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In the greatest hockey tournament of our lives, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky danced together, creating a kind of hockey magic that may never be forgotten.

Lemieux scored the most goals in the famed 1987 Canada Cup event. Gretzky had the most assists and typically the most points.

A Russian named Sergei Makarov was second to Lemieux in tournament goal-scoring, second to Gretzky in assists, third in points behind Gretzky and Lemieux.

And all this time later, almost 28 years after the tournament, almost 17 years since he played his last professional game, almost three decades from having his name ending sentences that began with Lemieux and Gretzky, Makarov has not been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He has not, I have come to understand, ever been close.

Understanding why is almost impossible because of the closed-door nature of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The voting members aren’t allowed to speak about the process. The politicking, if it is done, is done in private meetings. The 18 voters have all signed off on a contract that indicates they cannot speak publicly about the process of who gets inducted — or more importantly, who doesn’t.

From the Team Canada roster of 1987, 12 different players have been enshrined in downtown Toronto. But from that Russian team that lost 6-5 in the historic championship final, just two players are in the Hall of Fame. And both of those spent substantial time in the National Hockey League.

Makarov’s centreman, Igor Larionov, is in the Hall and now is a Hall of Fame voter. When asked on Monday why Makarov was not in the Hall, he said: “You know I can’t answer that.”

His position as a Hall of Fame voter disqualifies him from publicly making a case for Makarov. But in our brief telephone conversation, after describing his famous Russian line as a “symphony of moving parts” on an American website, I asked Larionov who the best player on the famed KLM line (with Vladimir Krutov) was.

“That’s liking asking, ‘Who’s the best Beatle?’ ” he answered. “Is it John Lennon? Is it Paul McCartney? George Harrison? Everyone had their roles. Everyone came together to form the nucleus.”

But the Beatles were inducted together in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There may never be a place for Krutov, and maybe there shouldn’t be, but how has the Hall passed on Makarov all these years?

How has it left behind a talent with so brilliant a resume?

Makarov won two gold medals at the world junior championships and was named tournament MVP once. Put this in Connor McDavid perspective: Makarov scored 23 points in 14 world-junior games. That’s 134-point scoring pace over an 82-game schedule.

He won eight gold medals at the world championship playing for the Soviets, one silver and two bronze. He played in 11 world tournaments and won 11 medals.

He won two Olympic gold medals and one silver medal at the three Olympic Games he attended.

Then there are the records at home. He led the Soviet League in scoring nine different times, was a three-time MVP — which is why he was known as the Gretzky of Russia. Fourteen years ago, Makarov was elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. Since then, 25 different forwards have been inducted in the Hockey Hall, at least half of whom wouldn’t have anything resembling Makarov’s resume.

I looked at the Hall of Fame list on Monday and counted 125 players just from Ontario. There are five Russians. I also counted at least 30 forwards I’m familiar with who in no way match Makarov in either skill or career accomplishment.

No disrespect to Clark Gillies, Bernie Federko, Dick Duff, Bob Pulford, George Armstrong, Bert Olmstead, Joe Mullen and Adam Oates, but none of them were anywhere close to the world prize Makarov was in his prime.

He made the mistake of being dazzling in Russia and almost every international competition he played in, but never matched that when he finished his career in the NHL on teams that weren’t necessarily contenders. How could he bring his national team excellence with him?

Makarov did change NHL rules in his first season in Calgary. He won the rookie-of -the-year award at age 31, when he really wasn’t any kind of rookie. But he was the last European veteran to accomplish that. When he was still in his prime, even though he wasn’t dazzling the way the KLM line managed before anyone had heard of puck possession, he still wound up with 235 points in his first 226 NHL games — an 85-point pace. Then, in his mid-30s, after 15 pro seasons, like a lot of players, his numbers began to decline.

It was the same way they declined for Lanny McDonald and Doug Gilmour and Joe Nieuwendyk and Gretzky and just about everybody else who played into their late 30s. Only this was the view the NHL had of him: They didn’t see him enough early on when he had almost no equal. They haven’t wanted to credit him for everything he managed on the Soviet national team and Red Army dynasty.

Imagine watching a Hall of Famer such as Mats Sundin playing his final days in Vancouver or Gilmour in Montreal as a 30-point man and making a career conclusion based on that?

Makarov, not Eric Lindros, not Rogie Vachon, not Steve Larmer, is the most deserving passed-over player not in the Hall of Fame today. He scored 1,351 points in 1,171 games and a lot of those were played in shorter seasons in the Soviet Union where points were never liberally awarded and second assists were scant.

In the eight seasons in which Larionov centred Makarov, the right winger outscored the Hall of Fame centreman in each season, which is unusual by itself in the symbiosis between centre and winger. Makarov scored 129 more points than Larionov in their time together at Red Army and that number would increase if the national-team games were included as well.

Is Makarov a Hall of Fame player?

“I would love to answer that question, but I am not allowed,” said Larionov. “As a member of the (Hall of Fame) committee, I’ve signed a contract. I am not allowed.”

Larry Murphy is allowed. He isn’t a Hall of Fame voter. But he, too, is a Hockey Hall of Fame player and made the pass to Lemieux that won the ’87 Canada Cup. He remembers the challenge of playing against Makarov.

“All I know is when he was on the ice, you had to know where he was,” said Murphy. “The way he played, the way (that line) skated, you didn’t know where they were going to be. They were on one side, then the other side, they were always moving. And, honest, it was hard to contain them.

“All I know is when I played against him, you were playing against a game-breaker. And it made you nervous when he was on the ice. Really nervous.”

Murphy does wonder whether Makarov’s six NHL seasons has diminished his Hall of Fame candidacy.

“If he had never come over, would his chances be great? Would they be better? I don’t know,” said Murphy, answering yet asking.

The 2015 Hall of Fame class is certain to include defencemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Pronger and nearly certain to have a Russian named Sergei Fedorov on the list as well. But the time has come to stop leaving Sergei Makarov behind. He has been overlooked, improbably and impossibly, for far too long. So long the matter rarely gets discussed.

The time has come to rectify that wrong and find Makarov his due place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve

THE BOOK ON MAKAROV

GOLD MEDALS

Olympic Games: 2

World junior championship: 2

World championship: 8

SOVIET LEAGUE

Scoring championship: 9

All-star team: 10

MVP: 3

1987 Canada Cup Scoring Leaders

GP G A PTS

Wayne Gretzky, Canada 9 3 18 21

Mario Lemieux, Canada 9 11 7 18

Sergei Makarov, Soviets 9 7 8 15

 

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Growing up in Canada I was a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't until the 1972 summit series and the 1976 Canada Cup that I became a big fan of international hockey. The best players in world all playing on a sheet of ice. 
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