By Doug Kennedy
When I was a teenager in the 70s, I did not realize the magnitude of playing Junior B hockey against Tony McKegney.
I have said before in my articles how I have been blessed with my relationships from the great game of hockey. McKegney was certainly one of the best players I ever played against, followed by meeting his brother Ian McKegeny and his family when I moved here in 1989. I coached Ian’s oldest son, Sean, during my first year of living here. It did not take me long to figure out that Sean was way too good to being playing minor hockey when he was 16. I also coached Ian and Bubbles McKegney’s youngest son, Sam.
Talking to McKegney this past weekend has taken me back to our junior hockey days. We talked about playing against each other and he reminded me how he beat us out of playoffs that year.
After playing Junior B in Sarnia as a 15-year-old, he went on to play for the Kingston Canadians, where he became the captain of the team. He told me he had his first hockey fight against my Junior B teammate, Gerry Seguin. Seguin played defense and said McKegney was tough to defend against because of his speed and strength. He says that was the only fight he lost and he clearly won all 25 of his fights in the NHL.
It was during that series his trainer had a massive heart attack in the St. Marys arena and passed away. McKegney said it was a tough ride home that night.
McKegney went on to play 13 seasons in the NHL, with seven teams. He was drafted by Buffalo and played there for five years. He also played in Quebec, Minnesota, New York, St. Louis and Detroit. He played 912 games in the NHL and scored 320 goals.
He built a dozen golf bubbles in Ohio, Buffalo, New York State and Ontario, and sold them all. He currently volunteers with the fire department in Buffalo and delivers meals to homeless people. McKegney also helps out with the NHL alumni. He is good friends with the Pegula family, who own the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres.
There is a documentary about his life being developed right now that will be shown on ESPN and possibly Netflix. Tom Brady and Michael Strahan’s company, Religion of Sports, is trying to purchase the rights to this documentary.
In the last few days, I have reached out to some of my old St. Mary’s teammates to get their thoughts about playing against McKegney. My best friend growing up in St. Marys, Brian Dundas, said McKegney was a really good skater and one of the best players in our league, as a 15-year-old playing against 18 and 19-year-olds like the two of us.
Dundas and I both remember the person that McKegney was on the ice and that he was one of the best skaters and players in the league, as well as one of the nicest players. He would always talk to you at the faceoff circle.
McKegney was born in Montreal and adopted by a white family in Sarnia. A couple of weeks ago, Ron MacLean from Hockey Night in Canada gave the McKegney family a shout out during the Saturday night broadcast, recognizing McKegney as part of Black History month. He talked about him, his brother Ian, and his mother who lives in Kincardine. That is what gave me the idea to write this story.
McKegney was not a talkative person, but when he did speak, he was really respected. Tom Bailey, a teammate from Kingston, and McKegney attended St. Lawrence College classes together.
Bailey said racism did exist then, but was not talked about a lot publicly. When it was heard on the ice, his teammates defended him quickly, although McKegney didn’t want it to be an issue for the rest of the team.
Clarke Pollock said he refereed a game between Kingston and Kitchener that McKegney was playing in, when there was a brawl that Ken Linesman started and ending up throwing a pile of sticks into the stands.
I receive a few sports books every year at Christmas from my kids. This year, the Willie O’Rea book was under the tree. I will be donating that book to the local library because it is important to read these stories about the history of black athletes and their experiences.
McKegney has been in Kincardine over the years to help with fundraising events and to visit family. He told me that after COVID-19 settles down a bit, he would speak in Kincardine about racism.
The closest people in McKegney’s life are his mom, Ian and Bubbles. His mom is 96-years-old and he finds it really tough not coming up here to visit her.
Black History month means more to me than ever before because of my disappointment with what has been going on around the world. I have learned so many things over the last few years about too many injustices against minorities. We need to educate people in the future about how we can do better–one step at a time. I think we, as a culture, should have an open mind about treating every person and culture the same. I know this is not easy for a lot of people to talk about, but I am hoping we can start the process to make a kinder generation to follow us.