November 13, 2011
When the 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame class was first revealed, Mark Howe was the story. Not only because his 13-year wait for induction called for both astonishment and scrutiny — the case for being the best defenseman not in the Hall was frequently made — but because he comes from hockey royalty.
(The "defenseman" angle was always interesting, given how good he was on left wing in the WHA.)
His enshrinement comes at a time when he can still experience this moment with his legendary father. Yahoo! Sports' Nick Cotsonika, who spoke with Mark and Gordie Howe ahead of Monday's induction, writes that there was also a downside to being the son of a legend:
Mark said it wasn't tough for him, but "the toughest part is that you're carrying that name on your back." That name. He knew if he got into trouble, that name would be in the papers. He knew when he was on the ice, that name would draw attention and create certain expectations. "People would always make comparisons," Mark said. "Well, if I tried to compare my career to his, it's a lose-lose situation."
That name might actually have kept him out of the Hockey Hall of Fame for a while.
"I was surprised that he had to wait this long to get in," said coaching legend Scotty Bowman, who has been on the Hall of Fame selection committee since 2003. "But I think really, his name … Being Gordie's son, people don't … If his name had been Smith or something, he probably would have stood out more, you know what I mean? He got compared to his father, and nobody could compare to him."
Check out the full column here. Here's how NHL.com looked back at Mark Howe's career:
Hockey has always been about shared experiences, about generational legacies, about parents and children. Mark Howe had a remarkable career in his own right, but he's symbolic of so much more.
As for the rest of the Class …
If Howe was the story out of the gate, Doug Gilmour's slowly become the story as induction day nears. Proximity has a lot to do with this: The Hockey Hall of Fame and most of Gilmour's legacy both reside in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, after all.
But let's face it: For every team that has a star player that refuses to enter beast mode, play with fire, do everything within his power to win the damn game, a fan has wondered why they can't have more of a Doug Gilmour-type star. That's why he connects so well with the hockey community. As CuJo told the Toronto Sun:
"He never took a night off," Joseph said. "His intensity and competitiveness were on display every night, no matter how small he was. Leaf fans eat that stuff up. Some big guys play small. Some small guys play big. Dougie was a small guy who played big. And he has a huge heart."
He was never the best center in the NHL when he played. Just the center everyone wished they had.
Joe Nieuwendyk should have been in the Hall of Fame last season, with 564 goals, three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and a Calder to go along with his being 11th all-time in power-play goals at 215. There's probably some petty political reason he wasn't, but so be it.
As you see in the video above, the influence of lacrosse on Nieuwendyk's goal-scoring was an interesting facet to his career. In fact, he and Gretzky both honed their hockey skills on box lacrosse. From Sports Illustrated in 1988:
Lacrosse hotshots don't have much of a professional future in Canada, or anywhere else, for that matter. So it was not hard for Nieuwendyk to say goodbye, lacrosse; hello, hockey. In 1985 Calgary saw something in Nieuwendyk that the scouting service didn't and drafted him in the second round. Twenty-six players were chosen ahead of him.
"They got a steal," says Wayne Gretzky. Sidelined with a sprained knee, Gretzky watched Calgary's 5-3 loss in Edmonton last week from a luxury box at the Northlands Coliseum. "I watched Joe whenever he was on the ice," says the Great One, who, like Nieuwendyk, played box lacrosse in his youth. Box lacrosse is played in an iceless rink. The boards are left up, and the game is extremely physical. Gretzky is convinced that dodging blows within those cramped confines, "learning to circle and be nifty," taught him to avoid monster hits he would later face in hockey. He figures the training helped Nieuwendyk the same way. Nieuwendyk agrees.
"In some ways, I probably liked lacrosse more than I liked hockey,'' Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com. "I think the two sports really complement each other, the hand-eye coordination, the physical aspect of it. I wanted to be a goal scorer in both sports, and I think lacrosse really prepared me to stand in front of the net when I was only 185 pounds my first couple of years in Calgary."
That he did, and did it well. Of the non-goalies, the most deserving for enshrinement. But his former teammate is the class of the Class:
During his time in the NHL, Ed Belfour can stake a claim for being the best player in his position once or twice during that run.
He's third in the NHL in career wins (484), fourth in games played (963) and minutes (55,695). His save percentage (.906) and goals-against average (2.50) are top 30.
He won the Stanley Cup in 1999. He won the Calder in 1991. He was nominated for the Hart in 1991. He's got Vezina Trophies in 1991 and 1993 as the best goalie in the NHL, and four Jennings Trophies (91, 93, 95 and 99) for the fewest goals allowed by a goaltending tandem.
He was also a quirky oddball who maniacally over-prepared for games and once tried to bribe a police officer with a billion dollars. Which, frankly, just made him more endearing. He's not mentioned in the same breath as Roy or Brodeur or Hasek. Within 10 years, they'll all have plaques in the same room.
What are your favorite memories of the Class of 2011?