HALL OF FAME NOTES: Lundqvist came long way up from draft floor

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Henrik Lundqvist tagged along to the 2000 draft in Calgary to support brother Joel’s selection in the third round but was shocked to hear his own name called late in the day in the seventh by the New York Rangers.

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That was the year Rick DiPietro stole the show as the first overall pick of the New York Islanders, one of 19 goalies chosen ahead of Henrik. But the best goalie Sweden produced, with the fifth-highest NHL win total of 459 at his retirement, is the only one from that class going into the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend.

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“I wasn’t planning on going to that draft, I wanted to go to Spain with my buddies,” Lundqvist recalled Friday at the ring ceremony for he and the six other 2023 inductees before the Hall of Fame Game. “I went for the experience. I knew I had a lot of work to do.

“Maybe half the (Rangers’ draft table) were still there, the rest had gone. But when I was picked, it was time to prove ‘I can do this’.”

Lundqvist was in Sweden getting dressed for an evening out last June when the Hall tried to contact him about his selection. Ironically, the call display on his phone said it was coming from somewhere in Spain and he hesitated to answer.

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Did Tom Barrasso, the NHL career assist leader among goalies with 48, ever attempt an empty net goal?

“Not at all, never even had a good look,” he said. “It was my mindset never to give one up by trying to. And you have to remember I was handing the puck to some really good players who have plaques in this Hall.”

Barrasso was led by Mario Lemieux in their two shared Cups with Pittsburgh.

“We had a tremendous offensive team and my mindset was not to give up the last goal,” Barrasso said. “If we won 5-4 it was fine by me. “You had to have a very short memory and stay focused, because what’s next is most important. It’s been a real calling card for my life based on events with our family with my daughter (Ashley) having (survived a 1990 bout with) cancer.”

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A lot of Calgary goalies have come and gone since Mike Vernon was part of their lone Stanley Cup in 1989 amid a sea of Edmonton silver that decade.

“We knew we were on the cusp of great things with great teams and great players, but you were always facing getting out of our division and that meant getting by the Oilers,” Vernon said.

“Badger (coach Bob Johnson) had a big footprint on that team and made us believers. After dinner one day he took us to see the movie Rocky saying ‘we’re underdogs … and underdogs can win’. We carried that through.”

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Ken Hitchcock was a big teddy bear with the media, but could be tough as nails on his players.

“I really respected the players, I was fascinated by their sacrifice and determination,” the new member of the Hall’s builder wing said. “But I felt like we had to get into the uncomfortable areas if we were going to win and I pushed the players there. Hopefully they had as much fun as I did.”

His greatest challenge might have been free-spirit winger Brett Hull, who publicly complained of Hitchcock’s tactics as he piled up goals.

“Brett was a really interesting character,” Hitchcock said of his now fellow inductee. “I learned early with him I was better off talking ‘80s music and golf because I was going nowhere talking hockey. But you take a player’s strength and focus on that.”

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Hitchcock is now a long-distance consultant with the Blues, one of five NHL teams he coached. “It’s the best job in the world. If I don’t like what they’re doing, I just turn the TV off and go to bed” … Eric Lacroix represented his father Pierre at the ring ceremony, the late general manager of the Avalanche winner of two Cups and honoured as a builder. Pierre was well known for his bold trades to keep the Avs in the Cup hunt. “He was a gambler, maybe that’s why he lived in Vegas so many years,” quipped Eric, a retired NHLer. “But he was trying to bring something to the locker room, show the team they were all in it together” … TSN host Glenn Schiller took the opportunity to apologize to Lundqvist on stage Friday, in case the latter forgot how Schiller angered him by stomping on his equipment during a media scrum in the crowded visitors room in Montreal in the 2014 Eastern Final. “We’re good, you have plenty of opportunity to buy me a beer this weekend,” Lundqvist laughed.

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