One man, 3 goals, 6 seconds!

Later this month, Connie MacNeil will mark the 60th anniversary of his improbable goal-scoring feat

By MONTY MOSHER Sports Reporter
Tue. Feb 2, 2009 – 4:53 AM

-This story was originally posted in February 2009, Mr. Connie MacNeil passed away in May, 2013.

IN MORE THAN 80 years, Connie MacNeil has raised a family and served his country in the military and his province as an educator, academic administrator and coach. He can shoot his age on the golf course.

But it’s six seconds on the ice at the old Acadia Arena 60 years ago this month — six seconds of improbable hockey tucked away in the dusty attic of time — that can still bring the occasional curiosity seeker to his doorstep in Wolfville.

The grandfatherly MacNeil, who turns 81 on Feb. 16, 2009, should be a household name in a land where pucks are religious objects.

The fact he isn’t says something about the humility of the former Acadia Axemen left-winger and Reserve Mines native, who scored three goals in those six seconds.

“The planets lined up correctly,” says MacNeil, never a huge scorer otherwise. He jokes that in a world where everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, he’s still owed about 14:54.

The dearth of recognition may say more about the record he set — a stand-ard so unlikely it’s easily dismissed as the product of an inattentive timekeeper or a defective clock.

But MacNeil has slept soundly for six decades knowing he did something unmatched in hockey by an unfathomably wide margin.

On Feb. 27, 1950, MacNeil, a five-foot-nine freshman with flashy blades and a hard shot, accomplished his feat in an Annapolis Valley Senior B Hockey League playoff game against the import-rich Kentville Wildcats.

Nova Scotia sport historian Burton Russell followed the game on radio. The Kentville resident always thought that if the time elapsed was eight seconds, even nine, it was still a great accomplishment.

He says MacNeil never got his due.

“He’s an icon in our part of the world,” says Russell, “but I wonder, across the nation, if they think it was a slow clock or that the type of hockey wasn’t anything. But it was good hockey.”

Windsor hockey legend Carl (Chook) Smith witnessed the hat trick from the stands. His team had been eliminated from the playoffs. “They had a good team and Connie was a good player,” says Smith.

‘It happened so quickly’

Bob (Gint) MacKenzie, MacNeil’s centre on all three goals, never thought about history that night.

“It happened so quickly,” says MacKenzie, one of many Cape Breton natives on the Axemen at that time. “But I never thought of it until quite a while after. I’m still amazed by it.”

MacNeil and his wife, Myrt, live a kilometre from where he skated for the Axemen in the days before the modern university league. He made his living as a phys-ed teacher and school board administrator and later worked in real estate before retiring a few years ago.

The NHL record for the fastest three goals has never been disputed. Bill Mosienko of the Chicago Blackhawks did it in 21 seconds in 1952.

Two NHL players have scored twice in four seconds. Bobby Newton of the Saint John Beavers once scored two seconds apart in a Maritime Big Four League game in 1947-48.

MacNeil is unconcerned his accomplishment doesn’t have broader support. There is no way to verify it and he admits to being “embarrassed” in the face of naysayers.

“Some people are going to say it was a backwater league, but it was a senior B playoff game with CAHA-approved officials,” he says.

“It was good quality hockey,” says MacKenzie. “Kentville was a good team.”

MacNeil believes the scoresheet was accurate.

“There have been several occasions where (two) goals have been reported scored in two seconds, but there wasn’t the third one,” he says. “The only difference for me was I was lucky enough to get the next one right on top of it.”

MacNeil has a thin folder of clippings from his hockey days, but little else. There is nothing on the walls of his stately home, a converted nurses residence, to suggest hockey immortality.

There was a crowd of 1,400 in the tiny rink for MacNeil’s exploits.

Built in 1928 and converted to a theatre when a new Acadia arena was built in 1988, the dim and dingy arena was best known for its short distance from end to end, roughly 180 feet, and its concussion-inducing hardwood and mortar walls behind the nets. The missing 20 feet in the neutral zone no doubt played a part in MacNeil’s outburst.

Deciding game of semifinals

It was the deciding game in a best-of-five semifinal series. The Wolfville Falcons awaited the winner.

The Axemen were weakened by the flu. MacNeil gained a more prominent role in the offence because of it.

It was 1-1 in the first period when MacNeil put his name in the metaphoric record book — or didn’t, as the case may be.

With the teams playing four skaters aside due to coincidental penalties, he carried the puck from his own end into the Kentville zone, looking to make a pass to MacKenzie. But he encountered a clear path to the net and lifted a wrist shot past goalie Al Tomori, a competent journeyman puck-stopper from Ontario whose claim to fame was a tryout with the AHL’s Cleveland Barons.

The clock read 7:35.

MacNeil was tardy getting back to his position on the ensuing faceoff after one of his teammates, defenceman Bruce Dunlop, chirped at the rookie for hogging the puck.

“Pool hall language,” MacNeil recalls.

With the teams four aside for the duration of the penalties, as was the rule at the time, MacNeil was hustling forward to get back into position on his wing when MacKenzie poked the puck directly toward him on the faceoff. He took one stride, maybe two, and shot the puck glove-side, either around or through the legs of a defenceman, leaving a screened Tomori to pluck a second puck from his net.

Only three seconds had elapsed.

Lightning struck again as MacKenzie, a right-hand shot, pushed the puck directly to a streaking MacNeil from the ensuing faceoff and he drove another shot past a screened Tomori, this time to his blocker side. MacNeil, who feels sympathy for Tomori to this day, says the shot would have hit the goalie if he hadn’t slid sideways in anticipation of another drive to the same side.

As Tomori, suddenly fate’s whipping boy, slammed his stick on the crossbar and glared at his defence, the clock came to rest at 7:41.

MacKenzie found MacNeil a third straight time off the draw, but a bid for a fourth goal never got by the defence.

Russell said Tomori was no bum.

“He was one of the top goalies in Maritime hockey at that time,” he said.

MacNeil didn’t keep any souvenirs

The goals inspired little hoopla in the arena or in MacNeil. He didn’t keep a souvenir — no stick, no puck, nothing.

Acadia, with an inexperienced backup goalie in the net, lost 13-11 despite a 55-22 advantage in shots on goal. There was little cause for celebration with the season over.

What the goals inspired was an argument that can never be settled.

NHL president Clarence Campbell dismissed three goals in six seconds as “fantastic.” Acadia head coach Fred Kelly, a no-nonsense military man, said he would have agreed with Campbell if he hadn’t seen it for himself.

The achievement remains unrecognized by any official body and MacNeil will never lobby for it on the grounds it would be immodest.

The Hockey Hall of Fame accepts the Mosienko record as the gold standard. Hockey Canada doesn’t keep a record book, citing an unmanageable number of games each season.

MacNeil isn’t in the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame. He is a member of Acadia’s hockey honour roll.

He has slowed, but not much. He played nearly 50 rounds of golf last summer and maintains an 11 handicap.

He still skates, but hockey ended a decade ago when he separated his shoulder in an alumni game.

Smith said it’s hard to believe six decades have passed since that enchanted night.

“It didn’t sink in that it was such a terrific thing,” he says. “Over the years, people looked at it and didn’t believe it could happen. But it did.”

“Connie was at the right place at the right time,” says MacKenzie. “It couldn’t have happened to a better fellow.”