Given the reaction to the Class of 2010, it's appropriate that Dino Ciccarelli, Cammi Granato and Angela James were elected as players to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday: Each has waited his or her turn for the honor, and Tuesday's announcement was overshadowed by the players that are still waiting.
Where was Joe Nieuwendyk, the former Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars center who was expected at the head of the class? Where was the electrifying offense of Pavel Bure? Where was the support for Doug Gilmour, the Toronto Maple Leafs great that some expected to receive the call? Where was the fast-burning brilliance of Eric Lindros, the complementary greatness of Adam Oates and the blue-collar admiration for Dave Andreychuk?
The Hockey Hall of Fame's board of directors was asked several times Tuesday about players who didn't make the cut; as per its policy, it declined to specify who was nominated and how close any of them came to enshrinement.
The most uncomfortable snub? Former Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils coach Pat Burns, whose battle with cancer sparked a movement to expedite his election to the Hall of Fame as a builder. His exclusion caused outrage in some corners of the hockey world, including the Twitter feed of Larry Brooks of the N.Y. Post, who wrote:
"Hockey HOF selection committee that meets behind closed doors and that answers to no one, disgraced itself this year bypassing Burns. ... I guess Burns was never a member of the Good Ole Boys Club that acts as the gateway to the Hall. ... If committee members have any honor, they will resign now."
We can't recall backlash at these levels, spread over several "overlooked" candidates. We advocated Burns' induction, and still do; we also believe that at least two other NHL players (with Nieuwendyk being one of them) should have joined Ciccarelli as Hockey Hall of Fame honorees.
The selection committee obviously disagreed. Pity its decision, and the reaction, has obscured the worth of this latest Hall of Fame class.
He waited for years as supporters made a stats-based case for his induction, with 608 goals and 592 assists in 1,232 NHL games during 19 seasons. But if there was a one virtue he learned early in his career, it was patience.
"The way my career started, with breaking my leg and going through a couple of drafts, it kind of worked out the same way. I was hoping it was going to come," he said. "I tried not to get too excited this year. But when I got the phone call, [I] was very excited."
His career began in 1980 with the North Stars. Undrafted because of a shattered femur in juniors, Lou Nanne took a risk and signed him. Nanne was one of the biggest influences in getting Ciccarelli into the Hall of Fame. It's not enough just to be eligible. You have to be nominated, and Nanne annually sent letters to the committee on Ciccarelli's behalf.
Ciccarelli got his toughness - this guy drove the net and parked himself there with a 5-foot-10 frame in the age when defensemen could do anything to move you out of the way - from his dad, Vic, who passed away a few years back.
Ciccarelli's name isn't mentioned among the immortals, nor should it be. He wasn't a hockey god, and he never won the Stanley Cup; but he was just a damn good hockey player. He would outwork you by sacrificing himself in front of the goal. He would annoy you by frequently using tactics that crossed over into illegality. But he also had a nose for the net.
He symbolizes a style of player that helped define an era in the NHL, but one that frequently doesn't enter the hallowed Hall (think Dale Hunter, for example). Neither does a player often earn enshrinement with the litany of off-ice and behavioral issues Ciccarelli faced in his career, from assault to indecent exposure. Heck, he even did time.
For finally accepting that baggage, along with his numbers, his election by the Hall of Fame is actually refreshing.
Angela James and Cammi Granato
This was the first year women players had their own induction category, and co-chairman Pat Quinn said the changes were essential to begin recognizing their achievements.
"Women have been eligible all the way along," Pat Quinn said. "We made a slight change where the women weren't being compared to the men in the game, [which] might have prevented strong recognition of women for many years to come."
Cammi Granato - This long time national team captain holds nearly every individual American record in women's hockey. In addition to being a lethal scorer, it was her heart, desire and leadership that pull USA to equal status with Canada in the world of women's hockey. Along the way she earned 1 Olympic gold and 1 world championship. Granato has done more for women's hockey in the United States than anyone else, as confirmed by her 2007 Lester Patrick Trophy and by becoming the first woman inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame. Also that year Granato joined Geraldine Heaney and Angela James as the first women in the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame.
Here's Pelletier on James and her accomplishments:
Angela James is very much legend in Canadian women's hockey. The "Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey" played much of her career prior to women's hockey's arrival in the Olympic spotlight. Her controversial exclusion from the 1998 Olympic team all but officially marked the end of her career. She had four world championship gold medals but was the top female player in the world even before the first world championship tournament.
It's an odd time for women's hockey. As the popularity of the game grows among female players in North America, and interest in the women's tournament remains strong every Olympic year, the sport's inequities have been debated internationally because it is dominated by a handful of countries.
In the end, Granato said it's all about participation and encouraging young female athletes to fight through obstacles. She feels the induction of herself and James is symbolic of that:
"It's a great day for female hockey, it really is. As a player, when you're younger, you're playing because you love the game, and you don't even know the difference between you and the boy next to you until people start pointing that out. You realize there are these barriers you have to break through, and breaking down barriers is something we're very familiar with as female players in this era."
In the Builder Category, Detroit Red Wings VP Jimmy Devellano, a longtime NHL scout and general manager who has collected six Stanley Cups, and the late Daryl "Doc" Seaman, who founded the Calgary Flames, were elected.