TORONTO - One of Joe Sakic’s regrets was not having old Quebec friend Mats Sundin take a lap with him and the Stanley Cup.
But they’ll be striding into the Hockey Hall Of Fame in the same induction class, 18 years after a trade that sent the two Nordiques wunderkinds on divergent career paths.
First-year eligibles Sakic and Sundin joined two-time 60-goal winger Pavel Bure and assist machine Adam Oates in election to the Hall on Tuesday. Oates was informed the same day he was named head coach of the Washington Capitals.
Among those not getting the required 14 of 18 votes from the selection committee was qualified first-year candidate Brendan Shanahan. No builders were admitted, putting the campaigns for late coaches Fred Shero and Pat Burns on hold again.
For 40-somethings Sakic and Sundin, Tuesday’s conference call was like turning back the clock to carefree playing days in a beautiful city where they could do no wrong.
But it later soured for Sundin, who was dealt to the Maple Leafs in the summer of 1994, in part because the Nords could not afford him, Sakic and the soon-to-arrive Peter Forsberg. Sundin became Toronto’s points leader, but the quiet Swede was never fully embraced in the NHL’s biggest market, where ending a long Cup drought mattered the most.
Meanwhile, the Nords moved to Denver, where Sakic was the catalyst for two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001.
“We basically started together and grew up together,” Sakic said. “You could instantly tell how good a young team we could be.”
Sundin, who was drafted two years after Sakic, was in awe of everything the creative centre did on the ice with his deadly wrist shot and off the ice with his quiet confidence.
“What a role model for me to have to break into a team like that,” Sundin said. “A big reason I’m (in the Hall) is because if Joe.
“He hasn’t changed since the first year when he was by far the dominant player on Quebec.”
Sundin becomes the second Swede to enter the Hall behind pioneer Leafs defenceman Borje Salming. It was thought Sundin might face a difficult road through the committee vote, with names such as Shanahan and Jeremy Roenick becoming eligible. Sundin and Shanahan are almost tied in career points, but Sundin’s gold medal for Sweden in 2006 carried some weight against Shanahan’s three Cups with Detroit and his present service to the league as its on-ice disciplinarian.
Oates was still letting his new coaching job sink in when the Hall call came. Up to now an assistant coach of the Cup finalist New Jersey Devils, the league’s sixth-highest assist leader was too busy the past few weeks to think about being snubbed again.
“Absolutely fantastic,” the Toronto native said of how Tuesday unfolded. “I don’t know if that (kind of double announcement) has ever happened before. I think I’ll go out and play the lottery.”
Speaking on a bad phone line from Moscow, Bure could not stop thanking committee co-chair Pat Quinn, the general manager and coach in Vancouver who was there to snare him when he defected from Russia. Quinn has obviously lobbied for Bure before, arguing his three years of 58, 59 and 60 goals warranted attention despite his knee injuries. He had been eligible six years for the Hall, one more than Oates.
Sundin was having dinner in a restaurant with wife Josephine when he received the news. He immediately ordered champagne to celebrate, but didn’t forget Leaf fans in his thoughts.
His No. 13 was retired by the club last season. He’s now feeling the love from many fans who saw him as an inferior captain to Canadian-born Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour.
“Coming to Toronto, I didn’t know what to expect,” Sundin said of switching places with the popular Clark. “You have to be part of the Leafs to understand how important the team is. It took me a while. The whole city breathes and lives the Leafs. The longer you’re there, the more you understand what it’s like to be part of something that big. Certainly, it was the best part of my life.
“You look at the Leafs now, you really hope for the fans they’ll win a Cup. No one deserves it more than them.”
The induction ceremony will be held in Toronto on Nov. 12.
Born: Moscow, Russia
By the numbers: Played 13 seasons for three teams, Vancouver, Florida and the New York Rangers ... Had 779 points in 772 games, marked by two 60-goal seasons ... Had 46 points in 44 games in his last season with Red Army.
