Hayley Wickenheiser was in her first year of eligibility when the Hockey Hall of Fame called. And when the announcement was made on Tuesday, she was writing an exam and could not participate.
Guy Carbonneau retired from the NHL in 2000, so first became eligible in 2003. He’s been waiting 17 years for the phone to ring, and couldn’t wait to talk about his big day on Tuesday.
“There is always hope, every year, that you’ll get the call,” Carbonneau admitted when his name was among six ‘distinguished members’ who were announced as inductees for the Nov. 18 ceremony. “There were times in the last 19 years where I thought I might (qualify).”
Wickenheiser and Carbonneau were joined by long-time NHL defenceman Sergei Zubov, hockey’s first Communist defector Vaclav Nedomansky, and in the builders category, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford and long-time NCAA coach Jerry York.
Wickenheiser becomes the sixth woman inducted into the HHOF. She might have been the first, if she hadn’t enjoyed such a long and successful career.
“When you win seven world championships, as one of the key players and captain,” began HHOF Chairman Lanny McDonald, “and win four Olympic gold medals — and then play on the men’s side in Finland… That should tell you in itself how she was looked upon and revered by the rest of the hockey world. It is richly deserved that she is one of the newest members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 26, 2019
After becoming the first-ever woman to break the gender barrier as a player, Wickenheiser, 41, now serves as assistant director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Shaunavon, Sask., native starred for Canada’s national women’s team for 23 years, from 1994 until her retirement in January 2017, leaving as the team’s career points leader with 168 goals and 211 assists in 276 games.
Another pioneer is Nedomansky, who defected from behind the Iron Curtain in 1974 to play for the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association. He would not be allowed to return to his native region of the Czech Republic, very close to the border of Slovakia, until after the fall of Communism in 1989.
He would play parts of four seasons in the WHA before joining the Detroit Red Wings at age 33, where he still managed seven more NHL seasons and 122 goals, well past his prime.
“I followed my dream, and I’m so happy I did,” said the 75-year-old. “I would thank all my teams, all the players I played with. That’s why I’m where I am today.”
Zubov never won a Norris Trophy despite being one of the smoothest, most reliable and productive defencemen of his time. The problem? Zubov’s NHL career spanned from 1993-2009, intersecting the careers of Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Chris Chelios, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
“I am speechless,” he said of receiving this honour. “I was 18 years old when I travelled with the (Russian) national team. We had a tournament in Canada and I had a chance to walk into the Hall of Fame. Back then I couldn’t even dream that one day I would have a chance to be part of it.”
Zubov was an excellent defender, had a lethal shot, passed the puck with superior precision, and no one this writer ever saw could work a power play with his feet in neutral ice and the puck in the offensive zone like Zubov. Seemingly never did he bobble a puck and cause an offside, while stretching the offensive zone, and the opposition’s penalty kill, to the maximum while quarterbacking the power play.
The prototypical third-line centreman, Carbonneau was Zubov’s teammate on the 1999 Cup winners in Dallas. ‘Carbo’ was responsible for winning the key faceoffs, neutralizing the opposition’s top line, killing penalties and chipping in his 40-some points per year. He was all substance — no flash and dash — and if you look back at teams that win, they all have a facsimile of what Carbonneau was.
“Once your career is over, you look back at what you’ve done,” he said. “I look at guys now like Patrice Bergeron, who is the next Bob Gainey. He wins faceoffs, gets points… That never changes.”