He spoke of broken noses, lost teeth, fractured ribs, concussions, numerous stitches, and other sport-inflicted injuries as if they happened yesterday.
But in fact, it was 77 years ago, when as a Saskatchewan teen, Walter (Bud) McPhee was in high school and still too young to enlist to fight in the Second World War.
There was a shortage of eligible 18- to 20-year-old hockey players because most of the healthy young men were enlisted. And while McPhee may have been too young to join up, he was the perfect age to be recruited to play for the then Prince Albert Blackhawks.
It was only one short year in his long life, and McPhee went on to do many other things in his life – including becoming an air force pilot, husband, father, and engineer for a chemical company – but he still remembers fondly those days as the Blackhawk netminder.
A lot of those memories came flooding back last Thursday, when the 94-year-old Langley City man was surprised by a friend.
A few weeks earlier, Pat King offered to take McPhee to a Vancouver Giants game. She gave him the schedule, and instructed him to pick a preferred home game – her treat.
It only took a quick glance at the schedule for McPhee to select last week’s game between the G-Men and one of the country’s top teams – his hometown’s Prince Albert Raiders.
King thought the pick was reasonable. After all, she knew he grew up the second oldest of six kids in Birch Hill, a small town just outside of Prince Albert, during the Great Depression.
But King soon learned that the bond McPhee felt for the hockey team went much deeper.
In fact, she learned that for a blink in his life – back in 1941 – he was the goalie of that team.
She learned that after playing for the Blackhawks for only one season, McPhee did enlist in the air force. However, just as he finished training and was ready to be deployed overseas, the war ended and his services were no longer required.
So, soon after, he returned home to attend university, where not so coincidentally he played in goal for the University of Saskatchewan’s Huskies hockey team.
While watching the Raiders and Giants play last week was “an incredible treat,” McPhee said, it was actually a surprise visit with one of the Raiders’ coaching staff and a couple of its players earlier that same morning that he will never forget.
In was an unexpected scrum – arranged by King, the Langley Advance, the Giants and Raiders. McPhee had the chance to meet up with assistant coach Jeff Truitt, and star centres Noah Gregor (signed to the San Jose Sharks) and Sean Montgomery outside the team’s locker room, after morning practice.
He shared some of his recollections of play, shocking the two 20-year-old players with some of the realities of past.
They kibitzed about the differences in hockey from then to now, McPhee pointing out that in his day there were no face masks, that they used first-baseman’s ball mitts in goal, had heavy pads filled with horse hair, and the slapshot had yet to be invented.
After their history lesson, the young Raiders joked about getting McPhee suited up so they could take turns trying to score on him. But the old-timer could only laugh, divulging his age and suggesting the boys were just way too fast for him.
The game is so much faster and better today,” he said, “thanks to guys like you.”
One for the memory books
“The whole day was a real surprise to me, in a very good way,” McPhee said, calling it a “good conspiracy.”
“I liked the game, but I think talking to the players and coach will stick with me.”
While he always loved sports, and he curled, bowled, golfed, and skated, his kids don’t remember McPhee playing hockey as an adult.
But, his daughter Gayle, the oldest of three, can always remember him being a hockey fan.
He’d watch a lot of hockey on TV, and during the 1950s – while living in Windsor, Ont. – he’d be known to sneak down to Detroit periodically with friends to take in some live play.
To this day, he’s a huge hockey fan, watching lots of games on the “tellie.” He’s even been known to attend a Langley Rivermen’s game two or three times a year – with his friend, Pat.
This was, however, his first – but definitely not his last – visit to Langley Events Centre for some Giants’ action.
“Honestly, it really didn’t matter. Either team could have won, it really didn’t make any difference to me,” he said. But watching the fast-paced action and skill on the ice was impressive.
“They’re so much faster and talented then we were in my day,” McPhee said. “What a day.”
Admittedly, he said, he had a little trouble getting to sleep that night. His head was swimming with all that had gone on that day.
It was, he told the Langley Advance, literally an experience of a lifetime.
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