MIKE VERNON: Hall of Fame inductee played much bigger than his small frame

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A big 2023 Hockey Hall of Fame class covers a lot of ice.

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Three goalies, a general manager and a trio of greats among NHL players, coaches and international women’s hockey will join the puck pantheon this Monday. It brings the Hall’s total residency to 298 players, including ten women, 115 builders and 16 on-ice officials.

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Debate on who else should be nominated by the secretive 18-person selection committee is an endless exercise, but won’t take away from a memorable ceremony in Toronto this weekend for these seven inductees. Here’s one of their stories.

GOALTENDER MIKE VERNON

BORN: Feb. 24, 1963, in Calgary, Alta.

HALL CALL: ·With the 1989 champion Flames, Vernon led all goalies with 16 wins and three shutouts and was a second-team all-star … With the Detroit Red Wings, shared the ’95-96 Jennings with Chris Osgood and, in the 1997 playoffs, was named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy … Played in five NHL all-star games … Ranks 16th in NHL career wins … Member of the 1983 Memorial Cup champion Portland Winter Hawks.

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BY THE NUMBERS: Games played 782 (385-273-95) … Had a 2.98 career GAA … In junior, helped the Calgary Wranglers to a record of 33-17-1 and 14 playoff wins in 1980-81 … Holds Flames’ franchise records for most games by a goalie (526), most wins (262), playoff games (81), playoff minutes, and playoff wins (43).

THE STORY: Mike Vernon wished his late mother Lorraine “my first coach” could be at Monday’s ceremony.

“She asked me years ago if I would ever make it into the Hall. This one’s for her.”

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Vernon’s dad, Martin, ran a local minor hockey association and, with three brothers heavily into the sport, the youngest and smallest was always pressed into playing net. That eventually saw Mike star for the Calgary Wranglers and, in a decade in which Edmonton had dominated the Battle of Alberta (Grant Fuhr, drafted ahead of Vernon in 1981, was the Oilers starter), Vernon had a huge role in that Flames’ Cup in 1989.

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“The pressure that comes with that, being in your hometown, it’s difficult. People expect you to win all the time and to be on top of your game.

“As a young man, I went through some trials and tribulations in Calgary, and it wasn’t easy, but it also forced me to try to work harder or try to figure it out, and just to move forward with my career.”

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That Cup and being playoff MVP in ’97 with Detroit had kept Vernon’s name in the Hall conversation. With both Henrik Lundqvist and Tom Barrasso well over six feet tall, the 5-foot-9 Vernon joked he might not get a look from teams in today’s NHL.

“I guess I’m a throwback. When I first got drafted, I didn’t believe it. I just thought, ‘oh, I might have a chance at the NHL, get my feet wet and go to training camp.’ I spent about 2½ years in the minors and it was a grind. There was times I wanted to quit and you have to continue to push yourself physically, mentally. It’s amazing when you do give yourself a push, you can demand more from yourself as a person.”

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DID YOU KNOW: Vernon never had a long-term contract, usually just two years and an option, meaning he was almost always playing for a new deal.

QUOTE: “This (selection) might be a long time coming, but it’s still worth it. There was a lot of fight in me and a lot of push to prove that I could play in the league. I’m just happy I got to play as long as I did and put up the numbers that I put up.”

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