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Luc Robitaille gets Hall of Fame ring; will he get a chance to see Wayne Gretzky tonight?

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On the morning of his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame and after getting the ring that’s awarded to each honored member, Luc Robitaille was again reminded of the obstacles he had surmounted to become the all-time leading scorer among NHL left wings.

A Canadian reporter who had written about him years ago recalled hearing of scouting reports that seriously doubted whether Robitaille would succeed in the NHL despite his high-scoring exploits with the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“Apparently there was someone that wrote that on the report. ‘This kid will never make it because he’s slower than a Zamboni,” Robitaille said, laughing.

Ah, but where is that Zamboni now?

It’s not getting inducted tonight in Toronto. But Robitaille will be, sharing the spotlight with former players Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Steve Yzeman and New Jersey Devils executive Lou Lamoriello.

“It was a really fast one. It was a turbo Zamboni,” Robitaille said. “It was the only one made that way.”
He can joke about it now, but he did wonder, as a youngster, if his lack of speed would hold him back.
“I do remember asking my dad, when I was younger, before I got drafted, ‘Dad, do I look really slow out there?’” he said.

“My dad was always positive and pushing me, and he said, ‘Aw, son, all I know is that when there’s a loose puck, you seem to be the first one on it every time,’ so I said OK. He said don’t worry about it and just work hard.”

All five inductees attended a news conference this morning in the Great Hall, where tonight’s ceremony will take place. It’s a splendid room with a domed, stained-glass ceiling, part of a former bank building whose vault now houses the Stanley Cup.

Among the hottest topics this morning was whether Wayne Gretzky will attend tonight’s ceremony. It has been widely speculated that he will skip the event in protest of the way he has been treated by the NHL in its handling of the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy, supposedly angry that the deal cut by the NHL to buy the franchise did not guarantee him the approximately $8 million he is owed.

Robitaille said he thinks Gretzky will attend, but Lamoriello said Gretzky isn’t sure.

“There’s no player that had a bigger impact on our league than Wayne Gretzky. “As a player his statistics speak for themselves. ... You look at what he’s done for the league. By moving to L.A., I’m a firm believer the new franchises that appeared, he had a lot to do with that. I don’t think there would be a team in Anaheim and maybe not San Jose, or it would have been way later, and people should not forget that, the kind of impact he’s had.

“No player in the history of any sport has had that kind of impact on a sport. I think he deserves to be treated well for what he’s brought for our sport. And I hope because of who he is, he should never feel it’s wrong to come to the Hall of Fame or come to the induction.

“You hate to say it because it’s not an individual sport, but he’s a stand-alone guy above and beyond everyone else because of everything that he’s done.”

More later from the inductees’ news conference and from the induction itself, at www.latimes.com/sports

-- Helene Elliott in Toronto

Click here for a classic Jim Murray column on Luc Robitaille.

Photo: Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee Co-Chair Jim Gregory, left, puts the ring on Luc Robitaille's finger in a ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday. Credit: Frank Gunn, AP. 

 
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