THUNDER BAY – Chris Pronger won a Norris Trophy, a Stanley Cup and a pair of Olympic gold medals.
The Dryden native was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame after his playing career was cut short by concussions and is general manager Dale Tallon’s right-hand man with the Florida Panthers these days.
With everything he’s done, it would have been easy for the soon-to-be 43-year-old to say thanks, but no thanks when asked to attend his induction ceremony to the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
But Pronger, the No. 2 pick of the Hartford Whalers in 1993, not only remembers his roots, he’s proud of them.
Add in the fact his grandparents, aged 94 and 90, still live in Thunder Bay, and his parents have moved east from Dryden to be near them, and it’s no wonder the event’s star attraction wanted to attend.
“It’s special. I grew up here in Northwestern Ontario. I was doing a little research for my speech and my grandparents immigrated into Canada in 1952 and moved to Thunder Bay in 1955. My dad’s side of the family, I think in 1910, they moved to Dryden,” Pronger said.
“We’re long-time Northwestern Ontario residents. A lot of our family history dates to Northwestern Ontario, so it’s pretty special to have two brothers go in, the second tonight. It’s pretty neat.”
Older brother Sean Pronger was inducted into the Hall in 2009, and has held it over Chris ever since, despite a much less decorated NHL career that saw him play just 260 games between 1995 and 2004.
Sean boasted about it, tongue-in-cheek, of course, in his book Journeyman, and Saturday night was a chance to the younger sibling to even the score.
Chris Pronger even has a theory why Sean got the nod ahead of him.
“Obviously he was a Thunder Bay Flyer and a 10-year pro and certainly had a long career as well. His induction was certainly deserving and I think having played here in Thunder Bay for a couple of years may have given him an edge,” Pronger said, laughing that local reporters might be stealing the thunder from his induction speech.
Looking back at his earliest hockey-playing days, before he headed off first to Stratford, Ont. for a season of junior B and then two more campaigns with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, Pronger said it was Sean and his friends that drove him to get better at the game.
“We were always outside playing road hockey, going to the outdoor rink, going out for hockey practices or games or what have you,” he said. “Everything just kind of revolved around playing the game. When you’re playing against older kids you’ve got to beef up quick and play a bigger game than maybe you’re ready for,” Pronger said.
“It seemed to suit me pretty good. I just always really enjoyed studying hockey books, looking at hockey plans and asking questions about why would you do this or what is this going to fix or help or create for the team. And I had a lot of great coaches over the years.”
Pronger also singled out Dryden High School coach Jack McMaster, who took the youngster under his wing and mentored him on the game.
“I was obviously pretty raw, a big, lean lanky kid. Fourteen-years-old playing against 19 and 20-year-olds is a pretty big step at that age. But I think that also helped prepare me for junior B and then junior and then the pros.”
Pronger also played for St. Louis, Anaheim, Edmonton and Philadelphia, finishing with 157 goals and 698 points in 1,157 NHL games.