When discussing the most egregious snubs to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, names like Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, and Alexander Mogilny get bandied about like beach balls at Coachella. But this debate is skewed, horribly skewed, ignorantly skewed, mostly in favor of ridiculous stat lines that break scoreboards.
Hockey is so much more than that. It’s an impossibly rugged sport played by burly testosterone fueled alphas who dismiss and disdain hesitancy, pain, and fear.
Perhaps no player in Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche history exemplifies the importance of and the need for the steamy underbelly of hockey more than Adam Foote. He was as valuable to two Stanley Cup winning teams as anyone he played with.
If Joe Sakic was a surgical scalpel, if Peter Forsberg was a guided and unguided missile, if Patrick Roy was a brick wall, Adam Foote was a hammer and anvil. Foote was the rock and the hard place. He was the defensive anchor for an Avs team that had few, if any, exploitable weaknesses.
What sets Foote apart from the blueliners of his era was his intensity, toughness, grit, and uncanny strength at the point of attack. Even in a sport that prizes a take no prisoners mentality, Foote stood out as the game’s quintessential pit fighter.
When the Quebec Nordiques were shipped south to Denver, local hockey fanatics were gifted the best young team in the NHL. Generally regarded in hockey circles as one of the most talented rosters in the league, the newly crowned Colorado Avalanche quickly worked their way into the hearts and minds of local sports fans. In a scant few months, they became the second most watched and liked professional sports team in Denver, behind only the Denver Broncos.
One of the biggest reasons was Adam Foote.
In his career, Foote played in 1154 games and amassed 1534 penalty minutes. His other numbers, the ones casual hockey fans and most sports journalists focus on, are irrelevant. Scoring points was not Foote’s job or forte. His job was to prevent points and if he had to do it by going through you, turning you into a stain on the boards, so be it. And that’s what Avalanche fans absolutely adored about the man, his ask no quarter, give no quarter style. His last shift in an Avs uniform was a microcosm of his career. In overtime of a 4-3 Avs win, Foote battered Edmonton’s Ben Eager and Tom Gilbert, knocking them both down and dislodging the puck with his patented crosscheck, all while the entire Pepsi Center crowd stood applauding and cheering. That’s just who he was and why he became a fan favorite.
We can shower Foote with all the metaphors in the English language we want, use blustery language, invoke imagery of all things gritty, and we’d still miss what made Foote so special. The best way to describe who the man was would be one simple word…trust.
Adam Foote only scored more than 30 points in a season twice, in 2002-03 and 2003-04. Yet despite this paltry scoring, he was named to Team Canada five times, including three Olympics and two World Cups, winning gold in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and the 2004 WCOH in Toronto. He was as integral as his more storied teammates, and they all trusted him, trusted him to punish anyone foolish enough to try and score on his watch, trusted to protect the super stars. He rarely, if ever, violated that trust.
Foote never played in an All-Star game, never finished above 10th place in Norris Trophy voting, and never won individual glory of any kind until the Avs retired his jersey on November 2, 2013. Who else’s number hangs from the rafters of Avs central? Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, and Ray Bourque. That’s it, that’s the list. Pretty lofty company up there and now only one of those icons isn’t in the HOF.
Don’t get this twisted, nobody’s making the argument that having your number retired from the Avalanche franchise is automatically a Hall resume. Far from it. What you need to do is put the man’s career into context. He was one of the best stay at home defensemen in NHL history. His ability to shut down elite players became legendary. His battles with the best players of the day were special. He and Brendan Shanahan waged individual wars that punctuated one of the nastiest rivalries hockey has ever seen. Foote’s trench warfare with Keith Tkachuk was gripping and epic. His willingness to man his teammates six was a demonstration of barely controlled fury. He squared up with Bob Freakin’ Probert after an ill-advised hit on Peter Forsberg…yup, Foote had no fear, not even of one of the most intimidating henchmen enforcers of the era. Foote was able to ragdoll Owen Nolan and make opposing forwards reluctant to camp the net mouth.
Adam Foote was a different and dying breed, a man whose only concern was stopping the other guy from scoring, a warrior who protected his own, and a guy who patrolled his end of the ice with brute force and bad intentions. He did it at all levels and he won championships, lots of chips. Let’s reiterate…Foote has two Staley Cup rings, an Olympic gold medal, and a Hockey World Cup god medal.
He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Will we ever see enshrined in Toronto? Maybe not. Does it matter to Avs zealots? Nope, Adam Foote is in our HOF. And that's okay. Good luck and god's speed to you Adam Foote, we miss you, we love you.