In a world without the coronavirus, the Hockey Hall of Fame would be welcoming its six-member Class of 2020 this weekend. Instead, the Toronto shrine will open its doors to a modest number of masked visitors who will venture in during the pandemic.
In the Esso Great Hall on Friday, rings would have been presented to the newly elected legends — players Marian Hossa, Jarome Iginla, Kevin Lowe, Kim St-Pierre and Doug Wilson, and Ken Holland in the Builders category.
That would have kicked off four days packed with large-scale events, meetings and satellite functions had the coronavirus not put everything on hold. The Hall of Fame is eager to celebrate its Class of 2020, but will do so only when it’s safe.
Instead of bouncing around enshrinement events like an unfrozen puck, Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald will be at home in Calgary. A huge golf fan, he’ll likely be watching The Masters, which was postponed from April.
McDonald is disappointed the Class of 2020 won’t be celebrated this weekend, but he understands and supports the directives designed for the safety of all and said the Hall will make certain the six will be paid the tribute they deserve.
“On the men’s side this year, we have one Hall of Famer (Wilson) who waited 24 years to be elected, another (Lowe) who waited 22,” McDonald said. “Rogie Vachon (Class of 2016) waited 34 years after his last NHL game, and Vaclav Nedomansky (2019) and Alexander Yakushev (2018) waited a long time, too.
“Whether you wait three or four years or more, it really doesn’t matter. If you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re going to go in at one point. Cancellation this year means that when the time is right, we’ll be able to honor the people from the Class of 2020 the way they should be: with family, friends, fans and fellow Hall of Famers around them, to celebrate the entire weekend.”
Class of 2019’s Hayley Wickenheiser is presented her Hall of Fame ring by Lanny McDonald, before the following day’s popular Fan Forum in the shrine’s Esso Great Hall.
On Aug. 10, the Hall announced postponement of Induction Weekend because of concerns due to the coronavirus. And then on Oct. 30, McDonald declared there will be no Class of 2021; when the situation allows, and before the next class is elected, this year’s inductees will be celebrated with the shrine’s usual fanfare.
Canceled along with the ring ceremony are the annual Hall of Fame Game, which would have been played at Scotiabank Arena Friday night between the Toronto Maple Leafs and an opponent never determined; the popular Fan Forum question-and-answer session in the Esso Great Hall on Saturday; the Legends Classic alumni game on Sunday afternoon, at which the class would have been presented their Hall of Fame jackets; and the induction ceremony at Brookfield Place on Monday.
In hindsight, it was a prescient decision by the Hall to postpone the scheduled festivities; on Saturday, with coronavirus cases spiking at record levels in Ontario — 1,575 new infections were reported on Thursday — Toronto enters a so-called red zone until at least mid-December, myriad restrictions being tightened.
Guy Carbonneau speaks at Brookfield Place last November upon his Hall of Fame induction.
“We wanted to be out in front of it,” McDonald said of how the Hall of Fame has handled the pandemic. “We didn’t want to get to the point that a month or six weeks before Induction Weekend we were trying to explain a cancellation to people. The decisions we’ve made have been difficult, but they’ve been good ones for all concerned.”
The shrine has not escaped the impact of COVID-19, closing to the public in mid-March for four months. It plans, for now, to remain open, with reduced hours and strict distancing measures.
“We normally would have 1,500 to 2,000 visitors per day in the summertime,” McDonald said. “Our high was 150 to 180 people, and we’ve had as low as 11. But this has also been a great learning experience. The Hall’s staff might have worked three days at their regular jobs, then filled in downstairs. A lot of our full-time staff have helped out with the running of the Hall. They’re getting a different perspective and learning new ways that we should be doing things.”
It has been a different offseason for the Stanley Cup as well.
The trophy hasn’t spent its traditional day in the U.S., Canada and Europe with members of the victorious Tampa Bay Lightning, but rather been with the champions for various events in South Florida, returning to the Montreal studio of silversmith Louise St-Jacques for the engraving of 52 names.
Hall of Fame vice-president and curator Phil Pritchard, the so-called “Keeper of the Cup,” will be busy at some point with the Hall’s Craig Campbell and Mike Bolt, escorting the trophy with its winners.
“Members of the Lightning will get their chance to spend time with the Cup down the road,” McDonald said. “We’ll find a way to make sure the tradition continues and that everyone can share the Cup with their family and friends, the way it should be, as we’ll find a way to properly celebrate our Class of 2020.”
That’s not to say this year’s class will be completely out of sight at a time when they’d be in hockey’s spotlight. On Nov. 17, the group and the shrine itself will be featured in a one-hour TSN special to air in Canada, titled “The Hall: Hockey’s Treasure” (7 p.m. ET, also streaming on TSN.ca).
Viewers will learn how the Hall is managing during the pandemic and will see six induction plaques unveiled in the Esso Great Hall, the honorees having been present, virtually, interviewed around the ceremony that took place at the end of October. The show will include conversations with McDonald, Pritchard and Class of 2016 player Eric Lindros.
“Technology is changing our lives,” McDonald said. “What is the norm now? I don’t think anyone knows.”
Photos: HHoF Images