DENVER – When Peter McNab traded in the sun and sand of southern California to pursue his dream of playing college hockey at the University of Denver, the odds of moving on to an NHL career were as steep as the snow-capped mountains surrounding the Mile High City.
“Back then college players were thought of in a different light. We had to kind of fight our way to be recognized as legitimate players,” said McNab, who would go on to a 14-year NHL career.
Tonight at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, McNab will be recognized as much more than just a legitimate player as he takes his place among the greats of American hockey when he is enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021.
Joining McNab will be Paul Holmgren, a long-time Philadelphia Flyers player, coach and administrator, and legendary hockey journalist Stan Fischler.
The iconic trio will share the stage with members of the Class of 2020 who have waited an entire year for their enshrinement. That class includes two of the most decorated coaches of all time, Dean Blais and Jerry York, along with two players who made their mark on the international arena in four-time Olympian Jenny Potter and long-time NHL player and U.S. Olympian turned coach Tony Granato.
In addition, the NHL’s Lester Patrick Trophy will be presented to Lynn Olson, a pioneer in the growth of girls’ and women’s hockey, and Jack Barzee, a long-time advocate of American hockey players at all levels.
Despite their varied backgrounds, each recipient has a special connection to the organization that paved the way for them to pursue their dreams.
“If it wasn’t for USA Hockey, formerly AHAUS [Amateur Hockey Association of the United States], that’s how I got my start,” recalled Fischler, the author or co-author of more than 100 hockey books.
“I went up to see the head of AHAUS, Tommy Lockhart at Madison Square Garden, and said I wanted to write about hockey. He said go to it.
“The trick is it’s never been working, it’s always been fun. To say that it’s been work is just a joke. My life’s love is just doing hockey every single day.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Holmgren, a tough kid from St. Paul, Minn., who over the past 40 years with the Flyers organization has been a player, assistant coach, head coach, general manager and president of the Flyers and continues to serve as a senior advisor for the club.
“I was able to turn pro as a 19 year old and I’ve been able to be involved in hockey ever since,” Holmgren said. “I hear people talk about work and say they had a bad day at work. I can’t remember ever having a bad day at work. I got to play hockey, be involved in hockey, watch a lot of hockey games.
“And if it wasn’t for USA Hockey and all the work they’ve done at the grassroots level, who knows what would have happened.”
For McNab, he’s being honored in the place he has called home since joining the Colorado Avalanche broadcast team during their inaugural season in 1995.
“It’s almost mind numbing that the 14-year-old kid in San Diego is being asked to join this spectacular group, and I couldn’t think of two guys who represent more,” McNab said.
Far from the beaches of southern California, Jenny Potter developed her love of the game on the frozen ponds of Minnesota where she would launch a trailblazing career that spanned four U.S. Women’s Olympic Teams, including the gold-medal-winning squad at the 1998 Games that would inspire future generations of girls to hit the ice.
“We really did something historic,” said Potter, who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame along with her 1998 teammates in 2009. “From that moment we built the foundation to the future of girls’ hockey and inspired them to be great and know that there are opportunities out there to reach for.”
In 2008, the Granato family came to Denver to celebrate their sister Cammi being the first woman inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. And now it’s Tony’s turn to celebrate his induction.
“The game of hockey is what bound our family and there is a common ground. It’s our happy place,” said the eldest sibling who played 13 NHL seasons before embarking on a long coaching career that includes leading the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
“We’re very fortunate and when things like this happen, you draw back on those memories and those experiences, and you become grateful for the opportunities that you’ve had because of the game.”
For Dean Blais and Jerry York, it’s not the victories and the championships that stand out over the course of their legendary careers. It’s the people they’ve worked with and the players they’ve influenced along the way that matter most. For York, the all-time winningest coach in college hockey, mentioning them all by name would be a monumental feat, but he doesn’t want to leave anyone out.
“I’d never try to name them here because I’d probably forget some,” York said. “But I’ll make sure that I name them when I get to the induction ceremony.”