Fred Shero's legacy cemented by Hall

Fred Shero's legacy was set, "but the induction into the Hall of Fame puts the final stamp on it," Terry Crisp said. AP Photo/Bill Ingraham

Monday night will be a fitting final chapter for a proud family and an equally proud hockey franchise as a long hockey journey finds its rightful destination.

"I just want to be there when they say, 'Yeah, Freddie, you're in,'" former NHL player and coach Terry Crisp said.

As in, welcome to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Fred Shero. Sorry it took so long.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is always an emotional time. It comes with the territory for inductees and their families. It's an opportunity to put a career in perspective and to publicly thank those who sacrificed so much to help pave a path to hockey greatness.

But for Fred Shero's son Ray, the current general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, his family and his extended Philadelphia Flyers family, Monday's ceremony will be more than a little bittersweet, as the honor is colored just slightly by sadness and a little bewilderment.

Bewilderment that this didn't happen when Shero was alive -- he died of cancer in 1990. Sadness that the honor didn't come while Shero's wife, Mariette, was alive; she passed away three years ago, also after a battle with cancer.

So it is left to the son to step forward and accept the honor on behalf of himself and his older brother, Jean-Paul, standing in for one of the greatest coaching minds the game has ever known.

Ray Shero admitted in a recent interview that he doesn't know what that moment will be like when he confronts all of those memories and emotions. One thing is certain: He's looking forward to the moment, whatever it entails.

Ray Shero was in Hilton Head at the American Hockey League's annual meetings, literally on the beach playing catch with his sons last summer when the call came from Jim Gregory of the Hall of Fame selection committee. Shero's wife told him there were multiple calls from a 416 area code -- Toronto.

Hmm. Shero wondered if there was a reason Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis would be so desperate to reach him. Then it dawned on him that the call that eluded the family all these years had finally come.

Make no mistake, whatever emotions are at play, bitterness is not one of them. Whether he was called or not, Shero knew that his father's legacy was firmly in place, that his father's regard within the hockey community was cemented, with or without a bust in the Hall of Fame.

In short, he was at peace with who his father was and what he'd accomplished.

"I wasn't waiting by the phone, that's for sure," Shero said.

Still, there is no denying the satisfaction that comes with this recognition, along with what you might consider relief.

Those feelings stretch across the state of Pennsylvania, from Ray Shero's hockey home in Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.

Flyers owner Ed Snider will bring a group of Fred Shero's former players to Toronto for the ceremony.

"I'm thrilled that it's finally happening. I would have loved to have seen it in his wife's lifetime," Snider told ESPN.com. "This is going to be an important night for the Flyers. Afterward, we're going to celebrate like we always do."

In Ray Shero's office in Pittsburgh, the mementos of his own career -- one that includes a Stanley Cup win in 2009 -- mingle with those of his father, like old binders full of practice drills, notes and messages.

It was a chance to marry the mythology of Fred Shero with the flesh-and-blood memories of a son and his father. And, really, is there a better definition of a Hall of Famer than someone who has more than a little mystique about his or her place in the game?

In the early 1970s, Snider recalled then-GM Keith Allen coming to him saying he wanted to hire the former Rangers farmhand as his head coach. Fred Shero had played defense and managed 145 NHL games with the New York Rangers before embarking on a successful minor pro coaching career. The elder Shero's successes in places such as St. Paul, Buffalo and Omaha in the International Hockey League, American Hockey League and Central Hockey League respectively caught Allen's eye.

Snider asked: Did Allen know him?

No, Allen said, but he knew of him and knew of his ability to put together championship teams.

The recommendation was good enough for Snider, and Shero came aboard in the summer of 1971.

The team would miss the playoffs on the final day of the regular season in 1972, Shero's first year behind the bench. Even though he had only one NHL year of coaching experience under his belt, Shero told management he needed help and wanted to hire an assistant, something unheard of in the league at that time. Shero hired former teammate Mike Nykoluk, and in 1974, Shero would guide the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup, the first championship for an expansion team.

They won again the following year and went to the finals in 1976.

There were drills with three pucks for line rushes, tennis balls and upside-down sticks. There were messages in the players' gloves and even notes sent home to the player's wives on how to best support their men.

"I saw it all. At first, we thought he was a little nuts," Snider said. "But then we realized he was just ahead of his time."

Snider believes the team's reputation for thuggishness overshadowed the team's high level of skill and preparedness, and that Shero paid the price for the team's image with his longtime exclusion from the Hall.

"I can't think of any other reason," Snider said.

It still barks at Snider's shins that Shero might have had to pay a price for the kind of team that the owner demanded. And it still rankles that the skill of those teams -- reflected in players such as Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach, Bill Barber and Bob Clarke -- is often overlooked.

