By STEPHEN WHYNO (AP Hockey Writer)
Henrik Lundqvist had posters of Mike Vernon and Tom Barrasso on a wall in his bedroom when he was growing up in Sweden hoping to play in the NHL.
Decades later, they are going into the Hockey Hall of Fame together this November as part of a goaltender-heavy class of 2023.
Lundqvist was elected Wednesday in his first year of eligibility and Vernon and Barrasso after lengthy waits to get the call, making nearly half the inductees guys who keep the puck out of the net for a living.
“Of course as a kid when you grow up, you look at the goalies that are playing well and how they play the game and how they compete and that’s how you get inspired,” Lundqvist said. “Thinking about players in the Hall of Fame, it’s such a big inspiration to me, why I started playing hockey.”
Former NHL forward Pierre Turgeon and Canadian women’s hockey star Caroline Ouellette were the other players chosen by the 18-person selection committee. Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock and late executive Pierre Lacroix were picked to be inducted in the builder category.
Lundqvist, elected in his first year of eligibility, backstopped Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in 2006 and led the New York Rangers to the playoffs in 11 of 12 years. That included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and two Eastern Conference Final appearances.
A seventh-round pick in the 2000 draft, Lundqvist ranks fifth on the NHL career victories list with 459 and won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in 2011-12. He won 61 more games in the playoffs before halting his hockey career in 2020 because of a heart condition — and on Nov. 13 will become just the third European goalie inducted after Dominik Hasek and Vladislav Tretiak.
Barrasso won the Cup with Pittsburgh back to back in 1991 and ’92. He had been eligible since 2006 and long ago came to peace with the idea of not making the Hall. Selection committee chairman Mike Gartner and board chairman Lanny McDonald had a difficult time reaching him to deliver the news.
“I was definitely not waiting by the phone,” said Barrasso, who won the Vezina and the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1983-84 to start a nearly 20-year NHL career. “Do you make that grade or not is not for you to decide. It’s for others to decide. … It’s a tremendous honor to have been selected by the committee, and it puts a bit of validation on the idea of what I thought along the way of my career.”
Vernon was so surprised he thought McDonald, a teammate when they won the Cup together with Calgary in 1989, was calling to ask him to play golf. The two-time Cup champion who was also playoff MVP when he won it in 1997 with Detroit had been eligible since 2005.
“The game has meant a lot to me throughout my life,” Vernon said. “It is an emotional time for me. Might be a long time coming, but it’s still worth it.”
The wait continues for point-a-game Russian winger Alexander Mogilny and goaltender Curtis Joseph, who is just five victories behind Lundqvist on the NHL career list.
Ouellette got in on her second chance after helping Canada win a gold medal in all four of her Olympic appearances. She had 30 points in 20 games during those tournaments and also was part of six teams that won the IIHF women’s world championship.
Turgeon was selected after being eligible for more than a decade. The 1993 winner of the Lady Byng Trophy as the most gentlemanly player in the league, Turgeon had 1,327 points in 1,294 regular-season NHL games, with nearly of those coming with Buffalo and St. Louis.
“There are a lot of great players that had great careers, so it’s got to be tough for them to decide,” Turgeon said. “It has been a great journey and a privilege to be a part of that journey.”
Hitchcock finally got in 24 years since coaching the Dallas Stars to their first championship in franchise history. He also ranks fourth in regular-season wins among coaches, and yet still the now 71-year-old was shocked to get the call.
“What I’m proudest of is that I survived,” Hitchcock said. “I’m really proud of the fact that when I coached I stayed current. It’s really hard to stay current. I was able to do it.”
Lacroix, the architect of the first two Colorado Avalanche Cup-winning teams in 1996 and 2021, was elected posthumously. He died in December 2020 at the age of 72, and son Eric said Wednesday was bittersweet for the family.
“It’s been a long time coming,” son Marty Lacroix added. “I’m sure my father today in spirit is overwhelmed. I know he wanted this badly, so thank you to everybody.”
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