As nearly two decades passed without a call from the Hockey Hall of Fame, former Buffalo Sabres goalie Tom Barrasso grew to accept one would likely never come.
He felt at peace with his career – both the good and the bad. He played 19 years, won the Stanley Cup twice and enjoyed a remarkable rookie season in 1983-84, winning the Vezina and Calder trophies as an 18-year-old who jumped from high school hockey to the NHL.
Barrasso, who had been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2006, wasn’t concerned about the honor. He had moved on. So when the selection committee called Wednesday to inform him of his election, he wasn’t around to accept it.
“I was definitely not waiting by the phone,” said Barrasso, who will be inducted in November with center Pierre Turgeon, another former Sabres star. “In fact, they had a hard time getting a hold of me even after they made the decision.”
Leading up to Wednesday’s vote, there was a groundswell of support for former Sabres star Alexander Mogilny, the first player to defect from the then Soviet Union in 1989.
In addition to being a trailblazer, the electrifying Russian winger scored a franchise-record 76 goals for the Sabres in 1992-93. He registered 473 goals and 1,032 points in 990 games over 16 seasons. He also won the Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000.
But the committee passed over Mogilny for the 15th year.
There had been little talk of old teammates Barrasso and Turgeon, who compiled 515 goals and 1,327 points in 1,294 games over 19 seasons, finally getting their due.
“If you look at the selection of the committee, there are a number of people they’re looking at and there are a lot of great players that had great careers,” Turgeon, the first overall pick by Buffalo in 1987, said on a conference call. “So it’s got to be tough for them to decide. For me, it’s just a privilege to be a part of this. I was blessed to do something I love for many years, and I get on that ice still and I still love the game.”
The Hall of Fame’s 18-member selection committee also chose goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Vernon and Team Canada women’s star Caroline Ouellette. In the builder’s category, former coach Ken Hitchcock and late general manager Pierre Lacroix are also part of the class of 2023.
Barrasso played five full seasons with the Sabres after former GM Scotty Bowman drafted him fifth overall out of Acton-Boxborough High School in Massachusetts.
While Barrasso backstopped the Pittsburgh Penguins to two championships and had other terrific seasons, nothing, at least individually, can top his rookie year.
“It was an amazing year as an 18-year-old turning 19, and I never achieved that level of success again in my career,” he said.
Barrasso took the NHL by storm, registering a 26-12-3 record with a 2.84 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage, a high number for the time.
“What made it work was it was an Olympic year,” he said. “I tried out for the ‘84 Olympic team and made the team and trained with them through August leading into NHL training camps, and that got me ready. It really gave me a good head start on a pro camp at that point.”
Barrasso also credits Bowman for giving a neophyte an opportunity to share the net with veteran goalie Bob Sauve.
“(He) took a lot of heat selecting an American goalie with the fifth pick overall,” said Barrasso, who won 369 games. “I think he felt he had nothing to lose and let me play. And as time went along, it just worked. And I had a great partner in Bob Sauve. …
“I was set up for it through the Olympic training camp and that gave me the confidence to know I was ready. But at the end of the day, fear was a great driving factor. I wanted to succeed so bad and not go to the American League, and that just drove me every day to work and be good in practice and get myself prepared for games.”
Barrasso said receiving the call Wednesday “just validates the idea that I’ve had in my head this whole time, that I’ll write down my accomplishments and I’ll stand by them.”