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Ice maker for Hockeyville rink in spotlight again

McBain comes out of retirement to make sure surface is perfect for celebration

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

O'LEARY, Prince Edward Island -- Hockey is the lifeblood of this small island town. For 35 years, until his retirement last year, Allan McBain was the heart that made it flow.

Every hockey town needs a central figure who makes the sport work through sheer effort and love of the game. McBain filled that role at the O'Leary Community Sports Centre from 1981-2016.

McBain, 67, was known as an ice maker without peer on the island and, likely, throughout Atlantic Canada. But he did more than make ice, he did whatever needed to be done to make sure the rink was up and running and available to the 800-plus residents, as well as the surrounding community.

 

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McBain, who lives in Calgary, made the trip to O'Leary to make the ice one last time. Usually the ice goes in in early October, but it went in earlier this year because of the 2017 Kraft Hockeyville celebration.

Monday, the New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators will play a preseason game (6 p.m. ET; SN1, NHLN) in Hockeyville's final event. The game will be played at Credit Union Place in Summerside. McBain will be a spectator, with one of the best seats in the house. Unlike his early days, he'll have no worries at all.

More than one person fondly told tales of McBain sleeping at the rink to make sure everything worked out OK, setting an alarm and waking up every couple of hours to flood the ice again. 

McBain said the on-again, off-again pattern started with O'Leary's previous rink, which was powered by a diesel engine that was a bit finicky. 

 

"I'd stay here right around the clock," he said proudly. "We had an old Detroit diesel, so you had to watch it around the clock. It'd quit on you and you had to figure it out and get it going again."

The current rink has a bigger compressor and its power plant is run on electricity, but McBain remained as attentive as ever.

"He was a true fixture at the rink," said Bobby Harris, a former youth and Senior A player at the O'Leary rink who has a son, Maddeo, 6, playing youth hockey there.

Others on Saturday had similar memories.

Jeff Ellsworth played youth hockey in O'Leary, coached at the youth level and now runs the town's recreation department. McBain has been a fixture in Ellsworth's life for more than three decades.

"When I came into this rink as a novice hockey player I remember looking up to Al," said Ellsworth, smiling at some of the memories. "He's been here a lot of years. You can't get a more professional, laid-back, easy-going, do-anything-for-you guy than Al."

McBain got his start in the ice making business in Mississauga, Ontario, but found his life's mission when a spot opened at the O'Leary rink. He had been back on the Island for a bit, doing odd jobs, when he heard of the opening. He applied and it was a match made in heaven.

It was hard to give it up last year, but McBain knew it was time. The long hours and the cold office had taken enough of a toll.

"I've enjoyed it all, I wouldn't change a thing," he said.

He was happy to fall back into that routine this month to make sure everything is perfect for the community celebration at the rink this weekend.

"I've enjoyed the trip back and enjoy doing this," McBain said as he watched a skills competition on the ice he laid just weeks earlier. "We really got a buzz going in town. It's really good. It's been go, go, go for the past few weeks."

After Monday's game, McBain will return to Calgary and a retirement he is still trying to embrace. But he will go knowing he helped make hockey work in O'Leary one final time.

"He's seen a lot of big events come and go out of this rink and he's the main cog that runs it all," Ellsworth said. "He lived across the road and he dedicated his whole life to this place, and not too many people can say that in their job or their life."

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