Presumably, a fair amout of puckheads in these parts don't know who Harry McDonald was, or know of his monumental impact on local hockey, or just what an awesome man he was.
Around the rinks, he wasn't Harry or Mr. McDonald -- he was Coach Mac or just Mac. A physical education teacher at Chugiak High, the redheaded, gravel-voiced Mac doubled as a rink rat -- coach, confidant, instructor, second father to many, jokester, just a lovely, salty-tongued man, always smiling. Many of the people who coach hockey in the area these days -- if they are in their 30s or older -- have a direct connection to Mac. He coached them or advised them or simply listened to them and helped them. He always had time, always. People loved the guy, because he loved them, and told them so.
And Mac was a principal force behind youth hockey in the Eagle River/Chugiak area, and in Anchorage. You may know that the rink in Eagle River is named after him. Always thought it funny the place (which, if memory serves, was first called Fire Lake Recreation Center) was re-christened as the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center after he died in a 1994 small-plane crash -- Mac was such an informal guy, that name would have made him blanch. Naming it after Mac was a lovely, deserved tribute, but wish they would have just called it Mac's Place or Mac's, or some such.
In any event, USA Hockey, the governing body for the sport in this country, on June 6 will honor Mac at its 2012 Annual Congress in Colorado Springs during the Night of Tributes Awards Dinner. Mac will posthumously be honored with the Walter Yaciuk Award, "presented annually by USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to teh program during many years of service as a volunteer.''
The Blog understands that Mac's widow, Carole, and three of their four children (Ann, Reid and Lynn) will be in Colorado Springs to receive the award, which is wonderful -- their other son, Kyle, has a work conflict (Lynn and her husband, former NHLer and Alaska Aces captain Brian Swanson, named their youngest child Mac, after her dad, and the little guy's a rink rat too).
Carole McDonald said the family is honored that Mac is being recognized on a national scale for his contributions.
"We are thrilled,'' Carole said. "We were just kind of astounded that so many years after his death this has happened. It's very special.''
The family received the news when two officials from USA Hockey called Reid McDonald. On the other end of the phone were Ken Martel, who was Reid's assistant coach when he played at Michigan Tech, and Mark Tabrum, who was an assistant coach at Colorado College when Brian Swanson played there.
Couple last things about Mac, the first from back when he supervised the Anchorage High School Hockey Association. Always have a memory of him at Ben Boeke Arena or Fire Lake, quickly fixing kids' two-piece sticks during games back when aluminum-shafted sticks with insert blades were the new rage. Didn't have to be a Chugiak kid whose stick needed repair -- could be any kid from any team, and chances were the kid had been to his hockey clinic or been coached by him, or just simply knew him, and knew Mac would help him out.
The other memory is driving out to Chugiak High with a co-worker to attend the public memorial for Mac. Just as we hit the top of the last rise on the Glenn Highway before going downhill to the exit to Chugiak High, we hit a traffic jam, a good 30 minutes before the memoral was to start. The gymnasium at Chugiak could not seat all the people who came to say goodbye, so the overflow crowd stood outside and watched the ceremony on televisions.
That was a remarkable tribute to a remarkable man.
And now it's wonderful to see USA Hockey honoring his legacy.