It has been a Hall of a ride

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

The cream of the Canadian sports world will rendezvous next Wednesday at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

In conjunction with the celebration, several of the top Canadian sportsmen and Canada's Glamorous Golden Girl -- Olympic speed skating gold medallist Catriona LeMay Doan -- will be inducted into the Hall.

Among the other honourees are cycling champions Steve Bauer and Curt Harnett, Canadian baseball legend Claude Raymond, respected baseball executive Paul Beeston and the heroic 1972 Canada shinny team led by Phil Esposito and Paul Henderson.

Terry Kelly, the world's greatest soccer fan and chairman of the Hall's selection committee, said the other day:

"I've been on the selection committee for many years and I feel younger in a way by looking at these terrific honourees every year. I only wish we could induct Pele. But this year's inductees are right up there in that class."

I have a special warm spot for the 1972 shinny squad. You see, I covered the Canadian half (the first four games) of the Super Series for the Sun. I applauded Esposito when he lectured Canadian fans on how to support Team Canada against the hated Soviet Union team and not to boo them as they did in Vancouver when Canada trailed the Soviets after the first four games.

After the unpleasant Vancouver experience, Team Canada and I took off for Sweden where it played two warmup games against the Swedish national team in preparation for the drama-filled four games in Moscow. I didn't have a Soviet Visa to travel to Moscow with the team, but was promised by Punch Imlach, the general manager/coach of the Maple Leafs and at the time, that he would bring it to Stockholm, which he did.

In the morning between the two warmup games I sat in the lobby with Ken Dryden, Team Canada's outstanding goaltender, who was reading the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Just then a friendly Czech journalist walked over to me and took me to a corner of the lobby. In a whispering voice he told me in no uncertain terms that he would advise me against going to Moscow.

Since I had known the fellow for some time while covering international hockey, I realized he wasn't kidding. He explained that the Soviet secret police was waiting for me at the Moscow airport and would hand me over to Czech secret agents who were itching to lay their hands on me because, as a journalist, I was anything but loved by the communists in my native Czechoslovakia.

Those who have known me over the years, are aware that I was never afraid of my own shadow. However, I still felt I should check with Doug Creighton, the late founding publisher of the Sun. It didn't take him long to shout into the phone, "Get your ass instantly back to Toronto. I'll go to Moscow."

And he did.

So, instead of watching the game from Moscow, I watched it from my boss' office at the Sun. All of Canada held its collective breath until Henderson scored the winner late in the game.

You'll forgive me if I play back in my mind those moments next Wednesday. I wish only that all the luminaries accepting their induction into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame could have received it in the Hall's own building whether in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg or some other willing Canadian city.

But former Prime Minister Jean Chretien found it more important to use the previously approved building in Ottawa for his glorification.

What a shame!

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Toronto's Colin Lorimer, next year's dinner chairman of the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame, led this week's contributors to the Sun's Variety Village Christmas Fund with a cheque for $175. This week's total was $400. Keep them coming, please ... Tennis Canada is heavily involved with improvement of the organization under president and CEO Michael Downey. It's latest move was the appointment of noted lawyer and NHL player agent Gordon Kirk as its director.


Videos

Photos