Who will break the HHOF’s nationality barrier?
On Nov. 12, 2018 Jayna Hefford became the sixth woman to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame. All six of those women are North American, though it’s worth noting that Team Canada inductee Geraldine Heaney was born in Northern Ireland. No women from outside Canada or the United States have been enshrined in the Hall since it opened in 1961.
The Hall’s North American bias is problematic, short-sighted, and deliberately uninformed about talent outside the continent’s borders. While there’s no shortage of success in the ranks of Team Canada and Team USA, hockey’s history doesn’t revolve around two countries. It’s long past time that the HHOF recognized that.
Here are five exceptional non-North American players who are all strong candidates for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Note: in order to be eligible for the HHOF, a player must be retired for a minimum of three years before they are nominated by the elected 18-person committee. On Nov. 18, 2018, Hockey Canada icon Cassie Campbell-Pascall became the first woman to join the selection committee.
Seven players who should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame
Maria Rooth | Sweden
- Inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2015
- Three NCAA Titles at University of Minnesota-Duluth (2001, 2002, 2003)
- Olympic silver (2006), Olympic bronze (2002)/
Rooth’s legendary career took flight at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she was a three-time Patty Kazmaier top-ten finalist and a Frozen Four MVP. Over just 92 career games she accumulated a staggering 164 points and earned three consecutive NCAA titles. She’s also the only UMD women’s player to have her jersey retired by the program.
On an international scale, Rooth joined the Damkronorna in 1996 and is the first Swedish player of any gender to ever score 100 goals in international competition. She represented Sweden at four consecutive Olympics, winning bronze in 2002 and silver in 2006. The semifinal between Sweden and the United States remains one of biggest shockers in women’s Olympic history: Rooth scored twice in regulation to tie the game and scored again in overtime to send Sweden to the finals.
She finished her career in 2010 with 105 international goals and was elected into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2014.
Riikka Sallinen | Finland
- Inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2010
- Two-time Olympic bronze medalist (1998, 2018)
- Six-time bronze medalist at the Women’s World Championship /
Although Sallinen (perhaps better known to the world of hockey by her previous surname, Välilä) isn’t currently eligible for the HHOF as an active player, her ten-year hiatus from the game provided ample time for the committee to recognize her contributions to the game both in Finland and abroad.
A native of Jyväskylä, Sallinen started representing Finland in the 1988-89 season. She was the top scoring player at the inaugural Olympic women’s hockey tournament in 1998 with 12 points in six games. She retired in 2003 at age 30 with an Olympic bronze, four World Championship bronzes, three European championships, and 204 international points. She was inducted into the Finnish Ice Hockey Hall of Fame as a member of the 2007-08 class and into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2010. The Naisten Liiga presents the Riikka Nieminen Award annually in her honor, dedicated to the league’s best player.
All of this is impressive on its own, but it gets even better.
In 2013, after a ten-year absence, Sallinen completed an extraordinary comeback. She earned herself a place on the Finnish roster at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and has been going ever since. She won her second Olympic bronze four years later, at Pyeongchang in 2018, where she led Finland with four goals in six games. She currently plays with HV71 of the SDHL.
Ekaterina Smolentseva | Russia
- Three-time bronze medalist at the Women’s World Championship (2001, 2013, 2016)/
Let’s get this out of the way: Smolentseva was one of the six Russian players who were found guilty of violating the IOC’s anti-doping rules in Dec. 2017. As a result, she and her teammates were disqualified from the 2014 Olympics and were barred from representing their home country in future Olympic events. The ruling was undoubtedly a dark stain on the Russian Hockey Federation and on Smolentseva’s individual career, but there’s a lot more to her story than controversy and scandal.
Before Olga Sosina and Anna Shokhina, there was Katia Smolentseva. In her prime Smolentseva was a physical, talented powerhouse for Russia. She held her own against the size, strength, and skill possessed by members of the Canadian and U.S. national teams when the rest of Team Russia looked out-matched. A long-time captain of the national team, Smolentseva was a key piece of the puzzle for all three of Russia’s bronze medal finishes in the Women’s World Championship.
Smolentseva scored 40 points in 54 games for Russia at the Worlds during her career, making her the national team’s all-time leading scorer. If we include the six points she piled up at the Sochi Games, she is also Russia’s all-time leading scorer in Olympic competition.
Back in 2015, Smolentseva made history as one of the three Russian players to play in the NWHL during its inaugural season. She was also the second Russian player to sign an NWHL contract. At the age of 34, Smolentseva tallied eight points in 13 games with the Connecticut Whale. The following year she played professionally in Russia in the re-launched ZhHL with Agidel Ufa and piled up 49 points in 33 games.
It’s difficult to measure just how important Smolentseva was and still is to women’s hockey in Russia. She’s an icon in her home country. For that reason alone she deserves to be considered for the HHOF, even after her disqualification from the Sochi Games.
Guo Hong | China
- Eight World Championship appearances
- Two Olympic appearances/
Hong is arguably the most accomplished player China has ever produced. Nicknamed “The Great Wall,” she backstopped Team China for the country’s only two Olympic appearances in 1998 and 2002.
She came by that nickname because she always gave her team a chance despite an unbelievably challenging workload. It was not uncommon for her to face upwards of 50 shots while tending the goal for China. At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Hong led the tournament in both saves and shots against. She managed to post a .888 save percentage despite seeing 206 shots in just five games.
It’s no secret that Hong was the key to China’s fourth place finish at the 1998 Olympics and at the 1997 World Championship. Her stalwart play from 1992 to 2005 brought legitimacy to China’s national team program. The program simply hasn’t been the same without her.
Sun Rui, an assistant coach of the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays and a former teammate of Hong, explained to Sportsnet just how valuable she was to the program. “She retired, and there was no one after. We have no other goalie in the system like her.”
How many children in China were inspired by Hong’s performances in the Olympics? We’ll never know for certain, but we do know that she helped grow the game in a significant and lasting way. While Hong doesn’t have the awards or accolades of the others on this list, her status as a trailblazer during the most fruitful period of Chinese women’s hockey history earns her a place in hockey’s hallowed Hall.
Florence Schelling | Switzerland
- Olympic bronze (2014)
- MVP of Sochi Olympics
- World Championship bronze (2012)/
On May 31 2018, Schelling announced her retirement from hockey. She left the game as the greatest Swiss hockey player ever and one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game. No, neither of those statements are hyperbole.
There’s simply no denying that Schelling was a generational talent. She was a dominant and inspiring force for Switzerland in Olympic and World Championship competition. Schelling appeared in four Olympics and is tied for first all-time in wins and is first in shutouts, games played, and GSAA. There are too many individual accolades from those tournaments to list, but we need to make mention of her being the MVP of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Before and during her brilliant international career, Schelling put up dazzling numbers at Northeastern University. She still holds the best GAA (1.74) and save percentage (.940) in program history and was the Huskies’ starter for four straight years. After one year in the CWHL with the Brampton Thunder and two years in the Swiss D-1 Men’s league with EHC Bülach, Schelling dominated the SDHL. For three years she elevated Linköping HC in the regular season and playoffs with sensational play and was named the top goaltender of the league in 2017-18.
The bottom line is that women’s hockey and the women’s program in Switzerland wouldn’t be where it is today without Florence Schelling. She may have hung up her pads, but she’s still building to her legacy as an assistant coach for the Swiss U18 World Juniors team. It’s hard to imagine any goaltender accomplishing as much as Schelling did when she retired three months after her 29th birthday.
It would be criminal if she wasn’t inducted into the Hall shortly after becoming eligible. Her career was legendary.