By Paul Osborne, Guelph Mercury
It truly is incredible that the two general managers now fighting for the Stanley Cup are not only Guelph boys, but long time hockey teammates. George McPhee with the miraculous work he has done with the Vegas Golden Knights, and Brian MacLellan the hockey boss of the Washington Capitals were minor hockey, junior, and then college teammates.
One man who helped shape both their lives is Joseph (Joe) Holody. A member of the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame, he coached both boys when they played midget hockey in Guelph and would later welcome them as players to the championship Tier II Junior A hockey team he owned, the Guelph Platers.
“That team was made up of at least 50% local boys,” he said. “There was Brian, George, (former NHL referee) Paul Devorski, and so many more. Brian had broken his neck the year before so when he showed up at training camp the next year and said he wanted to tryout I said you go to the doctor and show me you are okay to play and we are good. Life is more important than hockey I told him, but sometimes as a teenager they don’t see it that way.”
So Brian got the clearance and was an excellent two-way hockey player who was reliable and never gave coach (the late) Ron Smith any problems.
“George was tough as nails and a top scorer,” said Holody, who still operates his successful electroplating business started in 1955. “I remember in 1978 when we won the Centennial Cup (the Canadian Tier II championship), we were playing the Pembroke Lumber Kings in the quarter-finals and the fans in Pembroke were calling the Guelph players ‘chickens’ because they had a big tough team. And I said to a group of fans, you might think we are chickens now but if something breaks out, we’ll become roosters pretty quick. It wasn’t long after that George took on the toughest guy on their team and kicked the (crap) out of him. We went on to win four games to one.”
MacLellan and McPhee gave everyone early signs that reaching the upper echelons on hockey management was a possibility. Both took the unconventional hockey route of accepting scholarships to Bowling Green University in Ohio where they earned their degrees before going on to play in the NHL. MacLellan played 606 games with Los Angeles, New York Rangers, Minnesota, Calgary and Detroit, winning a Cup with the Flames in 1989. McPhee won the Hobey Baker award as the top college player in America and played 115 NHL games with the Rangers and New Jersey.
“Am I surprised they have become successful as general managers?” asked Holody. “A little bit I guess but they were smart kids and when they went away to university instead of playing major junior they kind of set themselves up on this pathway.”
So who will Joe be cheering for as he watches the men he remembers as little boys chasing a Stanley Cup dream?
“I’m torn up about who I’ll cheer for, I love them both,” he said. “One thing I know, there is going to be a blessing for one and heartache for the other. I’ll be proud of both no matter what happens.”
It is heartwarming to imagine these two fresh faced boys skating miles in the old Guelph Memorial Gardens with their tube skates, wooden hockey sticks and well-worn jerseys. One now managing the greatest Cinderella story in the history of hockey, facing his old teammate running a team looking to end a very long drought. Friends forever, but rivals for a few warm days in May and June.
Not even the Las Vegas bookies would have laid odds on that happening.