Ciccarelli gets call at last

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:53 PM ET

Dino Ciccarelli never did things the easy way.

Nearly all of 608 of his NHL goals came with a painful cross-check in the back and punch in the mouth.

Despite a team-record 72 goals in junior with the London Knights, he was considered untouchable by most NHL GMs after a shattered leg threatened his hockey career and he was never drafted.

And, of course, he waited eight long years for his Hockey Hall of Fame phone call before being deemed worthy by the 18-member selection committee.

“You’re always hopeful, but you hear things as the years go on and I tried not to get too excited,” the 50-year-old Sarnia native said. “From the past, I kind of knew what time the calls came and I tried to keep myself busy. I had a meeting. But it (the phone call) came earlier than I expected. It caught me by surprise.

“When I saw the area code and knew it was from Toronto, I got nervous.”

Ciccarelli will be inducted in November along with women’s pioneers Angela James and Cammi Granato, Detroit Red Wings executive Jimmy Devellano and late Calgary Flames co-owner Daryl (Doc) Seaman.

The four-time all-star, whose trademarks were standing in front of the net and using his knack to deflect shots, never won the Stanley Cup. But he had a major impact on wherever he played — Minnesota, Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Florida.

“I survived the grind and played 19 years,” he said when asked about his proudest moment.

The phone call came one year too late for his mom Celeste, who died in February.

“It’s emotional for me because I lost my mom and my dad (Vic) a few years ago,” Ciccarelli said. “It would’ve been nice for them to see this, but I know they’ll be watching and I still have my kids to share this with. I’m very honoured.”

Many wondered if some of his past on- and off-ice incidents were keeping him out of the voters’ favour. He was the first NHLer sent to jail for an on-ice infraction when he whacked Toronto Maple Leaf Luke Richardson over the head with his stick.

He was a spectacular pest, the scourge of every goaltender he played against, but someone his team loved to have on their side.

“I was taught you had to pay a price to score goals,” Ciccarelli said.

“I’m always reminded of the story when I was in Detroit. We had (Paul) Coffey, (Sergei) Federov, (Nick) Lidstrom and (Steve) Yzerman on the power play and there was room for one more and I knew I had to go to the net if I wanted it to be me.”

Before the post-lockout rule changes, the front of the net was a virtual war zone and the smallish Ciccarelli took his lumps.

“Guys still do it now,” he said. “There’s a guy right here in Detroit who does and that’s Tomas Holmstrom.

“But it isn’t easy, I can tell you that.”

It takes a willingness and competitive fire that Ciccarelli learned early.

“My dad drove me hard,” he said. “Certainly, after the broken leg in London, no one wanted to take a chance on me and I was very disappointed. But I understood why. I knew I had to show that I could come back and score goals like I did.

“I had a lot of people helping me, from trainer Don Brankley to my billets the Chaffeys (Laura and Roy). They took turns driving me to rehab every day.”

Ciccarelli knew Lou Nanne in Minnesota and Scotty Bowman in Buffalo were interested in signing him as a free agent.

“Lou stepped up and I thought I’d get the chance to play more in Minny,” he said. “Everyone who plays professional sports, they just dream of an opportunity.”

His first year, the North Stars went to the Stanley Cup final and lost to the Islanders. Ciccarelli set a rookie mark with 14 playoff goals, which has stood for 30 years.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate with that one,” he said. “You need a hot goalie, good players and coaches, and to go far to do it. I think someone will come along one day and beat it, but I’ve been lucky it’s had some legs to it.”

Ciccarelli joins fellow Knights grad Darryl Sittler in the hall.

Brankley has been waiting, often impatiently, for this day.

“I always told him I’d be there if he got the call, I just started to wonder,” the former Knights trainer said from his home in Capreol. “When it didn’t happen for a few years and you see the people who were going in, no disrespect to the honour, but you wondered if you needed to be friends with someone on the committee to get in.”

Ciccarelli’s injury was potentially career-ending. Brankley called it a speed bump.

“He hurt it because he was trying so hard (in practice),” he said, “and that’s the way he did everything. He had the competitiveness. You loved to have him on your team. He worked for everything he got.

“They put that steel rod in his leg and the doctors said he’d be fortunate to walk properly. At airport security, he would always have to go last because he’d always set off the metal detector and hold everyone up.

“He just always knew how to score goals and once he got his skating back, there was never any doubt about his talent.”

He was once asked by Sports Illustrated if he knew the dimensions of the net he parked himself in front of every game.

“I don’t know how wide it is and I don’t know how high it is,” he said, “but I sure as hell know where it is.”

So beware, all-time goalies Patrick Roy, Billy Smith and Grant Fuhr.

For eight years, the hall of fame was a Ciccarelli-free zone.

Not anymore.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ryanpyette


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