The thrill of visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame, or especially being present for the Induction Weekend Celebration, never gets 'old' for me. It is always a knee-trembling experience that causes me to reflect on the honor and privilege to be associated, in any capacity, with the best game - in the best League - in the World.
With HHOF Inductee Eric Lindros prior to Legends Classic
Several times during my NHL officiating career I had the privilege of being assigned to referee the Leafs game on the Friday night that kicked off the HHOF festivities. As my childhood hockey heroes were marched out onto the red carpet, adorned in their Distinguished Member Blazer to welcome the newest Legends into their prestigious HHOF fraternity, my mind was transported to my Canadian childhood roots spent on outdoor rinks and frozen ponds.
It was in the cold outdoors, with runny noses and frozen fingers and toes, that we attempted to emulate these bigger-than-life Legends and hone our skills in hopes of one day skating on NHL ice. We even took on their names for the benefit of our 'Foster Hewitt play-by-play' that each of us chimed in when carrying the puck or scoring that Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime!
The Maple Leaf Gardens or Air Canada Centre PA system always jolted me from my dreams as the newest class members were marched out and presented with their finely tailored blazer - a garment that distinguishes them as Champions of the Game of Hockey similarly to what the green jacket is to the Masters.
It was no different for me this past weekend when the Class of 2016 were honored as the newest Legends of the Game. Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon were received in the players category while former player and coach Pat Quinn was inducted posthumously as a builder.
The media honourees in the Class of 2016 were journalist Bob Verdi and broadcaster Sam Rosen.
Verdi received the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in recognition of distinguished members of the hockey writing profession whose words have brought honor to journalism and to the game of hockey. Bob spent three decades as a full-time writer at the Chicago Tribune and years as a beat writer covering the Blackhawks in addition to writing or contributing to six books about Blackhawks players or teams.
Rosen received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in recognition of members of the radio and television industry who have made outstanding contributions to their profession and to the game of hockey. Sam has been the outstanding television voice of the New York Rangers since 1984. Sam's friendly and infectious personality, combined with his unique calls and inflections are a staple for New York sports fans.
PHATS/SPHEM (Professional Athletic Therapists & Professional Equipment Managers) bestowed Hall Of Fame honors on Mark O'Neill. Mark's 29-year National Hockey League career as an equipment manager began in 1978 with the Los Angeles King. After 15 seasons in L.A., O'Neill joined the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and served that franchise until 2007. Mark was involved in the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games as well as two IIHF tournaments.
I must confess to becoming very misty-eyed during two of the induction speeches. Pat Quinn's daughter Kelly gave a beautifully crafted, emotional and heartfelt acceptance speech on behalf of the Quinn family in honor of her Dad. The tears weren't just reserved for Pat however as Rogie Vachon shared the stage and his Hall of Fame honor with the memory of his dear wife of 44 years - Nicole - who passed away six months ago from cancer.
All the inductees were very deserving of the honor bestowed upon them and we extend our sincere congratulations. As a fan of the game it was an amazing event to witness.
Dear HHOF Diary:
Allow me to provide some of the highlights of my weekend along with some great pictures I was able to capture.
Saturday, 11/12/16: HOCKEY "HALL-OF-A-NITE" in the Great Hall of the Hockey Hall of Fame: After arriving and getting settled at the Delta Hotel on Simcoe Street (the HHOF designated hotel and headquarters) I made my way to the Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame where I performed as Master of Ceremonies at the Hall of a Night Schmooze. I had the pleasure of introducing Ryan Lewis with "Autograph Authentic for Live Auction" who conducted a silent and live auction later that evening benefiting Barry Munro's "Shoot for a Cure" - Canadian Spinal Research Association.
My initial responsibilities as MC were to introduce and interview the hockey dignitaries that entered the Great Hall. The first Legend that joined me stage was The Golden Jet, Bobby Hull - a member of the Class of '83. Mr. Hull was a fantastic interview and shared some epic insights into the game and about his son Brett - Class of 2009. Bobby and son Brett are the first Father-Son combination to win the Hart Trophy (Bobby '64-'65 & '65-'66; Brett '90-91 season) in addition to the first Father-Son combo to be Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It is always a pleasure to spend time with Lanny McDonald - Class of '92 and appointed Chairman of the Board of the Hockey Hall of Fame in March of 2015. Aside from having a better groomed and recognizable moustache than I have a head of hair, Lanny is truly one of the All-Time Great Guys within the game. His friendly demeanor and gracious personality is infectious as a wonderful Ambassador of the game.
One of the finest linesman that I ever had the pleasure to work with was Ray Scapinello - Class of 2008. The other was John D'Amico - Class of '93. I was fortunate to officiate my first Stanley Cup Finals in 1985 (Oilers-Flyers) with both of these future Hall of Fame members. 'Scampy' is an easy going, fun loving guy that had immense respect from players and coaches in every era that he worked in the NHL spanning 33 seasons.
Ray was a real ball-buster. He drove colleague, linesman Randy Mitton nuts (in a good way.) One year in the playoffs the three of us had our pre-game meal together and as we got on the hotel elevator Mitton was pinching his cheeks and said he had a bathroom emergency as soon as he could get to his room. The three of us were located on the same floor and Scampy hurriedly pressed the elevator button
Fortunately we had an express run and as the doors opened Scampy stepped aside and told Mitton to hurry and run to his room. The doors closed, and Scampy and I travelled up one more floor to where our 3 rooms were located. The last thing we hear was Mitton pounding on the closed elevator door and shouting obscenities at Scapinello for letting him off on the wrong floor. Life was never dull when you worked with Ray Scapinello.
Before handing over the microphone to Geoff Pickering from Festival Xpress, host of Hall-of-a-Nite Schmooze and Ryan Lewis of Autograph Authentic for Live Auction I brought up some guys that are famous for playing Old-Time Hockey - The Hanson Brothers of Slap-Shot fame! I have participated in several charity tours with these and let me tell you they are a blast to be around. They have raised a ton of money for charity with tours all around the world.
With elbows raised in honor Gordie Howe and Slap Shot goalie Denis Lemieux still looking 'shell-shocked' I bid my Dear Diary goodnight from the Great Hall-of-a-Nite.
Don't miss tomorrow's edition of my Dear HHOF Diary where I will complete the weekend festivities with insights and great pictures I took inside the dressing room and at ice level for the annual Haggar Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Game. Let me provide you with this 'teaser'...