TORONTO - Three living legends, one of the most recognizable female hockey players on the planet and a homegrown builder who played an instrumental role in the birth of international hockey.
The Order of Hockey in Canada is born.
Jean Beliveau, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Gord Renwick were unveiled Tuesday as the inaugural class in Hockey Canada's new initiative to recognize individuals who have had an "extraordinary" impact on the sport in the country.
"We just thought it was another way to celebrate the game," said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. "At times, us as Canadians, we don't celebrate things. We're always down on situations and down on everyone. ...
"We want to make sure that young boys and girls always have heroes and I think we have five great heroes that we identified today."
The program has the support of the Hockey Hall of Fame, which opened its doors for Tuesday's announcement.
An official ceremony is scheduled for June 25 at Air Canada Centre, where the inductees will receive a ring and lapel pin to commemorate the achievement. Eventually, they'll be recognized in a museum at Hockey Canada's headquarters in Calgary.
A 12-member selection committee votes annually on the Order of Hockey in Canada. Each candidate must receive support from at least 75 per cent of the panel.
The aim is to recognize those who make an impact at all levels of the sport.
"We don't want just great players," said Nicholson. "We want to make sure that there are (people) that have great careers and continue to contribute to the game. You know what, the grassroots side of the game is huge.
"Hopefully in the future we'll see a lot of individuals that have touched all areas of the game of hockey. I think that's important."
Beliveau, Gretzky and Howe are among the most recognizable NHL stars from the past 50 or 60 years. Campbell-Pascall spent 12 years on the women's national team and captained Canada to a pair of Olympic gold medals. Renwick was an instrumental figure in establishing the organization now known as Hockey Canada and spent two decades as a board member with the International Ice Hockey Federation.
In future years, the Order will welcome up to three new members annually. The selection committee will have plenty of catching up to do with so many worthy individuals to choose between.
"Hockey in this country has never been healthier," said Nicholson.
"This is a great first class," he added. "We want this to be celebrating the game and celebrating the game at all levels."
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