Every year, in every professional sport, we see Hall of Fame “snubs.”
For those of you not familiar with that term, those are players who deserve to be enshrined in their sport’s Hall of Fame, but come up shockingly short in the voting process.
This summer, you can say that happened to one of the greatest athletes ever to come through the University of Maine: Paul Kariya.
On Monday afternoon, the Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2016 induction class, and the former Black Bear and National Hockey League star, for whatever reason, was not on it.
Oddly, another longtime NHL’er in Eric Lindros, whom like Kariya had his career cut short due to head injuries, was selected into the Hall of Fame. If Lindros deserves to get in, Kariya sure as heck does too.
When Kariya came to Orono in the fall of 1992, he was billed as a once-in-a-generation type of talent. His numbers during Maine’s historic 42-1-2 national championship season speak for themselves: He amassed 100 points as a freshman, becoming the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker award, given yearly to the top collegiate player in the nation.
Kariya was as electrifying as it gets. He had speed, fantastic skating ability, a deadly, precise shot, and a quite confidence on and off the ice. During his brief time at UMaine, he helped turn a lot of young kids, myself included, onto the game of ice hockey. That 1992-93 team is arguably one of the greatest college sports teams ever, regardless of sport.
A successful professional career with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues followed Kariya’s brief time in Orono, and he also led Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal at the 2002 games.
Kariya had lots of memorable moments as a professional hockey player, but Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals will forever be etched in my memory bank.
Kariya’s Ducks were trailing the New Jersey Devils 3 games to 2, needing a win at home to force a Game 7. With his Ducks up 3-1, Kariya pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone, only to have the Devils’ Scott Stevens blindside him with a hit to the head that would likely be a game misconduct in 2016.
Unfazed by the cheap shot, Kariya stayed in the game and scored Anaheim’s next goal in what would turn out to be a 5-2 victory for the Ducks.
It also marked Kariya’s last home game in Anaheim, as New Jersey would win Game 7 at home, and Kariya would go on to sign a free-agent deal with Colorado that offseason. He retired after the 2010 season, finishing his career with St. Louis, accumulating 989 points in 989 NHL games.
The 2003 Stanley Cup Final marked Kariya’s lone appearance in the NHL’s marquee postseason series, and one would argue that is a reason he isn’t deserving of Hall of Fame enshrinement. But if there’s any player that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, it’s Kariya.
Hopefully one day, we’ll see Kariya enshrined in Toronto. His No. 9 also deserves to be in the Honda Center rafters in Anaheim, alongside close friend Teemu Selanne, the only Duck to have his number retired.
You will always be a beloved figure in Black Bear Nation, Paul!