LADIES AND ... gentleman? HHoF bungles its big day

Catching up on some slightly old business from what was an extraordinarily busy news cycle last week.

As the Copper & Blue's resident historian, it falls to me to respond when the Hockey Hall of Fame does its annual thing to recognize some of the greats of the game. That said, don't look for this article in the "History" section of the C&B archives. I've chosen "Opinion" simply because "Rant" isn't available. Look out below.

On the day that it finally opened its doors to women, the HHoF took major steps backward in both the players' and builders' deptartment with a frankly shocking group of selections and omissions that threatened to push the women right out of the headlines they deserve.

 

Photo: Angela James and Mark Messier have at least two things in common. Both were controversial omissions from Team Canada at the Nagano Olympics. Now James joins Messier and the other hockey greats in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

As befits the Incoming President of the Optimists' Club, let's start with the positive development. It is of course not the NHL Hall of Fame, it's for all of hockey and the game's ever spreading roots that now span the globe and both genders. The medals awarded at the Winter Olympics are just as gold for the women as they are for the men, and like every other Olympic sport, give or take ski-jumping, there are greats of both genders who deserve to be recognized.

Admittedly, women's puck is many decades in arrears of the men's game. On the international stage, probably the best comparison is to the period between the two World Wars, when the Winter Olympics were just starting up. The parallel is inexact: unlike the early years of the men's game, there are two world powers, not just one, which has resulted in a Space Race-like escalation of capabilities for the Big Two. This is a double-edged sword as the quality of play surges ahead for the elite, but the separation between the North American powers and the rest of the hockey world is ever-expanding. Even as the latter improve, it has come at a slower rate. It is to be fervently hoped that European and Asian hockey federations will set their sights on a bigger prize than the bronze medal and the pool of countries with a shot at gold will grow. Bear in mind that even the men's game has just the "Big Seven" that have ever won goldware on the international stage, and that it took decades to grow that pool. Patience is required, even as it seems to be running low in some quarters.  

Nonetheless, that the women's game has come as far as it has in the 20 short years since the Women's World Championships were introduced is on the backs of pioneers like Angela James and Cammi Granato, as well as Shirley Cameron, Geraldine Heaney, and others who will surely warrant further consideration in the coming years. The initial class surely had to be one Canadian and one American, so I'm not going to quibble.

By the first women's Worlds in 1990 Angela James was 25, already the acknowledged superstar of the women's game, and backed up that reputation by notching 11 goals in the tourney. In all she played four WWHCs, winning gold in each, and posting impressive numbers of 20 GP, 22-12-34. She was MVP of the Canadian national women's championship a staggering 8 times, and a medallist in that tourney on a dozen occasions. The first Canadian woman in the HHoF is also the first black woman; in effect she is Howie Morenz and Grant Fuhr.  She was inducted to the Black Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2008 (where she, Granato and Heaney were the first women so recognized), and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2009; James has proven to be as much a pioneer off the ice as she was on it.

Cammi Granato was the best player on the early USA teams. I was never a huge fan of her style of play, which was altogether too reminiscent of her brother Tony. (A hockey-watching buddy once commented, "She's an asshole, just like her brother," which I perhaps quirkily interpreted as a step forward for equality!) But there was no denying the future wife of Ray Ferraro was a real force on the ice.  She served as captain of the first Olympic gold medallists, and deserves the honour of being the first American to be recognized.

Pat Burns (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) via www.picapp.com

Moving on to the builders' category, I have no issues with the election of Jimmy Devellano who has been a "good hockey man" for a very long time, one with considerable success on his resume. My biggest issue with Doc Seaman is that they waited until he died before they voted for him. My greatest concern by far was that they essentially chose to do the same to Pat Burns, who seems unlikely to live to announcement day in 2011, let alone to the induction ceremony 16 months hence. I just don't get it: Burns has all the qualifications needed to get into the Hall. He was a successful coach with four different franchises. He won the Jack Adams Trophy in his first season in each of Montreal, Toronto, and Boston, Original 6 cities all. He topped that by winning the Stanley Cup his first year in Jersey. He was a four-year-cycle coach, who would immediately improve his team, sustain for a couple years, and then it would be time for "a new voice in the room," no different than Mike Keenan, another obvious Hall of Fame coach who moved from team to team. Burns is one of 16 men with 1000 games coached and one of only 15 with 500+ wins. Top ten on each list in the postseason. Won everywhere he went.

So what the hell is the selection committee waiting for? The only answers I can think of are: "For Pat Burns to die first, obviously." Or possibly, "We don't want to look like we're bowing to outside pressures in making our precious choices. This isn't a humanitarian organization, that's for sure." Ultimately I don't find that a defensible position, because the man is so clearly qualified. So the question I'm left asking is WTF? I've lost some respect for the institution in the process; Burns' selection was a no-brainer, but his omission was a no-hearter.

Speaking of WTF, WTF is up with said selection committee containing 18 members, but requiring a 3/4 vote? 18 isn't even divisible by 4, for chrissakes. There are no half votes, so the actual requirement is 14 of 18, a 77.8% approval rate, not 75%. So quit lying about that, or better still, find somebody far far removed from the NHL who can actually do Grade Two arithmetic to reform the committee, something that needs doing in any event. Add my voice to the chorus as it crescendos for more transparency to the process.

Transparency is certainly required to explain the male player's category, where I was shocked and dismayed to learn that Dino Ciccarelli was the lone player inducted. There were no first-time-eligible slam dunks in 2010, but to my mind there were half a dozen or more worthy candidates. Dino Ciccarelli wasn't one of them. To me he's a guy who should have been considered, briefly, and discarded; I just don't see his career as being Hall-worthy, now or ever. He was strictly an offensive player (in more ways than one), posted excellent but not overwhelming scoring totals in the high-scoring 80s, but wasn't an outscorer, and was a significant minus player in the playoffs. He never made the All-Star team, never won a major award, never made a single best-on-best Team Canada, and never won a Stanley Cup or World gold. He was a competent goal scorer but never even close to the best in the league, finishing in the top ten in the league just twice and never in the top three. In terms of points, he again had two top ten seasons, but was never in the top five. The powerplay specialist scored 232 career goals with the man advantage, from a total distance of about 232 feet; on the other hand he scored but one (1) shorthanded goal. Dino's game was pretty one-dimensional.

Unless being a prick is considered a dimension. I suppose I should confess to personal bias at this point, since I absolutely despised Ciccarelli throughout the entirety of his playing career. He's the only guy I have seen deliberately shoot a puck at an opponent more than once: he drilled one at Bryan Trottier in the 1981 SCF and then did the same to Kevin Lowe in the following preseason. Preseason, for crying out loud! But it was vicious and deliberate, a repeat crime that would only be forgivable if the player did something to redeem himself later. Dino never even came close.

The little scumbag got into legal trouble on and off the ice, embarrassing himself and the game on both occasions. Ciccarelli even spent time in jail for his machete attack of Luke Richardson which makes the new equation: Jail Time = Hall of Fame. I realize that's not unusual in the builders' category, but among players? Ewwww.

So one guy in, everybody else omitted. Among a solid group of viable candidates: Mark Howe, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, and Dave Andreychuk spring to mind as worthy of very strong consideration. I know I would pick any one of them to play on my team over Dino Ciccarelli 10 times out of 10.

* * *

Further reading: Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends has fine profiles of Angela James and Cammi Granato. Pension Plan Puppets had an excellent article about the Pat Burns snub, while Down Goes Brown dissed Dino Ciccarelli with his usual combination of wit and wisdom. 

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