2010 Hockey Hall of Fame inductions a historic step forward in a broken system

(L-R) Angela James, Cammi Granato, and Dino Ciccarelli set to join hockey immortality in Toronto

At the corner of Toronto’s Yonge and Front streets sits the Hockey Hall of Fame, where the best ever to play the game are forever enshrined. Today, five more are set to join ice hockey’s pantheon in the Hall’s annual induction ceremony.

Players Dino Ciccarelli, Angela James, Cammi Granato, and team executives Jimmy  Devellano and Doc Seaman receive their rings tonight, joining the 345 men who already have plaques in the Hall.

That’s right—before tonight, the Hockey Hall of Fame was a male-only affair. Tomorrow, two women, each having pioneered the game on both sides of the 49th parallel, will hold their rightful places amongst hockey’s elite.

Angela James enters hockey’s most hallowed Hall as a true trailblazer: a black woman in a game dominated by white men. She led Canada to four straight gold medals from 1990-1994 in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships and became the sport’s first superstar. Unfortunately, she never had the chance to taste Olympic action despite the fact that the sport, without her, would never have reached Olympic heights.

When Cammi Granato signed up for ice hockey at age 5, girls’ minor hockey didn’t exist in the United States. Now, the U.S. is a world superpower in the game. Always humble, she was wide-eyed in Nagano when women’s hockey was played in the Olympics for the first time and was in disbelief at the news of her induction.

“It’s something that I never ever thought was attainable. For me, the Hockey Hall of Fame is somewhere where legends go, where your idols go,” she said.

If we are to use her definition of the Hall of Fame, it is only fitting that she and Ms. James are to be inducted tonight. These two women broke the barriers that surrounded rinks across North America. They became stars in a sport they were never supposed to play.

They are the idols of hockey-playing girls everywhere, the women who have created their own game. That makes them legends, every bit as deserving to be reserved seats next to Richard, Lemieux, and Gretzky.


As much as I must take my hat off to the Hall of Fame selection committee for their unconventional but long-overdue selections of women, I cannot help but see the Hockey Hall of Fame as nothing more than a collection of above-average players.

Above, I speak of the Hall in reverent, almost sacred terms. The Hall should be reserved for no one but the game’s elite- those who have changed the game fundamentally during their time on the ice.

The Hall currently has 245 players inducted into immortality. Three more will be added to that total tonight. Since the founding of the Hall of Fame in 1945, that averages out to be 3.8 players per year deemed worthy of “immortal”, Hall-of-Fame status.

That’s some 75 players set to be inducted over the span of a long NHL career. And that’s the reason why the Hall of Fame has been watered down to the point where even Dino Ciccarelli has a plaque amongst hockey legends.


Ciccarelli (R), with Mark Recchi at the 1997 All-Star Game

He’s scored over 600 goals, a remarkable achievement. But how many can you remember? He’s never mentioned in the same breath as Orr or Howe or Yzerman. He’s never revolutionized his position like Brodeur or Lemieux. He’s being inducted to the Hall tonight because his numbers look great on paper.

Ilya Kovalchuk, the much-maligned New Jersey Devils forward, is a prolific goal-scorer. At his current pace, he’s going to score 700 goals—100 more than Ciccarelli-- before his bones even begin to creak.

But he’s no Hall of Famer. He’s never won a Stanley Cup, is rumoured to be a cancer in the locker room, and certainly didn’t change the face of ice hockey.

Ciccarelli hasn’t won a Cup either. He’s never been a good role model-- he even did jail time— and has certainly never been the pinnacle of hockey greatness during the years he was on the ice. But today, Ciccarelli is entering the Hall of Fame.

For what? 

For his 608 goals, a lovely number on a lovely piece of paper. But not for being an immortal hockey player.


The Hall of Fame induction system is broken. The Committee should stop inducting names because they must—they should ask themselves whether these players are truly worthy of the immortality. If, one year, no truly great players are nominated for induction, then the Committee must not reach for someone to enshrine. Doing so only takes away from the accomplishments of those who have truly achieved greatness.


Few boys grew up wanting to be Dino Ciccarelli. But girls everywhere grew up wanting to be Angela James or Cammi Granato. The Hockey Hall of Fame should be reserved only for those who possessed this transcendent greatness.
 
It should be reserved only for legends like the two women who are to be immortalized tonight.

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