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The hockey world mourns the loss of Max McNab

by John McGourty /

Max McNab was a "rink rat" who was one of the few men to serve the game of hockey as a player, coach and general manager. 
The NHL lost one of its all-time good guys Sunday, when Max McNab, the former general manager of the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils, passed away at age 83.

"It's been hard on the family, but Max didn't go through a lot of pain. The doctors were clear on that," said Peter McNab, a 14-year NHL veteran who is now a broadcaster for the Colorado Avalanche. “He had a massive brain stroke, so the pain was over very quickly.

"We've talked to quite a few of his friends and our friends. Dad was just a really good man who had an extraordinary number of friends, people who really enjoyed him."

"Max McNab was a rink rat who became an NHL general manager," said former Capitals and Devils head coach Tom McVie, one of his best friends. "Any day of the year, you could pull into the Capital Centre parking lot, which held 20,000-plus cars, and his might be the only car there."

McNab also won a Stanley Cup as a player with the 1950 Detroit Red Wings. But his NHL playing career was cut short by a serious back injury. He continued as a player-coach for the New Westminster Royals of the Western Hockey League for seven years. He was the WHL MVP in 1955.

McNab then coached San Francisco, Vancouver and San Diego and served as GM in San Francisco and San Diego.

John McGourty

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Max McNab played and coached and managed in dozens of cities, and he made friends for hockey in every one of them,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “The only emotion that exceeded his pride in the game was the joy he derived from it. As a player, as an executive, as the patriarch of an outstanding hockey family and as an ambassador of our sport, Max McNab was a champion. The NHL will miss him dearly. We send our deepest sympathy to his loved ones and friends.”

"Max McNab was the best coach that I played for in 21 professional seasons and San Diego was the best town. I wound up retiring here and there are about 14 of Max's players who settled here," said Willie O'Ree. "I had been playing for the Los Angeles team in the WHL, but when the NHL expanded, they folded that franchise and Max brought me to San Diego.

"Max set minor-league attendance records there. We averaged 9,200 fans for eight years. Weekend games were sellouts. I was very thrilled to play for him. It was always a pleasure to be in his presence. He liked to talk about life and hockey and he gave you that feeling of comfort. I had the highest respect for him.

"His son, Pete, who had a fine NHL career, skated with the Gulls when he was 12. Another son, David, went on to be assistant general manager of the Ducks. The third son, Michael, is an attorney."

McNab might not have gotten that opportunity in San Diego, former Philadelphia Flyers GM Keith Allen recalled.

"I was going down to San Diego to interview and I told my wife that if anyone calls, tell them I'm golfing," Allen said. "Bud Poile had just been appointed GM of the expansion Flyers. Joyce tells him I'm golfing and Bud says; 'The hell he is. He's interviewing for the San Diego job. Tell him not to take it. I want him to coach the Flyers.’ I took the job and then recommended to Max that he interview in San Diego. He took the job and did a great job."

Allen goes further back in hockey time with McNab than anyone. They played together on the 1945-46 Saskatoon Elks.

"I was right out of the Navy and I think he hid out in Canada or something,” Allen laughed. “No, he was in the Air Force and they worked a lot with the Americans, so he always told me he had the better accommodations. No doubt. After our elegant playing careers, we both wound up coaching in the WHL and then went on to NHL management careers. When he was GM in New Jersey, we spent time together with our families in the summers at Long Beach Island.

"Max was probably one of the nicest guys you'd ever run into in hockey and there are a lot of very good people in hockey," Allen continued. "He was a first-class person, a really genuine guy that everyone liked. We were good friends."

"I respected Max McNab greatly and I am very proud to have his son, David, working with me," said Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke. "Max was a gentleman in a business filled with coarse people. I wish I could do this job the way Max did it, without cursing and punching walls. You can work in this business for a year and make plenty of enemies. In ten years, you'll have a bunch. Max worked all those years and if you put ten private investigators on the case, you wouldn't find an enemy, not one detractor.

"Max had a wonderful way with people. He was honest and he had a smile for everybody. He didn't have bad days. He was also very proud of his family. I've gotten to know Peter and David -- I don't know his son Michael or daughter Islay -- and I can tell you Max had plenty of reasons to be proud."

McVie said two very similar situations showed McNab's character. He twice could have ordered his coach to try to lose in order to get the top draft pick, but if the thought crossed McNab's mind, it never crossed his lips.

Although Max McNab's hockey career was cut short because of a serious back injury, he was a very skilled hockey player who helped the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1950.
"I was in that situation with three different teams, Washington, when Bobby Smith was the No. 1 pick; Winnipeg, when Doug Wickenheiser went first and New Jersey when Mario Lemieux was the top pick. Never once, from Max McNab or John Ferguson, did I hear; 'You know, our scouts tell us this Lemieux kid could be a good one.' Those picks dictate the future of a franchise, but Max had too much integrity to lose a game. Max had tremendous character."

"Max was quite a hockey player, tall and rangy, and while he didn't look terribly fast, he won a competition the Red Wings had in which you had to stickhandle a puck around the rink," Allen said. "He was our fastest player but he got hurt and got let go but he was a factor in our winning the Stanley Cup in 1950."

"Billy Taylor was one of the veterans on that team when Max came up and Billy would go out to the bar with the older veterans," McVie recalled. "Max was a kid and he tracked them down one afternoon. He told Taylor that Detroit coach and GM Jack Adams wanted to see him in the morning, probably to sign him to a contract. Remember, this is 1948 and no one is making any money. McNab tells Taylor he doesn't know what NHL players make so Taylor says tell Adams you won't take less than $12,000.

"So, Max tells Adams $12,000 and Jack comes over the table, 'You SOB, Gordie Howe only makes $9,000.' Max didn't hold a grudge though. He had Billy scouting for us 30 years later in Washington."

"We've been listening to stories and telling our own stories for a couple of days now," Peter McNab said. "Max would sit back and let you tell your version of the story and he'd never interrupt. Then, he'd tell a related story. He had a fun way of talking about the game and its characters, past and present."

"Max had so much passion for the game and knew so much," said former Devils captain Mel Bridgman. "We had a lot of young players and Max was terrific for them. I remember him telling John MacLean he had to get rid of that ‘bellybutton shot.’ John wasn't scoring, partly because of bad form, and Max knew his potential. Instead of criticizing Johnny, he came up with something goofy and it worked, got his point across. Max brought in a group of veterans so he could give the young players the time he knew they needed to develop and they did, players like MacLean, Kirk Muller, Ken Daneyko. Max was always positive. His patience paid off with the younger players.

"My dad loved to scout the young players," Peter McNab said. "He looked for passion and imagination in a player. Those were two things he loved in a hockey player and it was very important to him."

"The vets were expected to help the younger players and I'll show you a link between Max McNab and Patrick Kane,” Bridgman said. “We took Pat Verbeek out to buy a car, maybe his first car. It was a Firebird and he really liked it. We showed him all the steps of buying, financing and insuring it. Now, I see Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks' first-round pick, stayed at Verbeek's place and Pat helped him. That's what Max wanted to instill in hockey players, his kind of professionalism, and I think he did that in his life."


Funeral arrangements are as follows: Memorial Service Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007, 1 p.m. Mountain View Presbyterian Church 8601 Del Webb Blvd Las Vegas, NV 89134

Reception immediately following the service. Directions will be provided at the church. Flowers may be sent directly to the church, however, should you wish to make a donation, we request that you do so to your favorite charity in honor of Max McNab.

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