The passing of Max McNab at 83 years-of-age on Sept. 2 brought a flood of memories, delicious memories of a “hockey lifer” who in reality was everyone’s favorite uncle. It was a role he cherished greatly.
McNab’s 40-plus years in the game included just about everything a hockey guy could possibly do: player, coach, general manager, a league presidency, a Stanley Cup, and a Lester Patrick Trophy for “outstanding service to hockey in the United States.”
In time, just about everyone in hockey was touched by Max. A superb raconteur, he could light up a room at a moment’s notice, and tell stories for hours on end, often deep into the night.
McNab played only briefly in the NHL, parts of three seasons with the Detroit Red Wings from 1948 to 1951. But his time in Detroit paralleled Gordie Howe’s beginnings as an NHL superstar-in-waiting.
“I taught Gordie everything he needed to know in those three years,” McNab loved to joke. “We were both ‘prairie boys’ from Saskatchewan, and he listened to me. Anything he did after those three years, he did on his own.”
McNab also liked to fib that he was on the ice when the Red Wings won the 1950 Stanley Cup in double overtime of Game 7 against the New York Rangers. “Pete Babando scored the winning goal, but it was me, little ol’ Max, who gave the puck to the referee to start the second overtime.”
In 1983, when he became the second general manager of the New Jersey Devils, McNab was astounded at how strongly the fans in northern New Jersey were aligned with the rival Rangers.
“We’ve got nights when more kids show up in Rangers’ sweaters than Devils’ sweaters. We’ve got to change that,” he said.
They did, of course, but sadly, McNab was retired when the Devils won their first of three Stanley Cups in 1995.
Three years later, in 1998, the Lester Patrick Trophy came his way. “Imagine me, a kid from Watson, Saskatchewan, winning an award for United States hockey?” he mused. “What a life!”
Besides the Patrick trophy, the Stanley Cup, and a lifetime of hockey achievements, McNab was boastingly proud of his sons, Peter and David. Peter played 14 NHL seasons with Buffalo, Boston, Vancouver and New Jersey. “At least one of the McNabs could skate,” Max would often joke. David is a long-time team executive with the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
Now, only one more honor awaits the late Max McNab: enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.