Pictou Advocate sports

Two wartime years with New Glasgow

Sports

When I was a kid — some 200 pounds lighter than now — everybody knew the mailman.

He was that friendly guy who walked every street, in every neighbourhood, on every day of the week but Sunday, and visited every door to put letters in the mailbox. He even had time to stop and chat with us guys.

Then came computers and email.

Thereafter most of our letters, messages and birthday wishes have arrived in a personal depository called an inbox. No postage required. No mail carrier needed.

For a newspaper columnist? Some mornings the inbox is filled with needless material like unsolicited advertisements that can be discarded with a click. No waste basket necessary under the desk.

But happily, once in a while, an interesting message comes in. One that’s worth attention. It happens frequently in a profession like mine.

It occurred again the other day.

Jackie Jardine, the hard-working editor at the Advocate, forwarded an email in which the writer was trying to track me down to get some details about his father’s long-ago hockey career.

The forwarded note was signed “Joe MacDonald.”

In this part of the world, there are Joe MacDonalds in just about every community. Just check a phonebook. Oops, there are no phonebooks.

For a sports columnist always looking for a subject, however, it was something worth checking out.

This Joe MacDonald, the message said, lives in Winnipeg. He quickly noted that, as he was writing, the temperature in the Manitoba city was minus-45 degrees. I was happy to be living in Nova Scotia.

Nonetheless, he caught my attention.

He was, indeed, seeking information about his father who played hockey some 80 years ago.

What really got me interested was the fact his dad played for the New Glasgow Bombers in 1942-43. His father’s name: Leroy MacDonald. His hometown: Antigonish.

“Golly gee,” I unexpectedly shouted to the dogs, using the expression heard so often by the late Howie Meeker, the first true analyst on Hockey Night in Canada.

Wow, this is more than a coincidence.

In 1942-43 — the year mentioned by Joe MacDonald — I was only four years old, getting close to my fifth birthday, and attending real hockey games for the first time.

My dad and an uncle were taking me to Bombers games at the old Arena in downtown New Glasgow. The locals were playing in the APC Senior Hockey League, even then an established league that was around for two decades.

I’m sure, at such a tender age, I didn’t know Leroy MacDonald from any of the other players such as goalie Shorty MacDougall, Foster Dickson, Tiger Mackie, Alex Robertson, Boots Baird, Clary Potts, Buddy Sweet, Ray Powell and Lionel Hancock.

I don’t recall ever meeting Leroy MacDonald. But, as time passed, I got to know many of his 1942-43 teammates.

Mackie, I’ve often said, was the first “big player” I met. Buddy Sweet, from Antigonish, boarded with an aunt and uncle a street away. MacDougall was later my math professor at St. Francis Xavier.University. Everybody in New Glasgow knew about Robertson, Potts and Dickson.

With his email, Joe MacDonald included a copy of an old newspaper story that made me smile. The byline was Al Graham, the Antigonish legend who was many things — a writer, a broadcaster, a devoted supporter of the cathedral town, St. FX and things political.

Al’s story from 1951 said “that veteran hockey star” Leroy MacDonald — yes, the same one — was being appointed a coach with the Xaverians, to work with head coach Father Andy Hogan. By then, Leroy was also an accountant in Antigonish.

But back to MacDonald’s ‘42-43 season in New Glasgow.

He was a right winger with the Bombers, one of its top scorers in a three-team APC loop that included the Pictou Shipyards and Truro Bearcats. I should mention the league scoring champion that year was the brilliant Tic Williams, arguably the best player ever to play for a Pictou team. MacDonald was ninth among point-getters.

Leroy, who played every league and playoff game for New Glasgow that season, helped the Bombers beat out Truro in the semi-finals, before losing to the Shipyards in the finals.

From Joe’s email, I thought his father only had that one year in New Glasgow. Not so. He and most of his teammates were back in 1943-44. The same three franchises comprised the league and, lest I forget, Tic Williams won another scoring championship.

Leroy again performed in every New Glasgow game through the season and post-season. The Bombers were last in the schedule, but came to life in the semi-finals to eliminate Pictou. Truro was the top club, but New Glasgow took the Bearcats to eight games in a best-of-seven series.

Leroy had two fine years with the Bombers.

In 1944-45, instead of returning to New Glasgow, he tried out with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately, that ended when passport problems forced him to return to Canada.

Not being with New Glasgow that third year, he missed out on a great campaign in which the Bombers won the Maritime senior championship, the first for New Glasgow in 38 years.

Leroy’s story didn’t end there.

In 1945-46, he received a scholarship to the University of Illinois, then played for the Baltimore Orioles in the American Hockey League.

He came back to Antigonish, played locally until 1951, then had his fling at coaching at X. While Father Hogan was at the helm, the dynastic Xaverians won 95 games, tied 10 and lost only 41.

To son Joe MacDonald — hopefully not overcome by the frigid temperatures in Winnipeg — this information may help put together his father’s career.

It sounds like Leroy had lots of enjoyable experiences in those wartime years before pro hockey began to pay attention to players in the Maritimes.

I’m sorry I never met him.