"Fred brought it all together beautifully," Snider said

Crisp was acquired from the New York Islanders by the Flyers before their Cup wins. He joined Shero's coaching staff after retiring and later embarked on his own successful head-coaching career, one that included a Stanley Cup win with Calgary in 1989.

It didn't matter whether Crisp was playing for Shero or working alongside him or standing as a peer in the coaching fraternity, "he still always talked in riddles," Crisp said.

"He always made you look for the answer," added Crisp, a longtime broadcast analyst for the Nashville Predators who will take time away from those duties to be in Toronto for the Shero family's big night.

The night before the 1989 Cup finals began, Crisp called Shero late in the evening in part to share some of his success with his mentor. And yet his former coach seemed unimpressed.

"It's the coach who works the hardest who will win the Cup," Shero told Crisp.

"I was like, what the hell is that?" Crisp said. "Then it hit me. He was saying why are you telling me this? You haven't won anything yet. That was the message he sent me without telling me."

The Flames beat Montreal that spring to win the franchise's only Stanley Cup, and Crisp would later lament that he hadn't taken the time to tell Shero how much he'd meant to him.

Monday night in Toronto, Crisp, in a way, will get that chance.

Ray Shero grew up around Crisp and his teammates. Hall of Fame netminder Bernie Parent lived nearby and sometimes picked up his coach and drove him to and from practice. When Parent won his first Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, he gave Fred Shero the car that came with the award.

Two years ago when the Penguins and Flyers met in the first round, Ray Shero ran into Parent in a Philadelphia-area diner. Parent asked if he recalled a deep-sea-fishing trip the Shero family took with Parent one summer after the playoffs.

The seas were rough, and Fred Shero was laid low with seasickness.

Parent went down below deck to check on his coach, who weakly suggested maybe they should return to shore. Parent laughed and asked Fred if he remembered all those tough training camp practices. Yes, he did. Well, so did Parent and they were going to stay at sea, he informed his coach with a laugh.

When the Flyers won a second straight Cup the following spring, captain Bob Clarke brought a white Samoyed dog by the Shero house. The dog, named Cherry Bell, stayed with the family for more than a decade.

Ray Shero's two boys have only old video, documentaries, newspaper clippings and, of course, their father's memories to connect them to their coaching grandfather. On the family's travels, Ray Shero always made a point of driving past homes where he lived during Fred Shero's journey across the hockey landscape, from Minneapolis to Buffalo to Philadelphia. The boys at times would joke that Grandpa must not have been paid much money when they eyed the modest homes of the family's past.

But on Monday in Toronto, they'll see their grandfather in a completely different light.

Although Ray Shero was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings out of St. Lawrence University, he never played a game at the NHL level. He also never sought to distance himself from the game, a credit to his father, who never pushed or dragged his son into the life. That came naturally.

"I don't think I ever said, 'Gee, I think I want to do something different,'" said Ray Shero, who started in the business as an agent, then worked in management roles in Ottawa and Nashville before taking the Penguins job in 2006-07 on his way to winning a Cup in 2009.

When the Penguins' names were inscribed, Ray Shero's boys, now 18 and 15, instantly drew a line from their father's name to that of their late grandfather.

Those are the moments that made the curious lack of a Hall of Fame honor so much easier to bear.

"I'm really happy for Ray and his brother," Crisp said.

Fred Shero's legacy was set, "but the induction into the Hall of Fame puts the final stamp on it," Crisp said.

Although it's closing in on 40 years since the Flyers were the NHL's dominant team and those Stanley Cup parades rolled down Broad Street, the men who made up those teams remain mythic in the city and among the legion of Flyer fans.

Along with a strong representation at Fred Shero's induction ceremony in Toronto, the Flyers have commissioned a statue of their coach that will be installed outside Wells Fargo Center, a constant reminder of the coach's greatness and his impact on a team and a city.

Ray Shero recalled showing up for a playoff game against the Flyers two years ago. He was talking to the Penguins' trainer near the bench, and a couple of early-arriving, beer-drinking Flyers fans began letting him have it. Quickly, one of the men whispered to the other, and the taunting stopped.

"Are you Freddie Shero's son?" one asked.

"Yes," Shero replied.

"Holy [crap]," another one blurted out.

"All of a sudden everything was OK," Shero recalled with a laugh.

Before the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup, Fred Shero famously wrote on a board in the dressing room, "win today and we walk together forever."

On Monday night in Toronto, Ray Shero will walk to the podium and prove, finally, that those weren't just words on a board, but that they represented an undeniable truth, regardless of how long it has taken to be revealed.