SUN Hockey Pool

Fanning the fun

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

TORONTO -- It goes back to the year Wayne Gretzky went into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He suggested they add an event where the players could connect with the fans.

Thus the 'Fan Forum' was born. And, to me, it's become the best part of the entire induction weekend.

It's not a media event. Only one or two members of the media attend and there's no special seating or access for them. But to me it beats the beejeebers out of the Legends game which follows over at Air Canada Centre, where the new Hall of Famers are presented with their blazers and play a couple of periods of oldtimers hockey.

The thing that makes the event for me is that by the time you get to Sunday, there isn't a new question to ask somebody like Mark Messier. When you've covered his banner raising in New York, spent four days with him at his leadership camp in New York leading into his banner raising in Edmonton and come here for this ...

But you can always count on the fans.

QUESTIONS

It was like that here yesterday as a couple hundred fans jammed themselves into the 'Be A Player' zone in the Hall to ask their own questions of the four inductees.

And this year is a special one with four players who had all captained teams and all won Stanley Cups - Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis and Messier.

It was one of those questions which inspired Stevens, who played his entire career with U.S. franchises, to make a passionate plea.

"I'd like to see more teams back in Canada first of all. I enjoyed playing games in Quebec City and Winnipeg.

"Other than that, I'd like to see hockey not make too many more changes. I don't want to see bigger nets. Our sport is the toughest one to win a championship. It's physical, dangerous and demanding. That's why it's the best sport."

Messier jumped in and said as much as he wants to see skill and speed, he doesn't want to see the loss of the things that put Stevens in the Hall of Fame.

"I don't want them to take the battle areas away. If you go to the front of the net you have to pay the price against Scott Stevens."

Stevens was asked by a Francis fan if he'd like to apologize to him now about a hit that put him out of the lineup in a playoff series. Or, with Eric Lindros, if he had any feelings about contributing to his early retirement.

"It's a dangerous game. That's what I love about it. It's the fastest, toughest sport in the world. That's what people come to see," he said.

A New York fan asked Messier how he felt the next day after he guaranteed victory over New Jersey going into Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Final when he picked up the papers the next morning.

"My first response was 'Oh, no! What did I do?' I forgot about the 14 million people who live there and that Scott Stevens would be reading the paper. What I said was for my teammates. It certainly wasn't for Scott to put it up in the New Jersey dressing room. I was just trying to give our team confidence in a series where the momentum had swung New Jersey's way."

Stevens said in retrospect it probably won the Devils the Stanley Cup the next year.

LESSON LEARNED

"I look back at that and believe sometimes you learn lessons from losing. We came back and won it in 1995."

When they were asked about tips to give to young hockey players, they all surprised the parents and kids in the crowd.

Stevens urged kids to do other stuff, enjoy everything about being a kid, don't make life hockey, hockey, hockey and to come back to their hockey season fresh.

"Fun is the most important thing," said MacInnis. "I'm coaching a pee wee team now and the parents had the kids fill out a questionnaire after the season asking them what they enjoyed most. They all said the last drill of practices. I always had a fun drill so they'd leave the ice with a smile.

"There's an old Snoopy cartoon that said there isn't a sport that an adult can't screw up. The most important thing is to have fun."


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