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Former NHLer Paul Coffey headlines 2015 class for Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

TORONTO — Paul Coffey remembers early-morning practices at Maple Leaf Gardens as a kid. He would hang around until the Leafs arrived for their practice later in the day.

He remembers the day his dad arrived home with his "first pair of greens" — game tickets in an upper-middle section of downtown Toronto's fabled hockey arena.

Wednesday, the 14-time NHL all-star stood under the grand ceiling of Maple Leaf Gardens — now the Mattamy Athletic Centre — to receive an honour he said is among his most special. He was one of a dozen athletes and builders among the 2015 class inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

"We all know what it takes to be at the top and be the best, and be the best in Canada," Coffey said of his fellow inductees. "To be involved in Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, there's nothing better. Being able to represent your country and seeing that name 'Canada,' and that flag is what it's all about."

Coffey went into the Hall with speedskater Susan Auch, Paralympic swimmer Michael Edgson, cross-country skiing twins Sharon and Shirley Firth, soccer goalkeeper Craig Forrest, Nicolas Gill in judo, women's hockey player Danielle Goyette, freestyle skier Jennifer Heil, and cyclist Lori-Ann Muenzer.

Jocelyne Bourassa, in golf, and Marina van der Merwe, in field hockey, were inducted as builders.

Coffey is known as one of the best defencemen in the history of hockey, helping the Edmonton Oilers to Stanley Cups in 1984, '85 and '87. He added another in '91 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman three times, and still holds more than a dozen NHL records.

The Toronto native, whose three kids — sons Blake and Christian, who both play hockey, and daughter Savannah — were on hand to see their dad inducted, remembered coming home to play at Maple Leaf Gardens.

"We used to come in with the Oilers in the early days for sure, there'd be a lot of hype. A few of those games we lost, I remember (Miroslav) Frycer getting four goals on us once (Toronto would win 11-9, in 1986)," Coffey said. "And the only people who went home from the rink unhappy was us, for a reason. But pretty entertaining hockey."

At age 38, Muenzer beat a field of athletes half her age at the 2004 Games to win Canada's only Olympic cycling gold medal.

"You look at everybody here and everybody has a story, some are similar, but not really. Each one is so unique," Muenzer said. "And it's neat to see what everybody's done. These are people that I followed when I was growing up, and knowing more about them is that much more empowering."

Forrest is Canada's most accomplished 'keeper. He was the first Canadian to play in the English Premier League, for Ipswich Town and then West Ham United. He was named MVP and top 'keeper at the 2000 Gold Cup, backstopping Canada to gold.

"I loved playing for Canada," Forrest said. "Certainly it was a dream of mine to play in the English Premier League or to try to get to the top echelon of professional soccer, and that dream was a hard road as everybody knows. But I think if I can do it, coming from Coquitlam (B.C.), . . . maybe we can inspire other players to take the next step to do something special.

"And it's nice to be reminded once in awhile that I used to do something that was pretty cool," he added.

Auch is a five-time Olympian, winning silver in 1994 and '98 in long-track speedskating.

"From the day my dad told me you can do anything you want to do, it's amazingly difficult to believe that anything really was possible. . . .It's something that we do because we love doing it, and it's shocking when we get honoured with something like this as a cherry on top and it really is bringing back memories from the past."

Goyette helped Canada's women's hockey team to two Olympic gold medals and a silver. She also won eight world championships.

Heil won Olympic moguls gold at the 2006 Olympics, and silver in 2010. She is also a four-time overall World Cup champion, and won two FIS world titles in dual moguls.

Gill won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and bronze in 1992 in Barcelona. Edgson won 18 Paralympic gold medals between 1984 and 1992.

Sharon Firth and her twin sister Shirley, who died of cancer in 2013, were among the first Aboriginal athletes to represent Canada at the Olympics. They competed for Canada's first-ever Olympic women's cross-country ski team, and would compete in four Olympics between 1972 and '84.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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