Henrik Lundqvist leads goalie-heavy 2023 class into Hockey Hall of Fame

Henrik Lundqvist played a starring role at Madison Square Garden for 15 seasons.

The New York Rangers legend fed off the energy inside the world’s most famous arena — and a city where many athletes have wilted under the same spotlight’s intense glow.

“The passion I had, and still have, for the game of hockey really helped me stay focused,” Lundqvist said recently of Broadway’s pressure-packed, distraction-filled environment. “When you have that passion and determination … it helps you stay the course.”

It also led the Swede into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Lundqvist headlined a goaltender-heavy 2023 class inducted Monday in Toronto that also featured Mike Vernon and Tom Barrasso — the first time three netminders have entered together in more than 60 years.

The man known as “The King” in the Big Apple, reflected on a journey that began on a frozen playground in a small town.

“Seven-by-three metre sandpit at a kindergarten up in Are, Sweden, to Madison Square Garden and now Hockey Hall of Fame — it’s just an incredible feeling,” Lundqvist said in his speech Monday. “And I try to remember what I was thinking back then as an eight-year-old skating around.

“So much love for the game of hockey.”

Also enshrined in the player category were Pierre Turgeon and Caroline Ouellete, while former NHL head coach head coach Ken Hitchcock and the late Pierre Lacroix, who was both an agent and executive, went in as builders.

The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top puck-stopper, Lundqvist ranks sixth all-time in wins (459), ninth in games played (887) and 17th in shutouts (64).

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The first Swedish goaltender to be inducted into the hall picked up 61 more victories in the playoffs before his career ended three years ago because of a heart condition.

A seventh-round pick at the 2000 draft, Lundqvist backstopped the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup final. New York also made two Eastern Conference final appearances (2012, 2015) with Lundqvist, who won Olympic gold with Sweden in 2006.

“Growing up I always had big dreams,” he said. “My dad told me, my brother, my sister at an early age, ‘Dream big, it will inspire you to work hard.’ And I’ll never forget that.

“Let’s be honest, I never saw this.”

Vernon, Barrasso had to wait for hall calls

The clock started to tick down on Lundqvist’s induction as soon as he retired in 2020, but his fellow goaltenders had to wait decidedly longer for their hall calls.

Eligible since 2005, Vernon won the Cup with his hometown Calgary Flames in 1989 before hoisting it again in 1997 with the Detroit Red Wings — adding the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with that second title.

He sat seventh in regular-season wins (385), fourth among goalies in playoff appearances (138) and fifth in playoff victories (77) when he retired.

“I strapped my pads on at the age of five,” Vernon said during his speech. “I never took them off.”

Barrasso, who’s been eligible for the hall since 2006, secured both the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year and the Vezina during a magical 1983-84 season with the Buffalo Sabres as a high school phenom from the Boston area.

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A Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, his 369 career victories rank fourth all-time among American-born goaltenders.

“No one gets here alone,” Barrasso said. “You need love, you need support. And most importantly, you need opportunity from people along the way in your journey.”

‘This recognition feels like a dream’

Ouellette is one of just three women’s hockey players to top the Olympic podium four or more times, winning gold in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 with Canada. The Montreal native also captured six world championships and had a long professional career.

“This recognition feels like a dream,” said Ouellette, the 10th woman enshrined. “When you’re competing, you’re only focused on what is straight ahead. All your energy is spent on building the next championship, the next gold medal.

“You actually never want that journey to end.”

Turgeon, who retired in 2007, had 515 goals and 1,327 points over his 19 NHL seasons. The Rouyn, Que., product won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1993 with the New York Islanders and captained the Canadiens during the team’s final season at the Montreal Forum.

“I am so grateful that I was able to do something I love for many years,” Turgeon said. “I still love the game.”

Fourth on the NHL’s all-time coaching wins list with 849, Hitchcock lifted the Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999 as part of a 22-season career in the show. He also won the 2012 Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach and helped Canada win men’s Olympic gold in 2014.

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“I was a demanding coach, I was relentless, and I was very proud of being that,” Hitchcock said. “I know that may be a bad word to some people, but it’s not to me. It means that I’m not afraid of the players, I’m not afraid of doing the tough stuff.

“But I really admired the players. I was in awe of the players.”

Lacroix, who died in December 2020 at age 72, started as an agent before being named general manager of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994.

The Montreal native moved with the franchise when it relocated to Colorado and helped guide the Avalanche to Cup victories in 1996 and 2001.

“A passion and vision to win,” said former Avalanche captain 2012 inductee Joe Sakic. “It resonated with everyone. That commitment to winning was evident.”

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