While the Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman from Port Hood helps bring celebrity to the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame gala on July 26, honouring the Top 15 Nova Scotia athletes of all time, he says he is as interested in hearing the stories of the other athletes as he is about telling his.
MacInnis was selected No. 3 on the all-time list behind NHL superstar Sidney Crosby and world champion curler Colleen Jones. Rounding out the Top 15 are Nancy Garapick, Sam Langford, George Dixon, Johnny Miles, Aileen Meagher, Steve Giles, Mark Smith, Karen Furneaux, Ellie Black, Jamie Bone, Mark De Jonge and Rob McCall.
Joining MacInnis on stage at the Halifax Convention Centre will be Crosby, the event headliner, Jones, Giles, Smith, Furneaux, Black, Bone and De Jonge.
“I’m really looking forward to it, I think it will be a real fun event,” said MacInnis, who played 23 years in the NHL and is the third-highest-scoring defenceman of all time. “I’m excited to meet the other athletes in their sport and hopefully hear what kind of path they had to get to the top. I think there’s always extremely interesting stories and how they managed to get there with different people helping them along the way. So I’m looking forward to hearing some of those stories.”
And MacInnis has no shortage of hockey tales to regale the crowd.
One such story takes MacInnis back to his midget hockey days when his coach asked him to switch positions, possibly the most defining moment in his hockey career.
“There are a lot of things along the way, but I think, when you look back, the one turn of events (for me) would be in my midget year,” said MacInnis. “I was 15 years old and Donnie MacIsaac was the coach of the Nova Midgets. I was a right winger the first half of the season and my skating wasn’t up to par with the other forwards, so Mr. MacIsaac came to me one day at practice and asked me if I would be willing to try defence. He recognized that I had a good shot, had pretty good hockey sense and could see the ice, but my skating wasn’t up to par. I told him ‘sure, why not’ and I ended up going back on defence for the second half of the year. And I’ve been there ever since.
“So if he never came and asked me to play defence, I’m sure it may have been a completely different story.”
Luckily for the Calgary Flames he adapted to the move and after a stellar junior career, the NHL club made MacInnis the 15th pick in the first round of the NHL Draft in 1981.
MacInnis, known for his booming slap shot, would accumulate 1,274 points (340 goals and 934 assists) in his NHL career and led the Flames to their only Stanley Cup in 1989. MacInnis won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s most valuable player.
MacInnis recalled his love for Hockey Night in Canada’s Saturday night broadcasts, especially games in Montreal.
“As a kid growing up watching the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada and listening to Danny Gallivan doing the play by play and Dick Irvin, it just didn’t get any better than that.”
Well, it actually did get better for MacInnis. On May 25, 1989, MacInnis led the Flames to the Stanley Cup in a 4-2 series win over the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum
“When I first broke into the NHL and walked into the old Montreal Forum, there was no place with that type of electricity and energy. To watch them as a kid and then years later end up winning a Stanley Cup in the Montreal Forum.
“The one thing that stands out that night is the respectful fans that stood up and cheered when the Calgary Flames paraded the Stanley Cup around. We were the only team to ever win a Stanley Cup in there.”
MacInnis is looking forward to sitting down with Crosby, who knows a thing or two about Stanley Cup victories. Crosby has lifted the Cup three times as captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While they share a home province and success at every major level of hockey, they haven’t had many opportunities to spend time together.
“Actually the first time I met Sid was in L.A. last year,” said MacInnis, who is two weeks away from his 55th birthday. “I got a chance to speak to him briefly at the NHL 100 greatest players gala they had in L.A. at the all-star weekend when they brought all of us in. That was the first chance I got to meet Sid and even at an event like that there are so many people around, but I did get a chance to chat for few minutes. But I’m obviously looking forward to spending a little bit of time with him and chatting with him in Halifax.
“Anytime you are able to get Sid into an event it’s awesome for everybody, not only the people that are going to be there but for all the other athletes as well.”
The Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame launched the Top 15 project in 2017 to honour Nova Scotia’s rich sport heritage and celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation. The final Top 15 list was completed by a panel of sport-knowledgeable people, along with a public vote.
MacInnis thought the initiative was a great idea.
“I had family and friends started following . . . it was an interesting process and fun to be part of,” said MacInnis, who lives in St. Louis and is a senior advisor to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. “I thought it was a real creative idea for Bruce (hall of fame CEO Rainnie) to try and put this together because it is never easy to run any type of an event, especially when you are trying to get the athletes in at the same time and everybody has different schedules.”
More than 1,000 tickets have been sold for the gala on July 26, leaving 400 still available.
Adult tickets are $225 and youth tickets (18 years and under) are $125. Tables of 10 can be purchased for $2,250.
The event will double as a fundraiser, with the proceeds going evenly to the hall of fame and the Sidney Crosby Foundation.