Career highlights: His drafting by the Vancouver Canucks touched off a firestorm as he was initially declared ineligible ... The NHL eventually ruled him Canucks property, but after he defected, the team had to settle a transfer fee with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation ... Scored 22 goals in his final 23 games to win the 1991-92 Calder Trophy ... Had 16 goals and 31 points for Vancouver in the spring of 1994 when they made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final ... Less than 20 NHLers have scored 60 goals in a season and Bure later had 59 and 58 with Florida ... Already a member of the International Hockey Hall of Fame.
Did you know: Bure was named after his great-grandfather, a watchmaker to Czar Alexander III.
Quote: “A huge honour. Thanks to Pat Quinn, my first general manager and coach.”
Born: Toronto, Ont.
By the numbers: Played 19 years for seven teams, including a 97-assist year with Brett Hull and the St. Louis Blues ... Ranks sixth in career NHL assists with 1,079 ... Leading scorer on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s team, which brought him to NHL scouts’ attention.
Career highlights: Signed as a free agent by the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings in 1985, where he rose to a 78-point producer within a few years ... Oates was traded to St. Louis (with fellow future NHL head coach Paul MacLean), where he became the creative half of “Hull and Oates” tandem. His faceoff and passing ability with the hard-shooting Hull led to record offensive seasons for both ... Hull had 70 goals three times, but never more than 60 without Oates as his centre ... Twice made the Cup final, with Washington and Anaheim.
Did you know: Oates concentrated on playmaking as a youngster to please his father, a soccer fan who admired the ball handling skills of Sir Stanley Matthews.
Quote: “I was a Toronto kid, I visited the Hall of Fame, I liked the Leafs and Darryl Sittler, then switched to Bobby Hull and Chicago. I just would eat and sleep hockey all day long. My career was no different than anyone else in Canada.”
Born: Burnaby, B.C.
By the numbers: Played 20 seasons, all with the Quebec-Colorado franchise ... Had 1,641 points, ninth in NHL history ... Had 188 points in 172 playoff games.
Career highlights: Picked 15th overall in 1987 draft by Quebec Nordiques ... Won two Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche ... In 2007-08, became the second-oldest player in NHL history to record 100 points in a season, after Gordie Howe ... Won Hart Trophy in 2001 with 118 points ... MVP of the 2002 Olympics as Canada won the gold medal ... Currently is executive advisor and alternate governor of the team ... Father took him to first NHL game as a four-year-old to Pacific Coliseum to watch the Vancouver Canucks play the Atlanta Flames ... Played in 12 NHL all-star games ... Fourth Avalanche player inducted to the Hall, joining Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Jari Kurri.
Did you know: Sakic survived the 1986 Swift Current Broncos junior team bus crash that took the lives of four teammates, including Lindy Ruff’s brother Brent.
Quote: “Joe’s numbers and records place him among the best of all time and we can’t fully express what he meant to this franchise and our community.”
— Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix.
Born: Bromma, Sweden
By the numbers: Played 18 seasons, 13 in Toronto ... Leafs franchise records for goals (420), assists by a forward (567) and total points (987) ... In his career, he had 1,349 points in 1,346 games.
Career Highlights: First European to be picked first overall in 1989 draft by Quebec ... Recorded 12 regular season and playoff overtime goals, one of them in just six seconds after puck drop ... Scored his 500th NHL goal in overtime, short-handed, as part of a hat trick against Calgary ... Member of 2006 Olympic gold-medal winners for Sweden ... First Swede to 1,000 points ... In all but two full seasons, Sundin scored at least 70 points, played in at least 70 games and led the Leafs in points in every year but one.
Did You Know: At age five, Sundin watched countryman Borje Salming on TV in the 1976 Canada Cup, the man who would later urge him to take the Leafs captaincy that Salming turned down.
Quote: “I don’t think the Hall has overlooked Europe. Hopefully, the game keeps growing, not only in Europe, and they bring great players to the NHL that will elevate the game.”