Costello rebuilt national pride

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Like any Canadian, Murray Costello's ears would burn every time he heard Europeans mock our national development program.

"I was sick and tired of going overseas and hearing, 'Canadians can't play this game, they're just slugs and cornermen,' " Costello said as he entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder's wing last night along with former players Cam Neely and the late Valeri Kharlamov.

Fortunately, as president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association Costello had the clout to change that perception. He was instrumental in the launch of the Program of Excellence in the 1980s, which continues to put Canada at or near the top of the the world junior mountain and nurtures a successful Olympic program.

"The program got us out the gate and brought us back to respectability," he said. "We had to teach our kids to play the tenacious Canadian game, but always with control and discipline. The kids responded and we got back on track. Now they know who we are internationally, because (in) every competition we're a threat. That's the way it should be."

Costello headed up the CAHA for 19 years and accepted last night's honour "in recognition of the amateur side of the game, particularly all those volunteers who work so hard to keep development going."

Costello played briefly in the National Hockey League with Detroit and Boston, but the better known Bruin to enter the Hall is Neely. He had 395 goals and 299 assists in 726 regular season games and countless bone-rattling hits in a career shortened by injuries at age 31.

Neely once fretted over whether he even would make it out of his home province. The Comox, B.C., native was stalled in the Vancouver Canucks depth chart in 1986 when traded to Boston.

"It was a tough time," Neely said. "My father was ill and shortly thereafter my mom got sick (both died of cancer). I moved 3,000 miles away, going to Boston with all the history and success they were having. I wasn't sure how things would pan out."

But as Bruins president Harry Sinden told him, the cozy Boston Garden was perfect for his rugged style.

"It's not strictly about goals and assists," said Neely, whose Hall ring would not fit on the proper finger, gnarled from his frequent bouts. "It meant as much to me to give a big hit as it did to score a big goal."

Neely retired in 1996 because of a degenerative hip condition. Kharlamov was 33 in 1981 when he was attempting a comeback from injuries for that year's Canada Cup. The veteran of the '72 Summit Series was not named to that team and just before the tournament began he and his wife died in a car accident near Moscow.

His son Alexander accepted on Valeri's behalf last night, holding the ring and admiring it but refusing to take it out of the box.

"I know he really liked playing in Canada," he said. "I want to say thank you to everybody in Canada who remembers my father."


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