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Hall of Famers honoured

Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe, Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour flip pucks in the air before being inducted...

Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe, Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour flip pucks in the air before being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday, Nov. 14, 2011. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

Lance Hornby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

TORONTO - Ed Belfour is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame because he fiercely protected his own front door.

But he fears what the next generation of elite NHL goaltenders will have to endure to join him. The issue was raised again on the weekend after Buffalo Sabres all-star Ryan Miller was steamrolled by Boston’s Milan Lucic.

“I don’t like what’s gone on the last 10 years where goalies are getting run over,” Belfour said as he, Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk and Mark Howe were inducted Monday. “There are only going to be more and more injuries. I wish there would be more protection there.”

The NHL, which didn’t punish Lucic any further on Monday, did tighten up goaltender interference in the past few years. But that happened in tandem with the game ‘opening up’, preventing defencemen from holding up attacking forwards and a reduction of the size of goalie equipment.

Belfour won 484 games, third in NHL history, by enforcing his blue paint with his stick. It could be a little jab, to a whack to the ankles or putting it between an opponent’s legs for the full how’s-your-father.

“They let me do it,” said Belfour. “It was part of the game. The refs would warn you, but they knew you were protecting your area.

“At the end of my career, they would give you a penalty right away. You’d get run over three or four times a game and they wouldn’t give the forwards a penalty. It was very frustrating and I hope they look at it a little more closely.”

The Miller incident in particular speaks to the deeper question of lack of respect. Chatting at the Foster Hewitt Award luncheon on Monday, 77-year-old Original Sixer Murray Costello mentioned that the players went out of their way to avoid hitting maskless goalies, while stoppers such as Johnny Bower would stick out their pads to cushion the impact of bare-headed players sliding into unflexible iron goal posts.

Players continue to get bigger and faster and while incidental contact has contributed to a rash of concussions, so have head shots.

“We’re in a funny game today,” said Hall selection committee member Pat Quinn. “I just don’t understand the lack of respect. You always say go to the net and arrive there with the puck. That’s where the game happens. But it doesn’t mean bowling the goalie over. We’re not supposed to crash the net in that fashion, recklessly enough to put someone else at risk.

“It will happen again. I got fined a couple of years ago (as coach of the Oilers) for speaking my mind about how you’d deal with dirty play (immediate retribution). But if the league doesn’t deal with it, the players don’t pay attention to their responsibility, then somehow you have to look after it.”

Gilmour, now GM of the OHL Kingston Frontenacs, played in both the wide open and dead puck eras. He says the sport is making strides to eradicate players who push the envelope in free wheeling hockey.

“I like the game today,” Gilmour said. “You look at the OHL and what they’re trying to take that out in terms of (20-game) suspensions. You put your helmet on, you want to have competition, you want to win. But you have to be careful what you do.”

All four of the 2011 inductees took unlikely paths to the Hall. Gilmour was drafted in the fourth round by St. Louis, Nieuwendyk was passed over his first year before Calgary took him in the second round, Belfour wasn’t picked at all and for many years, Howe was in the shadow of his father Gordie.

“You come on to that (Blues’) team, they have five returning centremen and all had a lot of points,” Gilmour recalled. “I’m 5-10 and weigh maybe a buck 55 at the time. So they said ‘can you check?’ and I said, ‘Okay.’

“I just wanted to stay there, I didn’t want to go to the minors, I wanted to have that challenge.”

Both Mark Howe, now the Red Wings’ director of pro scouting, and Quinn agreed that some players don’t get the chance that this year’s Hall class received.

“Some kids get pushed away fast,” Quinn said. “I still believe that under our system today, we’ll miss a lot of guys. We’d have missed Phil Esposito, we’d have missed these four guys. Yet we have more and more people hired all the time. Brian Burke’s got 99 scouts here with the Leafs, turning over every stone to find these kids. But the system up top gets you moving them along. We get a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stepping right in, but that’s the low fruit.”

Howe pointed out that Nieuwendyk wasn’t overlooked as much as underdeveloped. And when he came out of Cornell University three years after getting picked he was a polished product.

“Some guys are later bloomers,” Howe said. “Amateur scouting is now a very difficult task, especially drafting 18-year-olds. I know back when you had to be 20, it gave the scouts plenty of advantage. From what I understand from the amateur scouts, normally the top 15 kids are very good players, a few superstars come early, then from 30 to 200, it’s a crap shoot. It’s not a perfect science, otherwise everyone would have the best team in the league.”


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