McVie's ride of a lifetime

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:17 AM ET

Among his prized possessions from half a century in hockey is a miniature Avco Cup replica, with the names of the Winnipeg Jets, 1979 WHA champs, engraved on it.

“I look at it all the time,” Tommy McVie was saying. “It sits right here where I’m talkin’ to you on the phone.”

On Tuesday, the man who coached the first NHL version of the Jets will get a keepsake to top the one he won in Winnipeg.

At a swanky hotel on the Boston Harbour, McVie, at 76, will finally get something he’s been chasing virtually his entire life.

A Stanley Cup ring.

“You hang around long enough, something good will happen,” McVie, a Bruins scout, told the Sun from his home in Portland, Ore. “But 55 years? Oh, man. I’ve got a beautiful Avco Cup ring, and I cherish that so much. This will go alongside it. I can die in peace, now.

“But not tonight.”

The moment will cap a remarkable few months and no doubt cement a smile on the face of one of the funniest men in hockey.

It began at the draft in St. Paul, where McVie was part of the Bruins contingent at a four-storey restaurant jammed with NHL types when the Cup arrived the night before the draft.

Bruins brass picked McVie to carry it in, for two reasons.

“No. 1, you’ve been waiting 55 years to touch it,” is how McVie recalled the conversation. “And No. 2, you’re the only guy older than the Cup.

“I had goosebumps. They wanted me to stop at every table. It was sort of surreal. It was such an honour.”

Outside the restaurant he stopped Twin Cities traffic with the thing.

But this was just the appetizer.

In August, McVie got his day with the Cup — and it’s one Portland won’t soon forget.

In the days leading up to it, he’d appeared on local TV morning shows, CBS and ABC, building up the moment the way only Tommy McVie and his sandpaper growl can.

“Fifty-five years in pro hockey and he was never able to touch it until tonight — that was the whole theme,” McVie said. “You’re not allowed to. It’s the superstition. All of a sudden this thing, I’m not kiddin’ ya, it took on a life of its own.

“There’s a place called Pioneer Square down in Portland. I thought some people would come by and get their picture taken. There were 3,000 people there.”

From there it was off to the Rose Garden, then to a rink where his late wife used to teach skating.

“They were lined up, up the stairs and around the rink. All the way around the rink. Everybody wanted their picture taken.”

Finally, McVie was supposed to get the Cup at his home for the last four hours, for a nice, quiet celebration with his family.

“I didn’t know I had 100 people in my family,” he said. “I couldn’t get a parking spot on the street I live on. I come in my house, and I’m not exaggerating by one person, and there’s 100 people in my home. All my sons’ friends, and his friends’ friends, and their friends. They were all over the place.

“I knew it was going to be special. But it was the most amazing thing I’ve been around. I wouldn’t trade that particular day for anything else, ever, in hockey. I didn’t get the quiet time, but you know what? The quiet time wouldn’t have been as good as this.”

The whole experience has been enough to erase some of the rough times.

Like the eight-win season as head coach of Washington’s NHL expansion team in 1975-76. Or the one win in 28 games before his firing in Year 2 of the NHL Jets.

His hometown of Trail, B.C., provided a fitting start for McVie, as few people have blazed a longer, more winding one in pro hockey.

Since making his debut as a player with the Toledo Mercurys of the International League in 1956, through teams called the Americans, the Totems, the Buckaroos, the Blades and the Roadrunners in the old Western pro league, McVie has worn out more suitcases than Air Canada.

His coaching stops encompass 11 teams in seven different leagues over 24 years, including NHL jobs in Washington, Winnipeg, New Jersey and Boston.

Sticking with the Bruins as a scout finally paid off.

“As a player I didn’t get there,” McVie said. “As a coach I didn’t get there. I read the paper. I hear what people say: ‘That’s Tom McVie — what’s he ever won?’

“Well, they can’t say that anymore.”

Here in Winnipeg, we never did.

Coach turned comedian: He’s one of the funniest men in hockey, his stories legendary.

To give you an idea of former Jets coach Tom McVie’s sense of humour, here’s the message on his answering machine these days.

“I can’t take your call right now. The hockey season is over, and I landed an off-season job with Fran’s Bakery. They’ve got me on the fifth floor, with my bare ass out the window, and I’m advertising twin loaves. Don’t you just love the Boston Bruins? Leave a number. I will call you.”

A 55-year odyssey:

Tracing Tom McVie’s pro hockey trail

* 1956: began playing career with Toledo Mercurys, IHL

* 1956-74: played in eight cities, three leagues (IHL, WHL, EHL)

* 1972: began coaching career (player-coach) with Johnstown Jets, EHL

* 1972-98: coached in 11 cities, seven leagues (EHL, IHL, NHL, WHA, CHL, AHL, ECHL)

Championships

* 1959: won WHL title as player with Seattle

* 1965: won WHL title as player with Portland

* 1976: won IHL title as GM with Dayton

* 1979: won WHA title as coach with Winnipeg

* 2011: won Stanley Cup as scout with Boston


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