Gotta like Mike

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

By no means an NHL legend or even a local icon, the case for Mike Vernon's induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame is a simple numbers game:

One Conn Smythe Trophy.

Two Stanley Cup rings.

Five all-star game appearances.

Sixth all-time in playoff wins and 10th all-time in regular-season Ws.

Good enough to post a winning record in 14 of 18 seasons as a full-time NHLer, the question remains whether such stats are good enough to land him votes from the mandatory 14 of 18 members of the Hall's selection committee June 8.

"He definitely deserves to be voted in right away," said Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey, who battled Vernon throughout the '80s and '90s.

"He was a dominant goaltender -- a player other teams talked about playing against, trying to find ways to score against him.

"It speaks to his value when the Red Wings felt they needed a goalie of his calibre to bring them a Stanley Cup -- and he did."

Six years after proving everyone in his hometown wrong by leading the Flames to the Stanley Cup, the 5-ft. 9-in. Vernon was acquired by Detroit on the recommendation of Mr. Goalie, Glenn Hall.

Three years later, he got the nod to head up a 1997 playoff run that made him playoff MVP -- an honour former Flames coach Terry Crisp would've handed Vernon in 1989.

"I know we had Joe Nieuwendyk, Al MacInnis and all that talent but, from my point of view, when I look back, I say, 'Mike Vernon took us to the Cup,' " said Crisp from his Nashville home, where he recently watched a tape of the Cup-clinching game in Montreal.

"I never realized how much flak Vernie took and how he kept his cool and allowed us to win that game. They were running through his crease all night. In a nutshell, what he went through to win the Cup is what he went through his entire career."

Especially in Calgary, where his seemingly gaping five-hole garnered almost as much conversation as his freewheeling lifestyle.

When things went poorly, the fans always blamed Vernon, and when things went well, everyone else received praise. The only place he could win was on the ice, which he did 462 times, including playoffs.

"I don't think there's anything harder than playing in your hometown in front of your high-school friends and family," said Crisp, a supporter of Vernon's Hall bid.

"He fought through all of that."

So now, three years after retirement, how does Vernon feel his Calgary neighbours remember him?

"I don't really want to be remembered for one thing, game or issue -- just that I was a decent goalie who competed hard," said the former Flame, Panther, Wing and Shark, now a successful land developer. "I'm proud to have achieved the goals I did. I was fortunate enough to be put in situations to succeed."

The key is he always seemed to make the most of those situations -- joining longtime rivals Patrick Roy and Grant Fuhr as the three most clutch goalies of the late '80s and '90s.

For what it's worth, he won just 18 fewer games than Fuhr, a recent Hall inductee.

"For such a high-pressure position, he was always so laid-back," said former Flames teammate Dana Murzyn. "It was contagious. You'd think, 'If he's not worried, why should I be worried?' He was always laughing. He was entertaining and great for the game."

Pointing out Glenn Anderson and his 88 game-winning goals should get the first nod when voting is conducted next month, NHL stats legend Liam Maguire suggests Vernon is a close second.

"I would put Vernon in for sure," said Maguire, unconvinced former Flame Gary Suter should be similarly anointed.

"From being top goalie at the Memorial Cup in 1983 to his almost 800 games played ... and winning percentage, he's a no-brainer."

Does Vernon feel the same?

"I'll let the voters decide that -- I'm not here to say anything," said Vernon, 42.

"I'd be quite excited if it did happen, for sure. I'll let my record speak for itself."

It's all the convincing voters should need.


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