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Nostalgia, camaraderie are part of the game at St. Mike’s in Boise

03/14/2014, 9:00am MDT
By Paul D. Bowker - Special to USAHockey.com

Howe. Delvecchio. Mahovlich. Pulford.

The list reads like a Hockey Hall of Fame roll call. And John MacMillan played with them all. Twice he was on a Stanley Cup-winning team. He has the championship ring to prove it.

“It is a real conversation piece, there‘s no doubt,” MacMillan says.

Show up on a cold, winter day in Boise, Idaho, and you just might see the ring, because that’s where you’ll find 77-year-old Johnny Mac. He’s on the ice at CenturyLink Arena twice a week playing with the St. Michael’s Hockey Club, along with former National Hockey League forward Rick Bourbonnais.

Bourbonnais, who played for the St. Louis Blues in the 1970s, is 58. He’s never been hurt seriously. He plays adult hockey twice a week. He is an inspiration to younger guys himself. And then he thinks about Johnny Mac.

“Johnny’s right in there with the group. He’s the oldest guy at 77 years old and he still just hangs in there, man,” Bourbonnais said. “Everybody looks up to him as, ‘Geez, I hope I can skate when we’re 77, you know?’ ”

MacMillan even scores a goal occasionally, although he calls Bourbonnais the star of the program.

“I just love it,” MacMillan said. “I score a goal a month, I think.”

The St. Michael’s Hockey Club adult program has no shortage of star power with MacMillan, Bourbonnais and several who used to play for the Idaho Steelheads, an ECHL team and Dallas Stars affiliate based in Boise. But the club is also a model of efficiency. There are 24 players lined up to play each night. John Keating and Chris Volk, two of the program’s organizers, have a list of substitute players so that if a regular is out for the night, there is always a replacement. Volunteers arrange for the ice and the payments.

The program was founded by Phil Neville, a former pro hockey player who died of skin cancer in 2004. He had sought a program in which to skate with friends without risking injury.

(For more on the program, go to stmikeshockey.com)

“It’s a great way to keep mentally and physically sharp,“ Bourbonnais said. “One of the things I do like is there are no referees. It’s all self-policing. We watch for offsides and the other things. I like the casualness of it, the organizing of it.”

Games are held twice a week during the fall and winter at Boise’s CenturyLink Arena, which is also home to the Steelheads. During the spring and summer, games are held once a week at Idaho Ice World in Boise with barbeques often held afterward in the parking lot.

That is the unique thing about this adult program, which has a range of players aged from their 40s to Johnny Mac’s 77. The passion they have for ice hockey spills over into social get-togethers in the parking lot and also to players’ homes for holiday parties and gatherings in McCall, Idaho, where MacMillan and Bourbonais both have second homes.

“It’s not just about the hockey, it’s about the camaraderie,” Bourbonnais said. “After the [summer] skate, we’ll go out and do a barbeque right there in the parking lot. It’s a lot of fun in a warm summer evening after skating to come out and do that. It’s just fantastic. Guys really look forward to doing that.”

It’s at those social gatherings that the hockey stories begin to spin.

Bourbonnais will tell about the mornings he’d have breakfast with Derek Sanderson, his St. Louis Blues roommate, after Sanderson signed a lucrative free agent contract, and how Sanderson rarely seemed to bring along a few dollars to actually pay for his breakfast.

“He’d reach into his pockets,” Bourbonnais recalled, laughing. “Hey, can you get this?”

Bourbonnais scored nine goals in three seasons with the Blues, and also played professional hockey in Germany and Austria. He is now a food service account manager for AB Foods, a global beef company that is based in Boise.

MacMillan will reminisce about the day in 1963 he was sent from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Detroit Red Wings. One day, he was summoned to Toronto coach Punch Imlach’s office after practice. The next day, he was in Detroit playing on the same line with hockey legends Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio.

In those days, there were only six teams in the NHL. Many of the trips were by train. Players did not wear helmets. Many goaltenders didn’t wear masks for protection. A cut required stitches between periods and then it would be right back to the ice.

“It was a great era,” MacMillan said.

Inevitably, the Stanley Cup championship ring will surface at something like a Christmas party.

“I always take it with me, not to be braggart or boastful, but people like to see it,” MacMillan said.

He’ll pass the ring around the room. Guys from the St. Mike’s team will put it on their own fingers. They’ll take a picture. MacMillan is proud that he can share. And, yes, there is only one ring, even though MacMillan was on two championship teams in Toronto in 1962 and 1963. When the Leafs won a second consecutive Stanley Cup, the players from the 1962 team had their rings updated with 1963 added and an enlarged diamond.

Passing the Stanley Cup ring around the room is not the biggest thing to happen in Boise. One day MacMillan actually arranged to have the Stanley Cup brought to his family’s computer business there to share with his hockey buddies and just about everybody else he knew. By the time they arrived from the airport with the Stanley Cup and its security officer, a crowd had assembled.

“We pull up and take the thing in and set it on the counter,” MacMillan said. “Everybody that knew anybody that played hockey in Boise was there now. Our entryway was full of people and there were people standing outside. Even the UPS guy, he came in and said, ‘What’s going on? Oh, can I get my picture with it?’ ”

The man who brought the Stanley Cup to Boise 10 years ago now flourishes in a senior adult hockey program where younger men look up to a guy who played in hockey’s golden “Original Six” era.

“Somebody sat there the other night and said, ‘You’re as old as my dad,’ ” MacMillan said.

“I wouldn’t say I was that [an inspiration], but a lot of them, it’s like, ‘Man, I hope I can do this when I’m as old as you are.’ It takes a lot of commitment. I go to the gym three days a week. Skate with them two days a week. I shovel snow. It’s Idaho.”

Adding to McMillan’s incredible hockey journey is that three years ago he had a hip replacement, and two years ago he underwent surgery after a tear of his esophagus left him unable to breathe one morning at home.

“He’s a good friend of mine and we joke,” Bourbonnais said. “He’s a class act. I look at him and I go.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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