HHOF welcomes new class
by Andrew Podnieks|13 NOV 2018
Inductees Gary Bettman, Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Willie O'Ree, Martin St-Louis and Alexander Yakushev.
photo: Dave Sandford / Hockey Hall of Fame
The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto held its induction ceremony last night, honouring six Players and Builders who have helped shape the history of the game and helped grow the popularity of the world’s fastest sport on ice. 

In the Player category, four new members were enshrined – Martin Brodeur, Martin St-Louis, Jayna Hefford, and Alexander Yakushev. And as Builders, the Hall honoured Gary Bettman and Willie O’Ree.

Martin St-Louis is a player no one can not admire. Listed generously as 5’8”, he was undrafted as a teen, meaning no NHL team was interested in signing him when he became eligible to play in the league. Despite his shot and speed and skill, every GM considered him too small, but after four years of college hockey in Vermont and mostly two years in the minors, the Calgary Flames took a chance on him. But after scoring just three goals in 1999/2000, the team exposed him in the Expansion Draft, and his career looked to be in doubt. 

Even then he wasn’t selected, but now a free agent the Tampa Bay Lightning signed him, and it was in Florida that St-Louis established himself as a premier player in the league. 

In all, he had an astounding 1,033 points in 1,134 regular-season games, and he was a key player in the team’s 2004 Stanley Cup victory. St-Louis also won the Art Ross Trophy twice (2003/04 and 2012/13), the first honour coming in a year in which he also won the Hart Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award. 

St-Louis also won gold at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and silver at the 2008 and 2009 World Championships with Canada in a career that can be described only as sensational if not miraculous.

“Dad, you and mom gave me so much love and opportunity,” he said during his speech. “You told me that playing hockey was a team sport. You always supported me and were never critical. Thanks for being so positive. My mom convinced me that my heart and will were taller than anyone else... For all you kids out there listening – follow your dream, believe in yourself. When it seems like all the doors are closing, look for a window and find a way in.”

Willie O’Ree broke the NHL colour barrier, playing for the Boston Bruins on 18 January 1958, this despite having lost the sight in his right eye in junior hockey, a fact he hid from everyone but his closest friends. 

He played just 45 NHL games over two seasons of a lengthy career but has been the spokesperson for minorities for the NHL for the last two decades. Indeed, his contributions off ice have been more enduring than on it, and for those reasons he was inducted as a Builder.

“When I was 14, I had two dreams – to play professional hockey, and to play in the NHL,” he explained. “I had a dream – all I needed was the opportunity... When I got the chance [to play in the NHL], I was so focused on the game I didn’t realize I had broken the colour barrier until reading about it in the newspaper the next day.”

Alexander Yakushev is a name ingrained in the minds of international hockey fans, but to Canadians he is first and foremost the player who led the Soviets in scoring at the 1972 Summit Series with seven goals and 11 points. Additionally, Yakushev won gold at the 1972 and 76 Olympics and won World Championship gold seven times during an illustrious career. He joins a small group of Soviets who never played in the NHL who have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“It is a special honour for me to be on this stage, especially since I never played in the NHL,” he said in Russian on stage. 

Jayna Hefford received her induction plaque from no less than Geraldine Heaney, who was an HHOF inductee five years ago. Hefford’s legacy is both past and present. As a player for Team Canada, she was part of four consecutive Olympic champion teams, 2002-2014, and she also won seven gold medals at the Women’s Worlds.

Earlier in 2018, however, she was named commissioner of the CWHL and is now overseeing one of the most important women’s leagues in the world. 

“As a 6-year-old growing up in Kingston, Ontario, I never dreamed about being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame,” she stated, “but I did dream about playing in the NHL, and I did dream about winning the Stanley Cup.”

Goaltender Martin Brodeur was a certain Hall of Famer long before he even retired. In the NHL and for Team Canada, he was a record setter. In the case of the former, he holds virtually every significant record for a goalie, and he achieved these records by surpassing many previous records the hockey world considered untouchable.

Of course, the alpha and omega of goalie record is career shutouts, and for decades it was simply assumed that Terry Sawchuk’s 103 would last forever. Brodeur, however, retired with 125, a number so preposterous no goalie can even contemplate matching it. He also set records for most games played (1,266) and most wins (691), numbers that virtually double any other stellar career.

In IIHF circles, Brodeur is twice an Olympic champion (2002, 2010) and twice a silver medallist at the World Championship (1996, 2005). He is considered the finest puck-handler in goalie history and won the Stanley Cup three times with New Jersey (1995, 2000, 2003).

“I feel really fortunate to be here,” he said during an emotional speech. “This is a really special day for me... Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko. Not many goalies could have counted on the same three defencemen to play with for at least ten years... And throughout my career I was fortunate enough to be coached by three members of the Hockey Hall of Fame – Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robison, and Pat Burns. These guys brought their knowledge and passion to help us with three Stanley Cups.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was hired by the NHL on 1st February 1993, and is currently the longest-standing leader in any team sport. At the time he was hired, the NHL was a 24-team league, but during the last quarter century he helped expand the league to 31 teams, increase the revenue ten-fold, and change the way fans see the game. 

Bettman took the NHL to the Olympics for the years 1998 to 2014 and helped establish the popular outdoor games known variously as the Winter Classic or Heritage Classic. He was given his induction plaque by none other than Wayne Gretzky, after which Bettman noted that, “for all the great things Wayne has done on the ice, what he has done off the ice is equally amazing.”

“To imagine myself as a permanent part of this magical place is overwhelming, and I’m thrilled to be enshrined in this Hall with this exceptional group of honourees,” Bettman continued. “I don’t like being commissioner as much as I used to – I like it even more, So, for those of you who think I might be getting ready to retire, forget it.”