Waiting for the call

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Chicago Blackhawks' Steve Larmer, center, knocks Minnesota North Stars' Stewart Gavain (12) to the ice in front of North Star goalie Jon Casey during NHL playoff action, Wednesday, April 5, 1990 in Chicago. The North Stars defeated the Blackhawks 2-1. (AP Photo/Jonathan Kirn)

by Scott King

As several future Blackhawks Hall of Famers begin another season looking to accumulate favorable numbers to add to their résumé, two of the franchise’s most decorated and beloved players of the past will continue to wait for the sport’s biggest honor, but for how long?

“I don’t get upset,” former Hawk from 1988-1996 and 500-plus goal-scorer Jeremy Roenick said over the phone. “I mean, I wonder. I see some of the guys that go in, and I would say 98 percent of the guys that go in for sure should go. I’ve had questions about a few guys that have gone in before me since I’ve retired that have lifted my eyebrow, but I don’t get mad.”

It’s a miracle that Roenick, currently an unfiltered analyst for NBC Sports who wears his emotions on his sleeve, hasn’t gotten publicly peeved too often at the snub. The winger put up 1,216 points in 1,363 career games in a span of 20 NHL seasons. Three times he reached the 100-point mark and twice reached the 50-goal mark.

“It’s the biggest honor that can be bestowed on you as an athlete is to be in the Hall of Fame,” Roenick, a nine-time All-Star, said. “Those are the best players in the history of the game. It’s worth waiting for, it’s worth hoping for and all I can do is hope that the committee at some point sees my numbers, which by the way, in seeing some of the guys that have been put in, are equivalent, if not better.”

When it comes to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Roenick, who’s been eligible since 2012, has found that patience is a virtue.

“You hope that some day your number [is] called, and that’ll be a great day,” the former forward said. “Until then, to be frustrated or mad, then you think of yourself as a Hall of Famer, then you have the ego. I don’t want that. I want somebody else to think I’m a Hall of Famer, and that’s when you’re a Hall of Famer.”

Along with Roenick, for years Blackhawks fans and members of the media have been demanding Steve Larmer be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Larmer not only managed to be better than a point-a-game player in over a thousand career games (1,012 points in 1,006 NHL games), but did it all while being an incredibly strong two-way player.

He also won the Calder trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year with a sensational 90 points in the 1982-1983 season, and a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994.

At an autograph signing in late August, a burly and stoic Larmer sat behind a table in the back of the pub Harp and Fiddle in Park Ridge, Illinois with a beer in his left hand and a slew of different colored permanent markers directly in front of him.

When word got to Larmer that a reporter wanted to ask him about the Hall of Fame, he let out a discernible groan, then cordially obliged.

“It’s obviously very flattering to be in that conversation yearly and whatnot,” Larmer, who’s been Hall of Fame eligible since 1998, said in between autographs and pictures with fans. “I did what I did, and it’s all said and done.

“I don’t even think about it anymore. I mean, it’s not really something that I’m focused on. I’ve got lots of things on the go, and lots of things to keep me busy, so I tend to focus on that stuff more than stuff that’s not something I have any control over.”

Something Larmer did have control over was his work ethic that enabled him to continue to elevate his game after a stellar rookie year.

“I think the easiest year you ever have is your first year and every year after that only gets harder and harder because there’s more awareness and teams learn how to play against you,” Larmer said. “I think your first year is probably your easiest and after that it gets harder, so you just have to work harder at it and focus a little bit more and be ready.”

Larmer did shed some light on if his former teammate should be a Hall of Famer.

“I had the opportunity to play with Jeremy for a couple years,” Larmer said. “He played for a long, long time, has over 500 goals and a thousand points, was a great player for a long time in this league. Guys like that are very deserving.”

Another former Hawk many feel also deserves an induction is current San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, who accompanied Larmer at the autograph signing, which was put on by McKay Custom Sports and promoted by Chicagoland Sports Appearance Connection.

The former defenseman put up offensive numbers that would have made most NHL forwards blush. Wilson played in Chicago most of his career, from 1977-1991. He hung up his skates with the San Jose Sharks in 1993 with 827 points in 1,024 career games. He won a Norris trophy as the league’s best defenseman for the 1981-1982 season.

“Dougie’ [Doug Wilson] had a great career here as a Blackhawk,” Larmer said.  “Was a Norris Trophy winner, I think he got 49 goals one year. Did a lot of great things from the backend for this hockey team for many, many years.”

Wilson was modest about deserving the game’s greatest glory. He was also appreciative of the good fortune the sport has already bestowed upon him.

“I don’t worry about things like that,” Wilson said. “This game, the game of hockey, has been so good to me. It’s been a privilege to be a part of this game, a privilege to get to know the people that have mentored me, the Stan Mikitas of the world, the Keith Magnusons of the world. All we try to do is give back to the game that has been so good to us.

“They deserve [to be in the Hall of Fame],” Wilson said of his former teammates. “Steve Larmer to me is one of the best two-way players that ever played the game. Jeremy Roenick, the way he played. He played hard, scored 500 goals, he scored his 500th goal with us in San Jose. Having played with those guys, I know what they brought on the ice and they played it the right way.”

The Blackhawks organization honored both Roenick and Larmer last year by having each of them come out for One More Shift before two separate regular season games. Gestures such as this from their former team may have to serve as a consolation prize for their careers … for now.

“It was a lot of fun,” Larmer said of the pre-game salute. “It was a really special night. For them to think of me like that was quite an honor. I had a great time. It was fun, it was very nerve-wracking, but at the same time, it was a lot of fun. That’s a big building, there was a lot of people out there.

“Marian Hossa said I was going to start on the second PP, ‘I don’t think so, but thank you,'” Larmer said with a laugh.

This preseason at the Hawks’ annual Training Camp Festival, Larmer took the ice with Hall of Famer Denis Savard and even a few shifts with some of the players.

Will the organization’s tributes to and inclusion of Larmer eventually lead to his number being retired as many fans yearn for? Who knows?

But one thing is clear, as we wait to see if the Hockey Hall of Fame does right by Larmer and Roenick, and arguably Wilson, we know the Blackhawks organization and its fans already value their contributions to the history of the franchise and the greatness of the game. Maybe one of these summers, the Hockey Hall of Fame will share in the sentiment and give them the call.

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