Pictou Advocate sports

Mackie family had large shoes to fill

Sports

My interest in the Mackie family — the one whose patriarch was the history-making hockey defenceman Irvine (Tiger) Mackie — began a very, very long time ago. Actually, it was before I was old enough to attend school.

It had its beginning in the 1943-44 season. I was five years of age and my dad took me to my first hockey game in the old Arena rink in downtown New Glasgow.

I don’t remember if the New Glasgow Bombers won or lost their APC Senior Hockey League game that night. I can’t even recall who they played.

But I never forgot what happened after the game.

That’s when I was taken into the New Glasgow dressing room. That’s when I met a “real” hockey player for the first time. Tiger Mackie seemed awfully tall in his skates when he bent down to shake my hand.

I’ve cherished that dressing room experience forever — just like I cherished every occasion I was with Tiger after that, usually for interviews I was doing for newspaper articles or columns.

Though it’s 17 years since the record-setting Tiger passed away, those long-lasting memories came rushing back recently when I learned that Mackie’s only son, Irvel, died at the age of 84.

So let’s go back to the 1950s.

Irvel was a couple of years ahead of me at New Glasgow High. Like most teenagers, we weren’t close friends because of our age difference. But I knew him.

He was in Grade 12, a multi-sport athlete who wore the school’s green and white colours with distinction. I was in grade 10, writing sports for the Evening News. Our paths crossed because of that.

I knew his sister Faye much better, she and I being classmates through our last three school years. I also got to know the youngest sibling Linda, two grades behind Faye and I. Both girls were fine athletes like their brother. All three successfully filled their father’s large shoes in the athletic department.

Irvel, like a lot of us, had a passion for sports almost since childbirth. His favourites, though, were the two he excelled in — hockey and tennis. After high school, he attended Acadia University where he was a varsity athlete in rugby and hockey.

In retirement, after 31 years with Air Canada, he concentrated on tennis, competing provincially, nationally and internationally. Victories in singles and doubles were plentiful and, in 2012, he was awarded the Nova Scotia male athlete of the year for tennis.

Whatever he was playing, his sportsmanship stood out. The tennis trips around the world were great times for Irvel and his beloved wife Shirley, both of whom loved to travel.

When Faye arrived at NGHS, it didn’t take me long to admire her athleticism and interest in just about everything around her. She captained the school’s soccer and basketball teams and was on the school bowling team. She was a track star, a cheerleader, a member of Allied Youth, the vice-president of the student council. How could I not be impressed?

One year Linda and Faye were teammates on the school basketball team. Two years after that, Linda played alongside my sister Barbara. Linda was also a member of the tumbling team.

Yes, the Mackies, who lived on New Glasgow’s west side, were clearly an athletic family.

Irvel, who always said he loved his New Glasgow years, passed away at his home in Enfield. Faye lives in Fredericton while Linda is in Port Hawkesbury.

Let’s reminisce some more.

It’s now 76 years since that handshake from Tiger — but I’ve never tired of talking about him. I’ve often explained how he achieved an almost unbreakable longevity record.

He was born on St. Patrick’s Day — four months before the First World War broke out — in Stanley Bridge on the north shore of P.E.I. He learned hockey on neighbourhood ponds.

Who would have thought, back then, that he would become the ironman of ironmen?

He was 28 when he came to New Glasgow in 1942-43. He stayed to play APC senior hockey for the Bombers, Pictou Shipyards, New Glasgow Comets, Stellarton Royals, New Glasgow Rangers and Trenton Scotias. He made all-star teams and played on championship clubs.

In the mid-1960s, Tiger and his wife Elsie moved to Port Hawkesbury. That’s where he truly became a legend.

He established the first minor hockey association at the strait, and participated in oldtimers hockey for decades, playing through his 50s, 60s, 70s and into his 80s. The annual Tiger Mackie Oldtimers Tournament is a Port Hawkesbury testament to what he achieved.

I only saw him perform in oldtimers twice, but I always followed his accomplishments.

Finally, 57 years after we first shook hands, I was in Port Hawkesbury interviewing the guy who, by then, had played hockey for 79 years. He was 87, sidelined with what he called “a minor heart problem.” He still believed he hadn’t played his last game.

We chatted all afternoon, reminiscing about his stops along the hockey trail. There was so much to relate, I wrote a series of three columns about him, using adjectives like amazing, incredible, unbelievable. They all fit perfectly.

What kept him in uniform so long? His reply was so genuine, so honest, that I kept his words in a safe place.

“The game is so beautiful,” he told me. “There’s so much competition in it, they can’t discourage me from enjoying playing hockey. It’s a marvellous game and it’s a game that’s never over until it’s over. When you know how, and you love the game, why not keep playing?”

Was it over?

“If I get this heart fixed up, I don’t think I would be able to play in a tournament this year, but I might be back next year.”

He never had that 80th season.

Eighteen months after our get-together, a great man had passed away.