IIHF Hall of Fame honours eight
by Andrew PODNIEKS|26 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
The IIHF held its annual Hall of Fame induction today at the Clarion Hotel in Prague, honouring seven Players and one Builder. Players Natalie Darwitz (USA), Jaromir Jagr (CZE), Kenny Jonsson (SWE), Igor Liba (SVK), Petteri Nummelin (FIN), Jaroslav Pouzar (CZE), and Ryan Smyth (CAN) were honoured alongside Canada’s Mel Davidson as a Builder.

The eight newest Honoured Members brings the total count to 244 members in the IIHF Hall of Fame, which was established in 1997.

Davidson coached the Canadians to gold medals at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics as well as the 2007 Women’s Worlds, arguably the greatest women’s team ever. Her speech was thoughtful and thought provoking.

“To the people in this room,” she said, “I encourage you to step back, reflect on your role in developing the present day and future generations of women in sport and hockey. You have the power to open doors, make recommendations, and provide opportunities, or not. I hope you choose to normalize women as leaders and players in the game…Look at the world through their eyes and use your influence to provide them with opportunities…Women in hockey provides a visibility that we can use to make society better, to make it safer, to make it more inclusive, and, as we like to say, a place for all. In our roles in the game, we have a huge responsibility, and we do that by our actions, language, and decisions. Winning games, scoring goals, making saves, is only a small part of making a difference.”

Jaromir Jagr is a legend, plain and simple, and even at age 52 he still plays some games for his club team, Kladno. His last appearance with the national team was eight years ago, here in Prague, where he was named tournament MVP at the Men’s World Championship. It was the culmination of a career that started in 1990 when he helped Czechoslovakia win a bronze medal at the World Junior Championship.

“I have a lot of people to thank, but I’d like to start with my coach, Ivan Hlinka, who passed away 20 years ago. When he coached me in Pittsburgh he said, If you want to be great, you have to know the history of your game. I remember that very well, and thinking that what he is trying to say is that every kid needs an idol. And when I was watching the World Championships and the Olympics, I was looking for an idol. I was looking for someone to say, he’s a great player, I want to be like him. And I started with Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey. Then Hakan Loob, Jarri Kurri, who was my favourite guy when I was young. I wanted to be a goalscorer like him. But also Czech legends Jaroslav Pouzar, Igor Liba, Nedomansky, Martinec, Novy, Pospisil. I loved them all. They’re the reasons I became the player I became.”

Defender Kenny Jonsson of Sweden, joins brother Jorgen as an Honoured Member. Kenny was one of the youngest players on a Sweden team that won Olympic gold in Lillehammer in 1994, and, incredibly, he won a second Olympic gold 12 years later in Turin. He also won gold at the 2006 Men’s Worlds, the first time a team had achieved the golden double in one season. 

“It is a great honour and with enormous pride that I stand here today. That my name would be associated with the very best players of all time is a little unreal for me. My motto was to have fun on the ice and do my very best every time I put my skates on…To my brother Jorgen, we competed every day, about everything. We probably drove each other crazy many times, but I also think that helped us push each other to be better and better. We went in different directions, but we also won championships together, including two Olympic golds. That is amazing.”

Liba rose to prominence in the early 1980s when he helped the Czechs win three consecutive silver medals—at the 1982 and 1983 Men’s Worlds and 1984 Olympics. His crowning glory came a year and a half later, when the Czechs won World Championship gold after beating the Soviet Union, United States, and Canada in the medal round. 

“I owe my success to many coaches and teammates too numerous to mention here. In the 1980s, coach Ludec Bukac helped re-build the national team, and I was part of that when it reached its peak in 1985 when we became world champions. I’m very happy to be honoured in Prague, which I associate with the best years of my career.”

Pouzar had tremendous success with the national team, winning gold at the 1976 and ’77 Men’s Worlds, seven medals in all. He later joined the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL at age 30, helping them win three Stanley Cups in 1984, ’85, and ’87 while playing on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. 

“I first played for the national team in 1972 at the Izvestia tournament, and in 1982 at the age of 30 I left for Edmonton when I retired from the national team. It was not easy. There were language barriers and I was one of the oldest players, but they welcomed me and made me feel part of the team, so I thank them very much.”

Smyth was the man many called “Captain Canada.” He played in eight Men’s Worlds for his country, winning two gold and a silver while wearing the “C” on five occasions. He also won gold at the 1995 World Juniors and 2002 Olympics as well as a championship with Canada at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. 

“If I could give one piece of advice to the players today, it would be to savour and cherish every moment because it goes by way too fast. Take it all in, and don’t take the opportunity for granted.”

Darwitz represented the U.S. at eleven straight events between 1999 and 2010, winning three gold medals and five silver at the Women’s World Championship and two silver and a bronze in three Olympics. She was unable to attend because her PWHL team, Minnesota, is playing in the Walter Cup finals tonight. She was represented by her high school hockey coach, Melvin Ravndalen. 

Petteri Nummelin represented Suomi a staggering 15 times at the Men’s World Championship. None, however, was more memorable than his debut in 1995, when he helped Finland win its first ever gold medal in that tournament. He also was unable to attend and was represented by his son, Rene.