TORONTO– Look up the words ‘grit’ and ‘tenacity’ in the dictionary. Definitions such as “courage and resolve” or “sheer determination” can be found.
This is an apt description of the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class being enshrined into the Hall on Monday night. It was not just the goals and assists on the ice or Stanley Cups won that separated these players and builders. It is their instinctive character traits, their ability to conquer adversity and barriers, that are entrenched in each of the six inductees’ legacies forever.
The 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class Notated by “Do-or-Die” Spirit
The Hall of Fame overlooked Guy Carbonneau and Sergei Zubov for years. Hayley Wickenheiser had to battle inequitable gender structures in hockey. In 1994 Jerry York joined a broken Boston College program. Jim Rutherford and his family had to make a huge financial sacrifice to participate in hockey. And Václav Nedomanský made the life-changing decision to immigrate to Canada, defecting his war-torn country of Czechoslovakia.
Through all of their challenges, it was their “never give up” mantra that enabled their successful careers. Whether it be on the ice in big games, making tough decisions in the boardroom, or inspiring a generation of European players to play professional hockey, their grit and tenacity was always apparent.
For Hayley, Guy, Sergei, Jim, Jerry, and Vaclav, their impact on hockey will never be forgotten. Immortalized into the Hockey Hall of Fame is never easy. But once achieved, it makes the Induction Weekend and Monday night ceremony in Toronto all the more special.
“It’s a special night when you’re inducted and a special night also to be here,” said two-time Stanley Cup champion and 1997 Hall of Fame inductee Mario Lemieux.
Hayley Wickenheiser Legacy Will Live Long Past Hall of Fame Enshrinement
“She is the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey.”
“Hayley is the best female hockey player of all time.”
These two quotes, stated by Hall of Famer Brett Hull and Sportsnet personality Brian Burke (both in attendance at the Induction Ceremony), are accurate descriptions of Hayley Wickenheiser. Her statistics and accolades representing Team Canada make Wickenheiser one of the country’s most decorated athletes.
In 276 international games, Wickenheiser generated 168 goals and 211 assists, making her the all-time leading scorer in Canada women’s hockey. She would capture four Olympic gold medals and one silver medal, along with seven world championship titles.
Wickenheiser is the seventh woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. A result of the inherent gender disparity that many female hockey players faced throughout their careers. Years later, fighting for gender equality in hockey has paid off for Wickenheiser.
“It was not a common thing as a little girl to want to play hockey in the small town where I came from,” said Wickenheiser during her speech. “I wanted to play the game so bad, I didn’t care what I had to endure.”
Growing up in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, it was not considered “normal” for Wickenheiser to take up hockey. A sport predominantly played by the boys. Despite this cultural stereotype, Wickenheiser’s family supported her decision, even if it came at a financial and social sacrifice.
Wickenheiser Continues to Grow Women’s Hockey
For years, Wickenheiser would go to great lengths to mask her female identity at the rink. She would cut her hair to make her look like a boy. After each game, parents would harrass and heckle Wickenheiser because of her gender. As she stated in her induction speech, it wasn’t until she first joined the National Team where Wickenheiser began to find her voice and sense of self, not just as a hockey player but as a female athlete.
“The first Olympics that we lost (in 1998) was not a fun one, but the four after that were some of the best experiences of my life,” said Wickenheiser. “One of the greatest honours I’ve ever had was to put on that Canadian jersey.”
Hayley Wickenheiser is now celebrated in the hockey world for her achievements on and off the ice. She is currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as continuing to host her own hockey festival called Wickfest. In its 10th year, Wickfest is more than just a hockey tournament. It provides young girls all across Canada the opportunity to feel empowered and to get more involved in hockey.
“If my nieces decide they want to play hockey, they can walk into a hockey rink anywhere in Canada with their hockey bag and their hockey stick, and nobody’s going to look twice,” said Wickenheiser.
Carbonneau Receives Long-Awaited Hall of Fame Recognition
For Guy Carbonneau, growing up in Sept-Iles, Quebec means that hockey is instilled at a young age. The old adage, “learning to skate before you can walk,” would apply for Carbonneau, who would begin his junior career with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL.
The Montreal Canadiens would draft Carbonneau after his successful junior hockey career. Thus would begin Carbonneau’s career defined by longevity.
Playing for the Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars, Carbonneau would win three Stanley Cups. His defensive prowess earned him three Selke Trophy honours for best defensive forward.
16 years of waiting and now Carbonneau is into the Hall of Fame.
“The good part now? When people ask me in the street if I’m in the Hockey Hall of Fame, my answer will be yes,” Carbonneau said.
Sergei Zubov Also Endured Lengthy Hall of Fame Wait
Sergei Zubov is another player that had to endure the long wait into the Hall of Fame. As a defenseman, Zubov epitomized smooth and grit. He would constantly win battles along the boards, while glide on the ice to create scoring chances.
Zubov would win two Stanley Cups, one with both the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars. Added to his trophy case is a Norris Trophy and an Olympic gold medal for Team Russia. Zubov playing in an era heavily focused on surface-level stats would prevent him from gaining Hall of Fame status.
The Russian defenseman referenced this in his induction speech on Monday, saying “there were players that maybe didn’t get the accolades that the other guys did. Imagine having a great year with 100-and-some points, and then you look up, and there are Gretzky and Lemieux 50 points ahead of you.”
If analytics were relevant in Zubov’s era, he would have led the NHL in zone entries, zone carries, and puck possession. As Brett Hull eluded, Zubov’s offensive consistency and defensive ability strengthened the Stars blue line.
“When the guys would go into a new city and head to Hooters, Sergei and I would go to the most expensive restaurant,” joked Hull. “It was more fun playing with him than against him. Whenever we would be on the powerplay, I would just get open because he would put the puck in my wheelhouse to score.”
2019 Hall of Fame Class Has a Special Place in Hockey History
It wasn’t just Wickenheiser, Carbonneau, and Zubov who overcame difficulties. Jim Rutherford went from making financial sacrifices for hockey, to eventually winning three Stanley Cups as a general manager.
Jerry York would rejuvenate a Boston College program that was in shambles. His success with the school ultimate led him to become the winningest coach in NCAA hockey history. And Václav Nedomanský went from escaping his home country of Czechoslovakia to serving as the impetus for enhanced European participation in professional hockey.
It is easy to overlook the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class compared to others in the past. But their collective toughness and willingness to always battle, no matter the circumstance, make the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class one to remember.