Lockout won't darken Hall celebration

Of all the Hall of Fame celebrations we've had the privilege to cover, there remains one moment that is a touchstone, a kind of "ahh" moment that distills everything to its most basic element.

It was during the 2004 Hall of Fame weekend at the fan forum at the Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto. It's a chance every year for fans to gather and ask questions of the inductees. It's not a media event, per se, but rather a more formal give and take between the players and/or builders who will be formally enshrined and the regular folks.

Sometimes the exchanges are funny, the men or women on the makeshift stage giving each other gentle jabs or tell amusing stories about their careers.

Sometimes it's more than that.

In 2004, a man from the Boston area stood to give an emotional thank-you to Ray Bourque for the years the defenseman gave the Boston Bruins and their fans. He told Bourque he'd brought his son who might have been 10 or 11 to see what a real, live role model looked like.

Those in attendance responded with applause and, if there weren't a few tears shed, it would be a great surprise.

I'm pretty sure both father and son were sporting Bourque jerseys, and we keep returning to that moment as a reminder of that special relationship between fans and players. In this case, it was a relationship that spanned many years and encompassed Bourque's move at the end of his career to Colorado, where he won his only Stanley Cup.

Didn't matter to that fan and his boy.

We can only assume this is a moment those two will remember forever. Maybe, if hockey is lucky, that boy will recount his memories to his children and so on.

The fact that moment came during the last lockout only reinforces the reality that the NHL has a tendency to ignore or take its fans for granted.

But that moment also reminds us that the game and its heroes and moments like those that lie ahead at this weekend's annual Hall of Fame celebration transcend the tawdry things like lockouts and strikes.

It's why we remain confident that the NHL's current labor dispute, one that has darkened NHL arenas since Sept. 15, will have absolutely no bearing on the importance of this weekend for inductees Adam Oates, Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic.


Don't believe us?

We called Larry Murphy, who was sitting next to Bourque that day in November 2004.

Until we reminded the Hall of Fame defenseman that he was part of the last lockout class, he'd never given it a moment's thought.

"I certainly don't remember it that way. That's how insulated the event is," Murphy said this week.

And that's a good thing, no?

Murphy recalled reflecting on his career and sharing the moment with family and friends and, of course, the broader hockey community that always turns out in full force in all their finery for these events.

Folks didn't need to worry that the lockout of eight years ago would hijack the events or cast a pall over a very special night on the hockey calendar, because it simply didn't happen that way.

"It didn't put a damper on anything. I don't even remember it that way," Murphy said. "I enjoyed everything about the three days."

Traditionally, the Hall of Fame weekend is marked by a so-called Hall of Fame game at the Air Canada Center with the hometown Leafs playing host. This year's game would have been Friday night against the Devils. The inductees are usually honored at center ice. So that will be missing this year, as it was missing eight years ago. But the one good thing is that on Monday night there will be no NHL games to compete for attention when the Hall of Fame ceremonies take place.

That has always been a pet peeve of many who attend the ceremony, including Murphy.

"That's always been a head-scratcher for me, why they have games on that night," he said.

The defenseman was joined in that class eight years ago by Bourque, Paul Coffey and Cliff Fletcher, who went in as a builder.

Fletcher will be back in Toronto for Monday's ceremony and said he wouldn't miss it for the world.

He also didn't recall the lockout impinging on his special moment eight years ago, just as he doesn't believe for a moment the current labor dispute will mar the moment for any of this year's class.

"I referred to it in my speech," Fletcher recalled this week. "But it didn't take away from the event whatsoever. The Hall of Fame weekend is a special thing unto its own.

"It's sort of almost otherworldly as you go through the weekend. Some of it's almost like you're in the Twilight Zone, and you wish you could do it a second time," said Fletcher, who built a Cup winner in Calgary and then built the Toronto Maple Leafs into a contender in the early to mid-1990s as part of a long and distinguished career as a manager and team-builder.

Here's hoping the Class of 2012 -- Oates, Bure, Sundin and Sakic -- feel exactly the same way about their Hall of Fame weekend.