Hall of Fame inductees highlight international play as great memories

The Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2014 could build a strong résumé out of international play. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

TORONTO -- It is yet another reminder why it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame and not the NHL Hall of Fame when you examine the international accomplishments of the four players in this year’s induction class.

Some of the great hockey moments of the modern era have featured Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Dominik Hasek and Mike Modano representing their respective countries, beginning with a 20-year-old Forsberg scoring perhaps the most famous shootout goal ever in the 1994 Olympic gold-medal game in Lillehammer, Norway.

Forsberg’s breathtaking deke against netminder Corey Hirsch handed Sweden gold over Canada and made Forsberg a national hero back home -- a status that he keeps to this day.

"It was kind of a lucky shot, he was so close to saving it," Forsberg said Friday after collecting his Hockey Hall of Fame induction ring. "I was fortunate to be on the better part of that shootout. Fantastic moment. First time Sweden ever won the Olympic gold. It was a great kick-start for me to come over to the NHL right after. For me, it was a fantastic moment."

Hirsch has forever been linked to that moment, which is unfortunate in the sense that he was outstanding in those Olympics for Canada, but people only remember the way it ended on Forsberg’s daring attempt.

"As he went to his left I remember thinking, 'I’ve got him,'" Hirsch told ESPN.com on Friday. "But then that’s when he made his move. That’s what great players do. They do remarkable things at opportune times."

Forsberg also helped Sweden win Olympic gold in 2006, not to mention winning two Stanley Cups in Colorado. But that 1994 shootout gold in Lillehammer is what people in Sweden always go back to.

"It was huge," fellow Swede Patric Hornqvist of the Pittsburgh Penguins said Friday after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre. "After that, he became famous all over our country. It jump-started his career. He was such a great player and great person. He really deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."

Maybe there’s a reason Canadians weren’t too fond of shootouts for a while, since four years later when the NHL sent its star players to the Olympics for the first time in history, Hasek did a number on a star-studded Canadian squad. Hasek put on a goaltending clinic in the Olympic semifinals at Nagano, shutting the door in the shootout by stopping Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and Brendan Shanahan.

"I remember knowing that you had Dominik Hasek in the other net," said Blake, a member of that 1998 Canadian Olympic team. "There's no gimmes, we knew that going into the game, and then finally when you come down to kind of a one-on-one showdown and you got one of the greatest goalies to play at the other end, it makes it tough.

"I probably saw him play the best that he could."

Across the world in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, a 10-year-old Sidney Crosby was watching Hasek stone Canada.

"He just had that ability to make those saves pretty often," Crosby said Friday after his team’s morning skate. "You see one of those a year. He seemed like he was always the guy making them. He just had that desperation, he never gave up on pucks. That moment there [in Nagano] was another one where you knew going into a shootout against him wasn't going to be easy."

Former official Bill McCreary, who is also part of this year’s HHOF induction class, worked that game in Nagano and vividly remembers Hasek coming up to him before the shootout began.

"Dominik skated out of the crease and asked me if Wayne Gretzky was shooting," McCreary said Friday, proudly holding his HHOF induction ring. "That kind of surprised me. But once I told him I didn’t know who was shooting, he went back into his net and, as he always did, he stopped everybody."

Blake was sitting on the bench watching it all and, like many other Canadians back home, was surprised Gretzky wasn’t in the shootout.

"You’ve got the greatest player in the world, he goes," Blake said matter-of-factly Friday.

The Czechs too were stunned that No. 99 wasn’t used.

"Some of the guys were talking about it in the dressing room after the game," Hasek said Friday. "Usually you use the best player. ..."

Then Hasek grinned widely and added, "But it was a good decision in the end for us."

The Czechs beat Russia in the gold-medal game, igniting the party to end all parties back home in Prague. Hasek called it the No. 1 moment in his career, while also making note of winning the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002.

"In 1998, we came to Nagano as an underdog, but there was some special feeling in the locker room with a coach like Ivan Hlinka and players like Jaromir Jagr and some other maybe at that time underrated players," said Hasek. "This is something I will never forget. We won the gold medal, we flew with a charter our president sent for us, and we came back to Prague and we spend one night in Prague and this night I will never, ever forget. The cheering and big ovation at the airport and the old-time square. This is something you will appreciate for the rest of your life."

For Blake, redemption would come four years later. A 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought in hockey would end for Canada in Salt Lake City, but not before some nervy moments, including being crushed 5-2 by Sweden to open the tournament and midway through needing a famous rant from Gretzky -- now the team’s executive director -- to shield his players from what was incredible pressure to deliver in the second NHL Olympic tournament.

"First, I mean, the letdown in Nagano," said Blake. "You have four years to build on that. Now you’re in North America four years later and you play your first game and you lose like 7-1 to the Swedes. When you look back now, I’m not sure if the players in the room understood how important Wayne’s speech was and how much he was deflecting any of that pressure. But to be able to finish off that tournament on a high note, that was obviously quite nice."

It’s not Olympic gold, but Modano was at the heart of one Team USA's most important international wins. Nothing will ever beat the Miracle on Ice of 1980, no one’s arguing that. But Modano and his teammates defeated Team Canada in Montreal in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, which still resonates today as a watershed moment for U.S. hockey.

It was the monkey off their back. Finally, in a best-on-best format, the U.S. had beaten Canada when it mattered. After losing the opening game of the best-of-three series in Philadelphia, Team USA won both games at the Molson Centre (now Bell Centre) to stun Canada.

"You look at Canada's roster and it was the best guys Canada has ever put together in 20 years from top to bottom," Modano said Friday. "Every guy's probably in the Hall of Fame. Our backs were against the wall, it was two [games] in Montreal. Everything there was perfect."

Modano remembers a special group of players.

"Everybody got along so well off the ice as we did on the ice," he said. "We had a fun group of guys. We knew we were going into some hostile territory after losing the first game in Philly. We knew it was going to be tough. Once we got Game 2, we knew Game 3 would be pretty special."

A memory of a lifetime for Modano, just as Forsberg, Blake and Hasek have theirs while representing their respective countries.

Their NHL careers provided the meat of their Hall of Fame résumés. Their international exploits polished off their unquestionable hockey pedigrees.