…and justice for the Recchin’ Ball.

Mark Recchi

Photo Credit: Gene Puskar/AP

How did Mark Recchi make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame? More appropriately, how didn’t Recchi make it into the Hall of Fame, until now?

Who were they to deny an integral player, and later, mentor, for a remotely dynastic team that distinction? Who were they to say no to a man who, long ago, proved flat wrong the naysayers who “nayed” about whether or not the 5’10”, 185-pound Kamloops product was physically capable of playing in the NHL?

What took them so long to recognize a seven-time All-Star, the oldest goal-scorer in Stanley Cup Final history and one of a handful of players to win three Stanley Cups with three different teams?

Maybe it wasn’t personal. Maybe it wasn’t political. I’ve never heard anything tantamount to the silly “Steelers fatigue” excuse people occasionally make when one of theirs is overlooked for a trip to Canton. Besides, the list of erstwhile NHLers who have gotten the call to Toronto since Recchi’s retirement from playing–and since the typical three-year moratorium came and went–is pretty legit.

Maybe Recchi’s Hall-of-Fame case just needed the same time and patience as the guys he’s been hanging with this week.

Today the pupil has become the teacher, as Recchi heads the Pens’ annual prospect development camp at the Lemieux Complex in Cranberry this week. If you can’t make it to Saturday’s 3:00 p.m. public scrimmage, odds are you’ll still get to see at least a couple future Recchin’ Balls in action when the preseason commences Sept. 19-20, or when Kraft Hockeyville and the St. Louis Blues come to the Rostraver Ice Garden Sept. 24.

Recently we learned the Pens will see the Blues again for opening night/banner night Oct. 4, and at this point, I would surmise a Recchi-themed giveaway night will be in the offing when their promotional schedule is announced some time later.

The Blues, come to think of it, had a center in the ’80s named Bernie Federko who earned Hall of Fame induction in 2002. Good player and all, but–well, look up Bernie Federko’s resume after you’re done reading this. Compare it to Recchi’s. Let’s just put it that way.

When I think back to the first Cup run, often the first thing that comes to mind, even before the bloodbath in Bloomington, is Mario scoring an empty-net goal on my birthday to clinch the first-ever Final trip for the Penguins. That wouldn’t have been possible, however, without Recchi scoring what proved to be the game- and series-winner in a dramatic victory over that pesky, Milbury-led Boston squad.

I still remember getting picked up from school by my dad that chilly afternoon the following year, being handed one of dad’s trademark Post-It notes, detailing the multi-team trade that sent Recchi and Paul Coffey away, and trying to surmount my speechlessness. It was earth-shattering, maybe even more so than the deal that had sent Coffey to Pittsburgh five years earlier.

The Penguins were floundering, and GM Craig Patrick, as he contended, needed to make them a tougher team to play against. As usual, Patrick was vindicated; newly acquired winger Rick Tocchet and mountainous defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, in particular, helped the Pens keep the Cup.

Still, I was excited when Patrick brought “Recchs” back as a free agent for what I thought was one final tour of duty with the team that launched his career. Missing out on seeing a really great player in his prime had been an unfortunate sacrifice for back-to-back championships.

When I learned he and fellow free agent/ex-Flyer teammate John LeClair were among the locker room shit-stirrers who ruined Crosby’s rookie season, or so it was rumored, my feelings changed. (Years later, when I heard him stumping for our current President, my stomach turned again, but I digress.) Recchi did join the exclusive 500-goal club while wearing the black and gold, but it’s a shame he couldn’t achieve more under Michel Therrien, instead chancing into a title with Carolina and calling it quits after he hoisted the Cup in his native British Columbia with the Bruins. When I look back on the whole of his Penguin career, it becomes immaterial.

Quoting his official Penguins staff bio, Recchi “is responsible for working with young prospects throughout the Penguins organization–assisting in the development of players in the minor leagues as well as junior and college hockey.” Considering what the current Pens have accomplished, this speaks volumes. He’s the guy who helped turn Jake Guentzel into Jake Guentzel. He’s the guy who helped turn Bryan Rust into Bryan Rust. He’s the guy who helped turn Conor Sheary into Conor Sheary, and so forth.

When Mario’s body betrayed him, the Penguins needed a hero. Recchi led the team in regular-season scoring en route to a first-ever Patrick Division championship and…you know the rest. A quarter-century later, when the Penguins needed new heroes, Recchi, quietly, was there to aid their meteoric rise.

It’s hard to imagine the first set of those back-to-back Stanley Cups happening without Mark Recchi, even though he helped win Cup No. 2 in a different way. It’s also hard to imagine the Penguins becoming, aside from the Blackhawks, the most successful team of the NHL’s salary-cap era without him passing down his wisdom to the next generation. Not many can identify with the ups and downs of a life in pro hockey better than he.

Recchi might not be the biggest name in this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame class, but he deserves all the same to breathe every breath of that rarified air–and not a moment too soon.

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