Kings’ Nick Nickson, Simi Valley’s Angela Ruggiero among Hockey Hall inductees
They came from different parts of the world but were driven by the same unlikely dream.
Angela Ruggiero of Simi Valley wanted to play for the Kings and wore her hockey gear to her second-grade career day, unwilling to accept her gender would bar her from the game she loved. Sergei Fedorov grew up in Russia at a time when playing in the NHL wasn’t an option and had to defect to the United States to shine in the world’s best league.
Phil Housley was a skinny little kid in Saint Paul, Minn., but his slick skating led a coach to transform him from a forward to a creative defenseman, changing his life. Elegant Nicklas Lidstrom and rugged Chris Pronger grew up in small towns with frigid winters and both played defense, but as smooth as Sweden’s Lidstrom was in winning the Norris trophy seven times and the Stanley Cup four times, Canada’s Pronger was tireless and ferocious in using his menacing air to propel the Ducks to the Cup in 2007.
Those players were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday in Toronto along with former Hall of Fame executive Bill Hay and Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, Jr., who were honored as builders. Longtime Kings voice Nick Nickson received the Foster Hewitt award for excellence in hockey broadcasting and respected writer and commentator Bob McKenzie received the Elmer Ferguson award for his contributions to hockey journalism.
Players are fortunate to have 15-year careers, but writers and broadcasters can inhabit fans’ lives for decades. That’s true for followers of the Kings, who have listened to Bob Miller (a 2000 Foster Hewitt winner) for 42 seasons and Nickson for 35. Nickson’s play-by-play paints a vivid picture with descriptions that are quick and incisive. He makes it easy to see the game on radio, a rare talent.
“That’s something I’ve really worked at and I like to think that most hockey broadcasters on radio try to perfect it,” he said. “You’re never going to perfect it but that’s what makes it enjoyable, when you know where it is, you know what’s happening. When people tell me that, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing what I have set out to do, to make it enjoyable for you to listen to.”
Nickson was a year out of Ithaca College and working at WBBF in Rochester, N.Y., when his father, Nick, who spent 60 years in broadcasting on the air and in management, told him the minor-league hockey team had an opening for a play-by-play announcer and asked if he’d be interested.
“At that time,” Nickson, 61, said in a recent interview, “I wasn’t looking to become a broadcast sportscaster. I was a disc jockey. That was my career path, following what my dad did. My ultimate goal, and we all dreamed big back when we were younger, was to maybe own a radio station someday.”
Life took him on another path, as it took Fedorov from Russia to the NHL, where he won the Cup three times and the Selke Trophy twice with the Detroit Red Wings. Fedorov is the NHL’s highest-scoring Russian player, with 483 goals and 1,179 points. “In my wildest dreams I would never expect something like this,” he said during the televised ceremony. “I never believed something like this would happen.”
Ruggiero thanked her family for supporting her as she reached ever-higher levels. She won a gold medal at the first women’s Olympic hockey tournament in 1998, two silvers and a bronze, and three world titles. She represented the U.S. 256 times, more than any male or female player. “I hope people that are watching are inspired because I’m a testament to anything is possible,” said Ruggiero, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s athletes commission.
Lidstrom repeated the theme of unexpected success. “All the dreams I had as a child, I never imagined a night like tonight,” he said, though anyone who watched him knew it would happen. Phil Housley thanked his wife, Karin, a Minnesota state senator, and his siblings. “I was the youngest of three. They beat me up and toughened me up a little bit,” said Housley, an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators.
Pronger thanked his older brother, Sean, also a former NHL player, and touchingly said he stood on stage for both of them. Pronger, who works for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, also acknowledged the emotions he triggered during a career that often put him afoul of NHL law. “Some boos, some cheers, but thank you very much,” he said, blunt as ever.
Two-time Olympic gold medal coach Mike Babcock was the right choice to coach Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey next September, though Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks — designated an assistant — would have been fine too. But shouldn’t Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, have been considered? Sutter said he spoke to Team Canada officials long ago but hadn’t spoken to anyone about this World Cup. “I’d be more interested in anything to do with the Olympics,” he said, adding that the selection of Babcock “shouldn’t even be questioned.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the board of governors won’t vote on expansion next month because the executive committee won’t finish evaluating applications from Quebec and Las Vegas by then. Bettman also said there’s about a year for the NHL and the players’ association to decide on participating in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and 2022 Games in Beijing, China. If they’re in for one they’ll be in for both; if they’re out, they’ll be out for both. China is a tempting market but travel and TV considerations make it a tough call.
Reviewing the new three-on-three overtime and the coach’s challenge is on the agenda for general managers’ meetings Tuesday in Toronto. Of the 42 games through Sunday that went to overtime, 29 (69%) were decided in three-on-three play. Last season only 44.4% of games that went to four-on-four overtime were decided in sudden death.
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