TORONTO — A tiny gift box cradled in his hands, the embodiment of his 22-year NHL career cast in karats, Mark Recchi sat on stage here at the Hall of Fame on Friday, quiet and ever respectful but as always a ball of eagerness and impatience.
The rest of his fellow 2017 inductees inside the hallowed building’s Grand Hall also held their boxes and waited, some looking too anxious, or too in awe, or too overwhelmed, even to glance at the rings inside.
But while Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald duly rattled on about all their stats and accomplishments, Recchi could wait no more. He plucked his ring from the box, slipped it on his right hand, and delightfully got lost in the moment as he gently flexed his wrist and gazed at the glistening gold.
“It’s such an incredible honor,” Recchi said minutes later, standing amid a small media gathering. “I just wanted to get it on, and I’ll have it all weekend. Tremendous. It’s just such a tremendous honor. It’s for real now.”
Recchi and the rest of the Hall’s class of ’17, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and former Boston forward Dave Andreychuk among them, all officially will be inducted here during Monday night’s festive ceremonies. Friday was all about rings and jackets, posing for publicity pictures, and immersing themselves in a culture that recognizes them among the game’s greats.
“Now it’s for real,” said a beaming Recchi. “What an incredible feeling being here and seeing the guys . . . such a tremendous honor.”
Now 49 years old and a jacket size or two heftier than his rock-solid playing weight of 195 pounds, Recchi retired upon winning the Stanley Cup, his third, in a raucous final ride with the Bruins in June 2011. He proved to be exactly what the Bruins needed, the wily old pro, acquired in March ’09, to help steer the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and others to the franchise’s first Cup in 39 years.
His Hall of Fame dossier was never in doubt, constructed long before he came to Boston. Today, only four NHLers have played more games than his 1,652, and he ranks 12th all-time in points (1,533), 15th in assists (956), and 20th in goals (577).
If Recchi wasn’t getting in, then better to return the august building here at the corner of Yonge and Front streets back to its beginnings as a bank.
“To play 22 years, you know . . . it’s not an easy sport,” said Recchi, asked if was easier to score all those points or last all those years. “It’s a very grueling sport, and to be able to do that a long time is something I’m very proud of.”
He spent those years typically no more than two stick lengths away from the opposition net. Only 5 feet 10 inches, Recchi evolved as the grand master of the short-range scoring game, never timid about ferreting to the top of the crease or cozying up to a post, and not giving up the territory until he got a whack or two at putting a puck in the net.
In a game increasingly gone to speed, Recchi’s kind of stubborn presence, though not obsolete, today has faded considerably. He was hockey’s version of Slick Willie Sutton, the bank robber who was said to profess that he targeted banks because “that’s where the money is.”
Recchi angled. He tipped. He deflected. Sometimes he ripped off an honest shot or two, but mostly he arrived all gnarly at the teller’s window, reached in, and grabbed the cash.
“Well, you’ve got to be willing to go there, No. 1,” he said. “It’s not an easy spot to go to, and I think it gets even harder as teams defend even better, and players are faster. But, yeah, it’s a mindset of being willing to go there and pay a price. I don’t know if you pay a price as much as when we first started. The price then was you got two-handers and crosschecked. Now you can’t do that, but [defending] players are quicker, and they take up more space. But to get inside and score goals, when we first started, you know, for 10, 15 years, you paid a pretty dear price to go there.”
When Recchi started, in 1988 with the Penguins, sticks were still made of wood and defensemen were empowered with a rulebook that helped them turn crease area into a slaughterhouse.
The likes of blueliners, Rob Blake, Scott Stevens, and Ken Daneyko, recalled Recchi, were particularly ornery defenders.
“Oh, God, everybody!” said Recchi, laughing when asked to name his top three front-of-the net bone crushers. “If you got by ’em, or you were getting by ’em, you paid . . . you had welts. I don’t see guys often with welts anymore. Our arms and backs were covered with welts for 80 or 100 games.”
Would he refuse shake hands with any of those old acquaintances if they met here now?
“No, no, no,” he said. “It was all good. It was all good, the price you pay . . . so you took a number, and you eventually had your chance, too.”
Recchi in recent years rejoined the Penguins franchise and added to his Cup ring trove with back-to-back champions in ’16 and ’17. He is now at five rings and counting, including the three he won as a player in Pittsburgh (’91), Carolina (’06), and the Hub of Hockey.
When he wears any of the rings, it’s only for short events.
“They’re hard to wear for a long time,” he said, “because they are so big.”
He’s had copies of some of the rings made for his father, Mel, and plans to get him a replica of the Hall ring, too.
“Not sure how to do that yet,” he said, “but we’ll figure that out for sure.”
Mel Recchi for years was co-owner of a newspaper, the Kamloops News, in Kamloops, British Columbia. For the most part, he remained on the sidelines while his legend-to-be son learned to play the game.
“He only said one thing to me,” Recchi recalled. “He didn’t push me to play. He only said, ‘If you’re going to play, give it your all.’ And that was it. The best advice, really.”
No surprise, it’s the same advice Cameron Recchi, now a sophomore forward at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., has received all long the way from his dad, too.
When Rick Tocchet was hired away from Pittsburgh this past summer to be the Coyotes’ head coach, Recchi returned to ice level and became an assistant on the staff of Mike Sullivan, the head coach in Boston until Peter Chiarelli became the GM in 2006.
The art of coaching, like scoring, also has changed considerably over the scope of Recchi’s career. The NHL in the late-’80s was in its video naissance, and Recchi recalled then Pittsburgh coach Bob Johnson (a.k.a. Badger Bob) used the team’s dressing room floor, lined with rink markings, to illustrate his teaching points to the likes of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, et al.
“We had the rink in the middle, and Badger Bob would move the pucks around,” Recchi recalled. “We’d all sit around, and he’s explaining the 1-2-2 or the forecheck. It was good.”
Digital video clips are now the preferred method of teaching, with coaches getting their message across to the group at large or in individual sessions. Technology allows for specific, precise teaching moments, with most of the players arriving in the NHL already schooled in the practice.
“You have to get the message across in a different way now,” he said. “If a coach asked you to run through a wall, you didn’t ask a question, you ran through the wall. Now you have to explain why you have to run through the wall. Which is no problem. It was getting to that point, anyway, near the end of my career. I was dealing with in it player development for three years, so coaching’s just the next step.”
Recchi’s next step, Monday night, will be over the threshold of the Hall of Fame’s front door.
“Not until the end of my career did I even think about it,” he said. “You win a few times, and you’ve been successful, and you think maybe you have a chance. It’s something that you just hope your body of work is good enough that they think you are worthy enough to come in here. Fortunately, I got that call, and I can’t be more excited.”