Last week, I was road tripping throughout parts of Ontario to visit different arenas. I saw large multiplexes run by private organizations whose ice time is chock-a-block full, municipal arenas that are true recreation complexes, incorporating swimming pools, indoor soccer, tennis and more, and I visited some single pad facilities, too. One of those was at the Cannington Community Centre in Cannington, Ontario, where I met Joe Underwood.
Joe is the Cannington Arena’s manager, and he met me at the door. I didn’t smell the regular smell of hockey stink when I walked in (like I usually do when walking into an arena). No, not here. Here I could smell cedar, which was coming from the arena’s original roof, high above the ice. The all-wooden roof, despite a few minor leaks, is just as it was back in the 1960s when it was built. Back in its glory days.
Joe takes me on a tour of the well-loved facility. As we walk to the back of the arena, I see all these banners hanging on the far wall, across the ice from the stands.
“Wow!” I tell him. That’s rather impressive — all those banners from the 1960’s!”
Joe says that’s all because of the MacLeish brothers.
It’s a name I remember, from long long ago.
“Dale and Rick really dominated double A play back then, winning tournament after tournament,” Joe tells me. “They were both drafted and had hockey careers, but Rick made it all the way to the NHL.”
When we go back to the lobby, Joe shows me a couple of displays dedicated to Rick MacLeish. There’s his Philadelphia Flyer jersey behind glass as well as a collection of photos that tracked his career from Cannington to the Peterborough Petes and then into the NHL.
Joe quietly tells me that Rick MacLeish passed away earlier this year.
After playing Midget AA in Cannington, both MacLeish brothers moved from this farming community to about an hour east to play Junior hockey for the Peterborough Petes. Dale played for two years for the Pete’s and was drafted 22nd overall by Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1966 amateur draft. He spent 10 years playing on semi-pro teams, but injuries stopped him from making his way into the NHL.
Rick spent three seasons with the Pete’s, racking up 119 goals, 123 assists — and 180 penalty minutes. In 1970, the Boston Bruins drafted him 4th overall in the NHL amateur draft, but he never donned a Bruins’ uniform. He was playing for their farm team when, halfway through his first season as a pro, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, the team MacLeish would be associated with for much of his 17 years as a professional player.
Some professional hockey players hit the ice running, but MacLeish’s start was slow. It took him until his third season with the Flyers to find his rhythm and prove his goal scoring capabilities as a center, but once he found his rhythm, few could keep up. In fact, in 1973 he became the first Flyer to score 50 goals in a season.
But it was his playoff hockey abilities that made everyone sit up and take note. He scored more game-winning goals than any other Flyer and his contributions helped them win two back-to-back Stanley Cups, in 1974 and 1975. In the ’74 playoffs, he had 9 goals and 13 assists. In ’75, his nine goals dropped down to seven, but he still had 13 assists. That 1975 Flyers’ win, by the way, was the last time an all-Canadian roster would hoist the championship trophy.
Hindsight is 20/20 vision and that’s true for Rick MacLeish’s playoff prowess. If we look at his stats, anyone can see that MacLeish’s playoff hockey abilities were amazing. He had the ability to take his play up another notch no matter what kind of hockey he played: NHL, OHL or minor hockey at home in Cannington, where all those banners are hanging, still.
There’s no one using the ice in Cannington right now, but Joe expects some skaters will be on the ice at 4:00 pm for stick and puck.
“It’s not the same as it used to be,” he tells me. “Back then,” he says, referring to the MacLeish era, “us kids would be at the arena every chance we had. We were always playing hockey. Now they’re playing with their devices, or they’re busy doing other things. They’re not playing hockey the way they used to, that’s for sure.”
Joe tells me the town council is considering changing the name of the arena to the Rick MacLeish Memorial Arena. That sounds like a good idea, to me.
As expected, just before four o’clock, a few high-school kids show up, and it’s time for me to leave.
I thank Joe for the tour, get back in the car to get on my way.
But I’m hungry.
On Cannington’s main street, I stop at Georgio’s Family Restaurant where Georgio himself brings me the club sandwich I’ve ordered. It’s delicious. There’s a woman sitting on one of the stools at the counter, her three little kids are eating french fries. Her little boy, who’s maybe five, is wearing a Toronto Maple Leaf’s jersey. It makes me smile. I think about the MacLeish brothers. I wonder if Georgio’s was here when they were kids.
I’m thinking of those brothers as I make my way out of town, when suddenly I see something out of the corner of my eye that I don’t see very much any more. It’s like an apparition of those MacLeishes and what I remember as a kid growing up in the 60s.
I turn the corner, hoping to get a picture.
There are two boys riding their bikes, each holding their hockey sticks across their handlebars, backpacks on their backs. I grab my phone to take a picture. I wonder if these boys are brothers, like the MacLeishes, and if they’re on their way to the arena for some practice time. I hope they are.
The ice is still there, just as it’s always been, waiting for them to come, and play.