Three ex-Leafs in Hall of Fame

Doug Gilmour was nominated to the Hall in the players' category on Tuesday. (QMI Agency file photo)

Doug Gilmour was nominated to the Hall in the players' category on Tuesday. (QMI Agency file photo)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:09 PM ET

The Maple Leafs haven’t been able to pry the Stanley Cup out of the nearby Hockey Hall of Fame for 44 years, but it doesn’t mean the shrine is off limits for Toronto players.

The 2011 class, unveiled Tuesday, will have plenty of maple syrup flavour, with three ex-Leafs, including former captain Doug Gilmour and one ex-Toronto Marlborough.

Joining Gilmour, the Leafs’ playoff points leader, is fellow forward Joe Nieuwendyk and goaltender Ed Belfour. All three won Stanley Cups elsewhere amid many National Hockey League feats, but with Gilmour growing old on the waiting list and the recent passing of one-time Toronto coach Pat Burns, this was a notable day for long-suffering fans of the blue and white.

November’s Hall of Fame game between the Leafs and Bruins will surely be one of the loudest nights ever at the Air Canada Centre.

“The opportunity to play in Toronto is something I’ll never forget and never regret,” Gilmour said. “The media is always there, but you accept the role. If you ever have the chance to play in Toronto, I say go for it.”

All three watched the Leafs growing up and joining the trio on the induction call Tuesday was defenceman Mark Howe, who played a year at old Maple Leaf Gardens under Leaf great George Armstrong, won the Memorial Cup and went on to a distinguished career of his own in the WHA and NHL.

Howe said he was teary-eyed when he phoned his famous father Gordie to share the news, but laughed when told that 83-year-old Mr. Hockey was busy on a Toronto golf course and couldn’t take the call.

One of the proudest men upon hearing the induction news was Cliff Fletcher, general manager of the 1989 Calgary Flames when Gilmour and Nieuwendyk helped pave the way to that city’s first title. He later brought Gilmour to the Leafs, a move that took them as close as they’ve ever been to breaking their Cup jinx, back-to-back conference final appearances in 1993 and ‘94.

“I’m totally elated for both of them,” Fletcher said. “They’re both deserving and all their hard work has come to fruition. When they go into the Hall in November that will be five members of that (Calgary) team who are in.”

For Gilmour, the only missing piece on Tuesday was Burns, who many thought would get in the Hall’s builders wing last year while he was in failing health with cancer. With four players admitted Tuesday, it’s the first year since 1981 that no builder made the selection committee’s cut.

“We don’t have anything to do with the vote, but I would have loved to see him in there,” Gilmour said. “We know he’ll be in one day.”

Nieuwendyk’s Cup with the Devils came with Burns behind the bench.

“For me, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Nieuwendyk said. “He had that presence. Eveyone respects what he did.”

Nieuwendyk’s Cup charm didn’t work a fourth time with Toronto, but he and Belfour put the Stars on the hockey map in 1999. They nearly became back-to-back champions in 2000, losing to Jersey in a six-game final.

“We really captured the hearts of Texans,” Nieuwendyk said. “It’s a memory that I will never forget.”

Belfour, who won 93 games as a Leaf after the Cup with Dallas, had none of his erratic off-ice behaviour and brushes with the law come back to haunt him, getting in the Hall on his first try.

“There are always little things you wish you could have done differently,” Belfour said in his only reference to his past, “but I’ll keep those (thoughts) to myself.

“I always tried to peak for the playoffs and play my best then.”

Belfour was indeed one of the best money goalies in the business. He played in two of the toughest markets in Chicago and Toronto where he was under constant scrutiny.

“You had to give 110% every night,” Belfour said. “I loved being part of the hockey mecca (in Toronto). Every game you are being criticized, but that was fine. My only regret was not winning a Stanley Cup there.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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