He and I agreed, as most would, that Brendan Shanahan and Joe Sakic are veritable shoe-ins, but beyond recognizing the illustrious careers of these Canadian superstars, strong cases can be made for a number of players and builders alike.
The unfortunate reality for the many deserving candidates is that multiple people will have to be the odd-ones-out, but as Mark Howe attests, the wait is well worth it: “It’s as great an honour as anyone can receive,” said Howe, after receiving his call from the Hall, 13 long years after his first year of eligibility.
In similar fashion, a legendary coach by the name of Fred Shero has been waiting in the wings with a truly impressive and perhaps more importantly, a unique resume that deserves the sport’s highest recognition, despite seldom being mentioned in the modern hockey world.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Shero was surrounded by a lifestyle that was built on the tenets of fitness, mental and physical strength, attention to detail, and taking instruction thanks to his roots with the Canadian navy and time spent as a professional boxer. Despite being offered a professional contract as a boxer, Shero aspired to be a professional hockey player and ultimately realized this dream by playing three seasons for the Rangers in the late 1940s.
Never amounting to much of a consistent player, though, Shero began focusing on coaching as a potential career path ultimately coaching in minor leagues in St. Paul, Omaha and Buffalo, New York, while winning 6 first-place titles during those years. Shero was accustomed to “taking the long road” so it should come as no surprise that his first NHL coaching gig didn’t come to fruition until after he had coached 13 years in the minor leagues.
Finally in 1971, when Shero arrived in Philadelphia to coach the Flyers, he brought with him a sense of character defined by patience, hard work, winning and innovation. Shero would be the first coach to hire a full-time assistant coach, to implement systems play, morning practices, vigorous training regimens and the first coach to bring the Flyers to a winning. For Shero, practice really did make perfect, and he was the first who insisted that vigorous practices were mandatory. Unorthodox tactics that would simulate in-game scenarios, thus having his team better prepared, were staples of Shero’s style.
Not only were his tactics entertaining, but they were extremely effective as Shero led the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cups in '74 and '75, and a third consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1976. Shero was named the inaugural winner of the Jack Adams Award in 1974, but his success was not limited to his time in Phialdaelphia as he brought the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals as a first year coach in New York in '78.
While Shero’s life would tragically be claimed by cancer, his impact on the game and on coaching in particular could not be more alive today. His success, resilience and brilliant innovation are without question deserving the immortal title in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but the jury is out on when that will happen.
Here’s to hoping that Fred’s long road ends sooner than later.