In the moments after the Hockey Hall of Fame inductees receive their rings, there is always a photo op where the inductees balance a puck on the blade of a hockey stick, then flip the puck in the air and hope to catch it back on the blade. Years after winning a Hart Trophy, scoring better than a point a game and being one of the most dominating combinations of force and finesse the game has ever seen, Eric Lindros failed miserably.
So did the others – Rogie Vachon, Kalli Quinn (representing her father, Pat) and Sergei Makarov. After a couple of tries, Lindros turned to your trusty correspondent, smiled and said, “Maybe I should just run them over.”
It should come as no surprise that was Lindros’ mindset, even though it was clearly an attempt at humor. Taking matters into his own hands was the default mechanism for Lindros, which is one of the reasons he’ll spend this weekend being feted as one of the four newest inductees. There are a number of things that bind the four men, the chief among them that all four were winners of the Canada/World Cup. But another thing that unites all four was a courage of conviction that often went against the grain of the hockey establishment and all four are where they are today because they were so strong willed and uncompromising.
Or stubborn. Take your pick.
Eric Lindros: Supremely talented and brimming with confidence, Lindros was never, ever willing to blindly toe hockey’s company line and follow the paths so many took before him. And because he was such a special talent, he was able to do it. It did not, however, come without a heavy cost. There are those who think Lindros had to wait six years to get into the Hall of Fame largely because of the stances he took as a player, which ranged from refusing to report to the Soo Greyhounds, refusing to play for the Quebec Nordiques and butting heads with Philadelphia Flyers GM Bob Clarke over his medical treatment.
But as it turns out, Lindros was simply ahead of his time. Almost every elite player entering junior hockey now – Max Domi and Nathan MacKinnon being perfect examples – dictates the terms and essentially chooses where he is going to play junior hockey. And the collective bargaining agreement now enshrines a players’ right to seek his own outside medical opinions, something Lindros insisted on doing.
“It’s not like you’re looking to go upstream,” Lindros said. “My parents would lay out the decisions and they’d stay with me no matter what route I chose. And it wasn’t always the popular one.”
Pat Quinn: When Quinn was a teenager, he had opted for the road less travelled, accepting a scholarship to Michigan Tech University, until the Detroit Red Wings told the NCAA he should be declared ineligible because he had played junior hockey. Quinn never forgot or forgave the Red Wings, nor did he ever lose his passion for education. A history buff with a quick wit, Quinn received his Bachelor of Arts after joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, then went on to law school after his career ended.
To say that Quinn was principled was an understatement. He always stood his ground, whether it was in the NHL’s decision to suspend him after being hired by the Vancouver Canucks or in stubbornly insisting to play a wide-open offensive style during The Dead Puck Era™. His Toronto Maple Leaf team was simply not going to play that way.
“He believed in what he wanted to achieve and he achieved it,” Kalli Quinn said. “And he did it honestly, through hard work and he was going to get there. He didn’t want anybody to tell him he wasn’t allowed to do something or couldn’t do something. He believed you could win playing a different way. And he was going to do everything he could to teach his players to win by playing an exciting game of hockey.”
Sergei Makarov: There’s a story that Igor Larionov was playing for the Florida Panthers and coach Terry Murray was trying to get him to dump the puck in instead of gaining the blueline with possession. When Larionov asked why, Murray apparently told him that if the coach allowed him to do it, everyone would want to do it. Larionov checked out and demanded a trade.
“I have the same story,” Makarov said. “When we played together on the Sharks, we showed coach, ‘Look, we do it ourselves and we’re going to win.’ I always tried to understand and discuss with coaches what I’m supposed to be doing what you say. I play different. We just wanted to go on the ice and play the way we used to. This hockey we played was a winning hockey.”
Rogie Vachon: Here was a guy who could have been perfectly content to play second fiddle in Montreal, playing behind Hall of Fame goalies and collecting Stanley Cup rings like they were cereal box prizes. Instead, Vachon demanded a trade from the Canadiens in 1971 after watching Ken Dryden almost singlehandedly win a Cup for the Canadiens. It got him banished to the hockey hinterland of Los Angeles, but it also gave him the role he needed to forge his Hall of Fame career.
“In the summer I went to see Sam Pollock and I said, ‘If I’m not going to play any more than 15 games a year, I want you to trade me,’ ” Vachon said. “ ‘You have some other good goalies here and I want out.’ I wasn’t bitter being a backup goalie and I was still young and wanted to be a No. 1 somewhere. I told them, ‘I don’t care. You can send me anywhere.’ I was lucky that it ended up being Los Angeles.”