Courtesy of Point Park University

Rutherford deeply moved by call to Hall


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Jim Rutherford. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Jim Rutherford has done a lot of things in this game.

He's stopped pucks as a goaltender, and has constructed teams as a general manager.

He's suffered with a franchise that didn't have a real home, and has celebrated three Stanley Cups.

But nothing Rutherford experienced during his decades in hockey quite prepared him for the phone call he received Tuesday afternoon from Lanny McDonald, president of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and John Davidson, chairman of the HHOF selection committee, informing him that he had been granted a place among the game's immortals as a builder in the Hall's Class of 2019.

"It was probably the most humbling experience that I've had in my hockey career," Rutherford said. "I really didn't know what to say, and I'm still at the point where I'm really not sure how to put this all in words."

Words, though, weren't really necessary. Not when Rutherford's lifetime of deeds -- including building Stanley Cup winners in Carolina in 2006 and with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017 -- say so much.

"We've always thought of Jim Rutherford as a Hall of Fame general manager and builder, and today's announcement that he will formally be inducted into the Hall is richly deserved," David Morehouse said. "He has ties to the Penguins dating back to his playing days in the 1970s, and his impact on the franchise as our GM, in leading us to back-to-back Stanley Cups, has been exceptional. In addition to his Hall of Fame credentials, Jim is a down-to-earth, honest, straight-talking guy who does his job every day with class and dignity. We know we are very lucky to have him as part of the Penguins organization."

Rutherford and defenseman Sergei Zubov, the 17th and 18th men with Penguins ties to be inducted to the Hall of Fame, are part of a class that includes Hayley Wickenheiser, Vaclav Nedomansky, Guy Carbonneau and former Boston College coach Jerry York.

Neither Rutherford nor Zubov is associated solely, or even primarily, with the Penguins. Zubov played just one of his 16 NHL seasons here and the Penguins were just one of several teams for whom Rutherford played. And Rutherford spent far more time in the front office with Carolina, dating to the Hurricanes' days in Hartford, than he has with the Penguins, who he joined in 2014.

Rutherford got into management more than a quarter-century ago with Peter Karmanos, who owned the highly successful Compuware program in Michigan. Karmanos eventually bought the Whalers, and Rutherford ran that team before it relocated to North Carolina.

The Hurricanes spent their first two seasons in Greensboro, N.C., because there was no arena available in Raleigh, which was to become the franchise's permanent home.

"We were trying to build a franchise, build a hockey market," Rutherford said. "I took great pride in the strides we made in Carolina."

The Hurricanes peaked in 2006, when they won the team's only Cup, and eight years later, Rutherford was ready to leave the game. He was replaced as GM in Carolina by another Penguins Hall of Famer, Ron Francis.

"I probably would have been happy with my career ending with that," Rutherford said.

But around that time, the Penguins, fresh off a series of playoff disappointments, were shopping for a GM to replace Ray Shero, and Rutherford turned up on the radar of Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, as well as that of Morehouse. They met, Rutherford came away impressed by the potential of the personnel he would be inheriting, and decided that retirement could wait.

"I'd lived in Pittsburgh before, so I knew how much I liked the people here," he said. "It was an opportunity to come back, and it's just been a great experience. ... I guess what I did right was to take the opportunity. There were just great, great building blocks here to win a championship."

And, following a few deft moves by Rutherford, there were a couple of parades down the Boulevard of the Allies to prove it.

Two years have passed since the most recent of those, but Rutherford insists that it's entirely possible there will be another. At least.

"I still have that drive to be successful," he said. "And I still think the Penguins can win at least another championship here in the next few years."

That remains to be seen, but what is clear is that Rutherford's career has come full circle, returning him to a place that was one of his early stops as a player.

"Pittsburgh is home now," Rutherford said. "We'll probably have a house here forever."

From now on, he'll always have a place in Toronto, too.

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