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McKegney in fine form at Hockey In Harlem tourney

by John McGourty /
It's good to see Tony McKegney hasn't lost his scoring touch.

McKegney, the first black NHL player to score 30 goals and then 40 goals, was part of the fivesome that won the Hockey In Harlem golf tournament Monday at Winged Foot Country Club in Mamorneck, N.Y. McKegney played for the home team again, the New York Rangers' team of Brian Lafemina, David Levy, George Stone, and Kevin Varian, a group of area businessmen.

"It was the 'shamble' format where everyone moves their ball to the spot of the longest drive and plays stroke play from there," McKegney said. "I sank three of four long putts and normally I'm not a good putter. It might have been the professional caddies lining up our putts for us. That helped.

"After the tournament and before the dinner, I saw my old buddy, Donald Audette, and he was lamenting that some team beat his team by a stroke. I didn't say anything at that time and he didn't know it was me because the group was listed in David Levy's name. At the dinner, we walked up to get our trophy and as I walked by Audette, I patted him on the head. That's when he found out it was my group!"

Playing well and having fun is a perfect description of McKegney's career. Born in Montreal, his family moved to Sarnia, Ontario, when he was a year old. He grew up playing minor hockey in Sarnia and then joined the Kingston Americans of the Ontario Hockey Association, the predecessor to the current OHL. McKegney was a four-year star, earning all-star honors and leading the Americans twice in scoring while playing on teams with Tim Kerr,  Mike O'Connell, Ken Linseman, Behn Wilson, Mike Gillis and Jay Wells.

"We sold out every game for four years," McKegney recalled. "The enthusiasm was unbelievable, fabulous. I got to play with great players in the most elite junior league in the world. It was also encouraging to see guys I played against go up to the NHL and do well. I could track my progress that way. I'd see guys succeeding in the NHL and think that I was at least as good."

McKegney was the No. 32 pick of the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft and played less than a half season in the AHL before the Buffalo Sabres called him up. McKegney played five years in Buffalo, breaking the 30-goal mark twice and helping them to the playoffs in every season, including 1980, when they took the New York Islanders to six games in the Clarence Campbell Conference Final.

"It was good for me to go to a great team," McKegney said. "I had friends go to weaker teams and never get on track with their careers. I was there with Roger Neilson and Scotty Bowman. I knew a lot about hockey before that, but I learned a lot more at that level. Scotty's practices were very inventive, never the same. Scotty was always a step ahead of other coaches with his line changes. He played the right people in the right situations.

"I was upset at first when I got traded to Quebec because I was enjoying living in the United States after growing up in Canada," McKegney said. "But once I got to Quebec City, the experience was great. We were the only game in town and we were always reminded of why we were there. Plus, I got to experience that intense rivalry with Montreal. I never really had that again, except for the year I played with the Rangers and we had the rivalry with the Islanders."

The Nordiques traded McKegney to the Minnesota North Stars in 1985 and he gave them 24 points in 27 games to help qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then had eight goals and 14 points in nine games. But his production slipped the next year and he was traded 11 games into the 1986-87 season to the Rangers. McKegney exploded for 29 goals and 46 points in 64 games. He was shut out in the playoff scoring that year and traded in the offseason to the St. Louis Blues, where he had his best season.

"The Blues had very good centers," said McKegney, a rugged left winger with a fine scoring touch. "We had Doug Gilmour, Bernie Federko, Tony Hrkac, Rick Meagher and Cliff Ronning. They were all great passers and, as a result, I scored 40 goals. At the end of the year, the Blues made the trade with the Calgary Flames where we got Brett Hull, but they got Doug Gilmour, who went on to play at that level for another eight or nine years.

"That was disheartening because we had a really good team together. I played another year there, but I dropped to 25 goals."

McKegney was 31 at the end of that season and slowing. He played with Detroit and Quebec in 1989-90 and Quebec and Chicago the next season before playing a year in Italy.

"Italy was great for me at my age and that point in my career," McKegney said. "We played two games a week and traveled in a beautiful part of the world. I was up to about 220 pounds and playing against guys who averaged 180, so I was able to dominate with my talent and size. We didn't have large crowds, but they were very dedicated and loud. It was like a soccer atmosphere."

McKegney has remained close to the game, playing in charity games with the NHL Alumni and Detroit Red Wings alumni while conducting hockey clinics in Ontario, Michigan and Ohio.

He has also been an ambassador for the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone project. He was in New York City this week to talk more about expanding his role.

"What Willie O'Ree and Gary Bettman began, we would like to expand and carry the torch going forward," McKegney said. "There was a long gap between Willie O'Ree's time in the NHL and the era with me and Grant Fuhr.

"A lot of minority kids grew up watching me and Grant and were inspired to play hockey. I'd like to get some of those players more involved in Hockey Is For Everyone and also become ambassadors for hockey."

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