With most of the world’s top hockey players to choose from, there was little chance of Hockey Canada’s selection committee making a mistake when the 12 experts in the national game sat together to pick the inaugural class of five for the Order of Hockey in Canada on Tuesday morning.
The only problem, selection committee chairman Jim Treliving told Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, “is that deciding is tough. You challenged us, and it’s tough.”
Tough enough that the first selections are debatable – but never wrong. You can’t go wrong with the first selection of Jean Béliveau, who won 10 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and scored 1,219 career points in the NHL; or with Cassie Campbell-Pascall, who was captain of the women’s national team and winner of two Olympic gold medals and six world championships; or Mr. Hockey and Mr. Elbows, Gordie Howe, who was in the top five of scoring for 20 consecutive NHL seasons and won the Hart Trophy six times as the most valuable player; or Wayne Gretzky, a scorer of a record 2,857 NHL points and the first-place winning executive director of Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup and 2002 Olympics; or Gordon Renwick, who built hockey from the grassroots as an Allan Cup winner, president of Canadian amateur hockey, organizer of a national midget tournament and 12-year president of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
They will be formally inducted with a ring, a specially-designed award and lapel insignia on June 25 at the Hockey Canada Foundation gala in Toronto. They may eventually be enshrined in a Hockey Canada Hall of Fame, when it’s designed.
The selectors could have just as easily taken other icons – Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Maurice Richard, Angela James and Hayley Wickenheiser – as leaders of the national game. But Nicholson cited bylaws that stipulated service to the hockey community, building of the game in Canada – and that nominees need to be alive.
“This probably should have happened 20 years ago,” Nicholson said at the Hockey Hall of Fame here.
“There were a number of great candidates who really spread out across the game,” Nicholson said. “For the very first year we allowed five inductees, but the bylaws and regulations say it will be a maximum of three in years to come.”
Nicholson said it is important to have Canadians who contribute at all levels – from minor and junior hockey to women’s hockey to university hockey to professionals – selected to the order.
“We don’t want just great players but players who have great careers and continue to contribute to the game. The grassroots side of the game is huge. … We’re not trying to compete against the Hockey Hall of Fame – who are partners in this – but this is about celebrating the game at all levels.
“We’ve looked at the United States, who have done a great job with the Lester Patrick Award … and Canadians haven’t celebrated all the things they’ve done successfully in hockey. We want to make sure Canadian boys and girls have heroes to look up to.”