The Hockey Hall of Famer Builders category is a strange category. It seems suspiciously reserved for owners and other such higher-ups to pat themselves on the back with patronage appointments. Meanwhile nowhere near enough coaches have been enshrined. As such the category has been dismissed with a bit of resentment or disinterest.
Another downfall of the category is no one is really sure who is eligible. Unlike the players, who have to wait a mandatory 3 years after retiring, there is no set listing of newly eligible candidates. So there is no instant debate every year.
Whenever the media starts backing candidates it is usually coaches (of which there are far too few in the HHOF). Much has been made about the late Fred Shero and late Pat Burns in recent years.
If I had any say at all at the Hockey Hall of Fame selection meeting, I would be strongly advocating for two long overdue builders of the game: Viktor Tikhonov and Fran Rider
Anatoli Tarasov rightfully deserves much of the credit of quickly building the Soviet hockey empire to equal that of Canada's, but Viktor Tikhonov is the man who arguably took Soviet hockey to it's highest heights.
The 83 year old began coaching in 1962 after a 12 year playing career. As a player he got little notice, but as a coach he became perhaps the most successful coach in the history of the game. He was a serious student who was almost completely consumed by the game. His desire for victory was almost tyrannical. He was a strict disciplinarian who somehow seemed to get the most out of his players time and time again. But he never demanded more from his players than he did from himself.
Here are a few career highlights:
IIHF Hall of Fame Member
Soviet Hockey Hall of Fame Member
13 Soviet League Titles, all consecutive (1978-1989)
8 World Championship Gold Medals (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1990)
3 Olympic Gold Medalist (1984, 1988, 1992)
Challenge Cup Champion (1979)
Canada Cup Champion (1981)
Soviet league record of 702-302-137 (.675 winning percentage)
While Anatoly Tarasov rightfully is included in the Hockey Hall of Fame as, I would argue, one of the five most important builders in the history of the sport, Viktor Tikhonov deserves to join him. Tarasov built the Russians into a skating empire. But it was Tikhonov who coached the team through it's most dominant period of time.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Soviet national team destroyed every team in their sights. There was no better team in the world at that time - not the Montreal Canadiens or the New York Islanders or even the NHL All Stars (at the Challenge Cup in 1979) and Team Canada (at the Canada Cup in 1981). If it was not for a "miracle" of an upset to the American college kids at the 1980 Winter Olympics, I believe Tikhonov would already be a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Builders category does not have enough coaches included. Fred Shero and Pat Burns are worthy candidates, but Viktor Tikhonov remains a glaring omission.
No woman has exerted a greater force or had a greater influence on the development of women’s hockey than Fran Rider. The early 1990s was when the women's game really exploded onto the world stage. For Rider that was more or less her exit point. She had spent the better part of the previous three decades devoted to the women's game. Without her efforts, women's hockey as we know it would still be years away.
Rider grew up playing hockey in the 1960s while dreaming of the Toronto Maple Leafs. However she soon realized there were very few opportunities for girls and women to play hockey. She would dedicate her life to changing that and nowadays girls all across Canada and increasingly across the world have great opportunities to play but also realistic dreams to achieve.
By 1975 Rider co-founded and served as executive director of the Ontario Women's Hockey Association. Over the years girls in Ontario increasingly had access to better ice time, coaching, equipment and tournaments, setting the standard for the rest of the country to strive for.
She later gave women hockey players right around the world something to dream about when she spearheaded the first unofficial women's hockey championship in 1987 and then the first official women's hockey championship in 1990, all with no financial support from Hockey Canada. With these movements in place, it was not long before women's hockey became an Olympic sport.
Women's hockey has come a long ways since then. Nowadays Hockey Canada has taken over Rider's example and the game is highly regarded not only in Canada but around the world.
In recognition of her dedication to women's hockey, the silver medal-winning team at the Senior Women's National Championships is presented with the Fran Rider Cup.
But it is time for the Hockey Hall of Fame to also recognize Rider's importance. She is a true builder, just like James Creighton, Frank and Lester Patrick and Art Ross were all those years ago in the men's game.