FAIRBANKS — Interior hockey fans recall with pride the day in February 2011 when Fairbanks hosted the Stanley Cup. Thousands turned out to see the most beloved trophy in all of team sports. As a result of that event, I was invited to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. In mid-October, I took advantage of that invitation.
Many fans (even the most knowledgeable) assume the HOF is part of the National Hockey League. That’s not the case. Most financial support for the HOF comes from the International Ice Hockey Federation, giving the HOF a distinct international flavor. That’s not to say that the NHL is not represented in the hall. Far from it. Many of the displays focus on NHL players and events. However, the HOF covers all levels of hockey, from youth to women’s to physically challenged to recreational hockey.
The HOF’s main facility is located in the heart of downtown Toronto. It is housed in a 150-year-old remodeled bank building. The exterior façade is impressive, to say the least. The interior is no slouch either, especially the section they call the Grand Hall. The room is lined with dark wood paneling, ornate columns and brackets and a 15-foot diameter stained glass skylight. This is the room where the Stanley Cup and most major trophies are on display. In addition, all of the individuals who have been inducted into the HOF are represented by square silver plates engraved with a photo and details about a person’s life. The overall setting inspires awe.
Throughout the building there are video monitors showing historic film footage. I found one monitor that played five-minute segments covering a wide variety of hockey topics, with these among them:
• The origin of professional hockey back in the early 1900s.
• Biographical summaries of famous players
• Player trades and business deals gone awry.
• International series (remember Canada versus Russia in 1972?).
All were fascinating to watch. I wanted to view all of the programs but soon realized there were too many to see in one day.
The HOF also has a second facility, known as the Resource Centre, located in another part of Toronto. The main storage room in this building is the size of a gymnasium. This is where the majority of the HOF collections are stored. It’s like a candy store for any dedicated hockey fan. They have a huge film collection, which is the source for the video programs that captivated me at the main facility. There are also several racks of hockey sticks. If you pull one off the rack, it might be the stick that Rocket Richard used when he scored the goal to win the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final for Montreal. The Centre also has shelf after shelf of jerseys. Open a drawer and you might find the jersey that Bobby Orr wore when he led Boston to the Stanley Cup title. One of my hosts, Craig Campbell, handed me an old goalie mask. It just happened to be the mask that Jim Craig wore during the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. They also have the gloves that Sidney Crosby wore when he scored the winning overtime goal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. You get the idea. Every rack and shelf and drawer holds items that evoke memories of great hockey accomplishments.
At one point, Craig sat me down at a counter to view some old photos. The pictures held my attention for more than an hour. When my attention eventually wandered, I realized that a new submission was sitting next to me on the counter. It consisted of gloves, a helmet and other items from Mats Sundin, one of the best players in the history of the hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Sundin was inducted into the HOF in June of this year. Just another example of history and excellence around every corner.
The Resource Centre is housed in a large building with other tenants. My other host, Phil Pritchard, gave me a tour of the building. Phil is the guy we often see on TV squiring the Stanley Cup in commercials and at the end of the NHL playoffs. There are four rinks in the complex, one of which is where the Maple Leafs practice. How’s that for a diversion from your job? Step away from your desk for a few minutes and watch an NHL team practice. I’d have a hard time keeping my mind focused on work.
The Resource Centre is only 3 years old. Although they love the new facility, Phil admits that they are still catching up with trying to catalog all of the materials in their collection. They have an arrangement with local universities to use students as interns for this purpose. I wondered if I could qualify.
The HOF also relies on a few dedicated volunteers, one of whom I met during my visit. His name is Leighton Kemmett. After Leighton learned I was from Alaska, his first question was “Do you recognize the name of Oakie Brumm?” Thanks to Shawn Head at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who helped organize a hockey reunion in 2005, I did indeed recognize the name. Brumm served as the athletic director at UAF in the early 1950s. After leaving Alaska, Brumm served as the de facto athletic director at a prison in Marquette, Mich. He implemented a progressive program for inmates involving active sports, including hockey. By some miracle, Brumm was able to entice the Detroit Red Wings to play a game against a team of inmates inside the prison walls. Leighton considers this one of the great stories buried deep in the HOF archives. He was overjoyed to find someone who recognized the Alaska connection and could appreciate the story as much as he does. Leighton summed up the appeal of working at the HOF, saying “It’s worth every dollar I don’t get paid.” If it didn’t require living in Toronto, I wish that I could trade places with him.
When I first asked if there were any items from Alaska in the collection, Craig seemed a little befuddled. However, as the day went on, we found more and more items from The Great Land. There’s a UAF jersey worn by hockey pro Chad Hamilton in 1993. Craig also showed me a collection of several hundred digital images of the first outdoor Junior “A” game in North America featuring our own Ice Dogs, which were shot here in Fairbanks by News-Miner photographer Sam Harrel. The HOF contracted with Sam on the project, and they are very pleased with the results. As we stepped into the area where all submissions are first processed, I spotted a puck from the 2011 edition of “Hockey Week In Fairbanks.” That made my day. I asked if they wanted more items from The Last Frontier for the HOF collection. Craig and Phil jumped at the offer. As a result, we are now in the process of determining which items to submit.
A trip to Toronto is not an easy jaunt, but a trip to the HOF should be on the bucket list of any dyed-in-the-wool hockey fan. I would highly recommend it for those who want to visit a shrine to our favorite sport.
Randy Zarnke is president of the Alaska Trappers Association and a freelancer for the News-Miner. He also is president of the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of fame and founded Fairbanks Hockey Week.