It’s time to take another journey into hockey’s distant past.
This memory excursion goes way, way back to the days before Pictou County had its own radio station — when we didn’t even have television sets in our homes.
In those good times, during the late 1940s and into the early ’50s, we got our news, weather and, yes, sports scores on CFCY, the radio outlet across the big strait in Prince Edward Island.
It was where we, as young hockey fans, turned the dial to listen to the Charlottetown Islanders in the Maritime Major Hockey League, a league above the senior level. It’s where we followed the Island’s icon, Roy (Buck) Whitlock, and his teammates like Orin Carver, Don (Peanuts) MacLaughlin and goalie Al Miller.
Charlottetown gave us more than a radio station.
That Maritime league’s schedule was really crowded – 84 regular season games with none on Sundays – and the Islanders, like the Halifax Atlantics, Sydney Millionaires and Glace Bay Miners, had to take to the ice six consecutive nights, week after week. Travel was so extensive that Charlottetown played some “home” games at the new Stadium in south-end New Glasgow. What a thrill after listening to the action on radio.
We got to see those big-time games in addition to the closer-to-home APC Senior Hockey League contests.
Just reaching my teens, I got to have an attachment to Island hockey almost as much as to local teams and players.
Then, two days before Christmas in 1953, CKEC went on the air from George Street. What a delight: sportscasts three times a day from John (Brother) MacDonald, who was also our school athletic director. There was plenty of Pictou County coverage.
CFCY faded into our memories. Now we had our own station.
Just six months later, I was travelling around the Halifax and District Baseball League as John Brother’s scorekeeper when he did broadcasts of Stellarton Albions games.
The early attraction I had to Island hockey, however, never really disappeared. I have continued — to this day, actually — following athletes and coaches from there.
Now, six decades later, I’m keeping up with the careers of two very good guys from P.E.I. Their names, I’m sure, are known to NHL fans around Pictou County — Doug MacLean and Gerard Gallant.
They’re 10 years apart in age — MacLean turned 64 last week, Gallant is 54 — but their hockey trails have crossed often.
After coaching at the University of New Brunswick, MacLean became assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals. Still later, he coached and held managerial positions with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers.
At one stage, after serving as both coach and general manager in Columbus, he concentrated on front office work and hired a new head coach — yes, his fellow Islander Gallant. Like most Maritimers, you can’t keep Islanders from getting together.
When MacLean and the Blue Jackets separated, Doug joined a sports talk radio show in 2008 and, for several seasons now, his face and comments are known to sports fans everywhere, thanks to his position with Sportsnet.
Heck, those hockey analysts — Elliotte Friedman, Nick Kypreos, Darren Pang, James Duthie, Darren Dutchyshen, Bob McKenzie and others — are practically members of our families during hockey season.
Of them all, though, MacLean is one of my favourites.
I love listening to his views on anything hockey. To me, he’s as good and as knowledgeable as any analyst in the business. He truly knows his stuff. Whether he’s addressing a team’s success or plight, commenting on individual players, or talking about other aspects of the game, you can tell he knows all about it.
Then there’s Gallant — and what a story that’s turned out to be.
After many associations with MacLean, Gerard is showing the whole hockey world what he’s become — one of the very best coaches around. Hired by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights a year ago this week, he’s piloted the team to heights never before achieved by a first-year franchise, not only in the NHL, but in any of the professional leagues in North America.
Gallant has had success just about everywhere he’s taken his coaching skills. It all began to unfold back in 1995-96 when he coached his hometown Summerside team in the Maritime Junior Hockey League, the circuit where the Pictou County Weeks franchise has operated in recent seasons.
He worked his way to the NHL and landed an assistant coaching job with the Blue Jackets — yip, time spent under MacLean.
A similar position with the New York Islanders was followed by a return to the Maritimes for three years where he handled the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In those three seasons, Saint John achieved three first-place finishes, two league championships and one Memorial Cup victory in 2011.
He was wanted by the pros again, and this got him with the Montreal Canadiens as an assistant coach, and later with Florida as head bench boss.
Then hockey arrived in Vegas and, as quickly as you can say Gary Bettman, Gallant was with the Golden Knights.
Since then, there have been a lot of golden nights for the newest franchise. As anyone in the NHL will tell you, the latest guy from the Island is one of the biggest reasons for the club’s unexpected successes. Who could possibly have predicted this amazing achievement? He should be NHL’s coach of the year.
And there are the Knights in the NHL playoffs, a marathon that will go on for two months. To the delight and pride of Prince Edward Island natives everywhere, Doug MacLean and Gerard Gallant are both on our big screens these nights.
It’s quite a contrast from the days when Pictonians of my generation were happy just to listen to the Charlottetown Islanders on CFCY.