. He then joined the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL at age 30, helping them win three Stanley Cups in 1984, ’85, and ’87 while playing on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. After that, he returned to Europe, finishing his career in Germany.

Ryan Smyth (CAN)

Ryan Smyth was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2020 but COVID-19 prevented his induction until now. The man many called “Captain Canada” played in eight Men’s Worlds for his country, winning two gold and a silver while wearing the “C” on five occasions. He also won gold at the 1995 World Juniors and 2002 Olympics as well as a championship with Canada at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Smyth played 20 years in the NHL, coming closest to winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 when the Edmonton Oilers went to the finals.

Desideriu Varga (ROU)

This year’s Torriani Award goes to Desideriu “Dezso” Varga of Romania. During an extensive career, he played in three Olympics—1964, 1968, 1976—and some 17 Men’s World Championships at various levels, notably 1977 when the country was in the top pool for the only year between 1947 and today. Varga was captain of that ’77 team as well as the previous year at the Innsbruck Olympics, and he also wore the “C” between 1969 and 1975 in the lower pools.

Anatolii Brezvin (UKR)

The Paul Loicq Award goes to Anatolii Brezvin, who was the president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine for 14 years (2006-20) but who was so much more. Under his leadership the country built or revitalized some 20 indoor arenas and developed its hockey program both internationally, by hosting many IIHF events, and domestically, essential to the creation of grassroots success for the game. Incredibly, Brezvin has managed to continue hockey’s role in the community even during the current war-torn years, a miraculous achievement in and of itself.

Al Michaels (USA)

The inaugural recipient of the newly-created IIHF Media Award is Al Michaels of the United States. His famous call of, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” came to define the spectacular U.S. win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics, which came to be known simply as the “Miracle on Ice.” Michaels was also the play-by-play man in the U.S. for the 1972 Olympics and subsequently for several Stanley Cup Finals playoff series at the turn of the century.

Czech Olympic team of 1998

Although the Milestone Award was last handed out in 2013, the Historical Committee decided to honour the men’s Czech Olympic team of 1998. The gold-medal victory was highlighted by semi-finals wins over Canada in a shootout and 1-0 over Russia in the ultimate game. Goaltender Dominik Hasek was virtually unbeatable, and the team produced what is largely considered the most important event in the country’s history after the 1968 Uprising.
That roster reads like a who’s who of the nation’s best players of the era: Ivan Hlinka/Slavomir Lener, coaches; goalies Dominik Hasek, Milan Hnilicka, Roman Cechmanek; defenders Jiri Slegr, Frantisek Kucera, Roman Hamrlik, Richard Smehlik, Jaroslav Spacek, Petr Svoboda, Libor Prochazka; forwards Jiri Dopita, Martin Rucinsky, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Robert Reichel, Robert Lang, Pavel Patera, Martin Prochazka, Josef Beranek, Vladimir Ruzicka, David Moravec, Milan Hejduk, Jan Caloun.