A career that ended tragically on a rain-swept highway near Moscow in 1981 was given hockey immortality yesterday.
Valeri Kharlamov, the gifted left winger on the Soviet Union's world champion teams of the 1970s, was elected into the Hall of Fame, joining Vladislav Tretiak and Slava Fetisov as the only Russian players so honoured.
The Hall's other new impact forward, whose playing days were curtailed by on-ice hip and knee injuries, is Boston Bruins right winger Cam Neely. Murray Costello, the retired head of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, was admitted in the builders wing of the Hall.
The trio will be inducted Nov. 7.
In a year where no clear-cut favourites stood out, the 18-man Hall selection committee looked beyond the National Hockey League and in Neely's case chose the robust three-time 50-goal man over a group of players with longer careers and more points.
Those now likely pushed further back with Patrick Roy and Doug Gilmour eligible next year include Glenn Anderson, Dino Ciccarelli, Steve Larmer and Rick Middleton.
"It's a dilemma people on the committee wrestle with," chairman Jim Gregory said. "It's not easy to get in. A few guys in the past went in on their second or third try and they won trophies and Stanley Cups. Some guys are in with 200 goals, others have scored 600 (Ciccarelli) or have nine Cups and they're not in. It was the longest nomination meeting since I've been involved (14 votes are needed for election)."
Gregory said off-ice activity also is considered in the selection process, a possible strike against the sometimes controversial Anderson and a boost for the charity-conscious Neely.
"I was really proud (of the committee)," Gregory said. "The fact that Kharlamov did not play in the NHL shows the Hall has not shut its eyes to what's going on elsewhere. There were people on our committee who played against him (Serge Savard and Stan Mikita), while Scotty Bowman and Harry Sinden coached against him."
Kharlamov, victimized by Bobby Clarke's slash in the 1972 Summit Series, was 33 when he and his wife Irena died in a car crash. During a ride home from their cottage, Valeri had been giving Irena some driving lessons (she had no licence), but the vehicle went out of control during a heavy rainstorm. Their five-year-old son Alexander was orphaned, but later became a first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals.
"I never saw him play ... I just saw him on TV (tributes)," the younger Kharlamov said from Moscow.
"Thanks to all Canadians who remembered him."
Neely, who insisted he doesn't dwell on the Ulf Samuelsson hits that contributed to his early retirement in 1996, has fulfilled his post-career goals of creating a charitable foundation and helping the battle against cancer that claimed his parents.
"I'm honoured (the Hall) didn't just look at points," the power forward said of his 694 points in 726 games. "I'd have liked to play a handful of more years (but) the way I played, the more contact led to more injuries.
"I took pride in my physical play."
Costello, who played junior hockey at St. Michael's before a brief NHL career, said it was "a privilege to have the chance to live my life fulfilling my childhood passion.
"Volunteers made it happen."
Born: Moscow, Russia, 1948
Claim to fame: Despite being just 5-foot-8, he played 14 seasons with Central Red Army ... Recorded 507 points in 436 regular-season games ... Played in in 11 consecutive IIHF world and European championships and three Olympics. Helped win gold on 10 of those occasions.
Born: Comox, B.C., 1965
Claim to fame: Physical right winger had three 50-goal seasons for the Boston Bruins ... Second-team all-star three years ... Won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1994 ... Had 89 points in 93 playoff games.
Born: South Porcupine, Ont., 1934
Claim to fame: After 162 NHL games with Detroit and Chicago, the former St. Michael's star left hockey for law school ... Became president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada) in 1979, until retirement in 1998 ... Now does part-time work on behalf of Canada for the IIHF.