Acadia great Connie MacNeil remembered

A great influence on so many people

story courtesy of the chronicle herald, May 4, 2013 – 10:12pm By STEVE BEZANSON Sports Reporter


Connie MacNeil passed away this past Thursday. He was 84. This photo was taken at Acadia Arena in January 2010, prior to the 60th anniversary of him scoring three goals in a six-second span. (ERIC WYNNE / Staff / File)

His record of 3 goals in 6 seconds during an Annapolis Valley Senior B Hockey League playoff game at the old Acadia Arena on Feb. 27, 1950 might always be cause for debate among hockey purists.

But one thing that will never be disputed is the character and charisma Connie MacNeil exhibited as an educator, academic administrator, coach and athlete. A native of Reserve Mines, MacNeil, 84, passed away on Thursday.

“I just saw Connie in church last week and he was his normal, cheerful self,” said Nova Scotian sports historian Burton Russell, a lifelong friend of MacNeil. “And to suddenly hear he’s gone, I’m just shocked. But he sure had a great life and a great influence on so many people.

“People associated Connie with those three goals in six seconds but he was a good, all-around athlete. You knew that anything he took up he was going to be the best he could be at it. We played a lot of golf together and he was still shooting his age up to a couple of years ago.

“But as far those goals go they were legitimate. And that feat always amazed me because they were against a goaltender who a year before was one of the best in Maritime hockey. He wasn’t just an intermediate goaltender. Connie was a fast skater but he also had a pretty darn accurate shot.”

A former left-winger with the Acadia Axemen, MacNeil was inducted into the university’s sports hall of fame on Sept. 17, 2011. Fourteen months prior, he was still displaying his prowess on the golf course, using a 7-iron to ace the 128-yard No. 11 hole at Ken-Wo while still at the tender age of 81.

“When you think of Acadia university you think of Connie MacNeil,” acknowledged Russell. “We’d go to a lot of Axemen hockey games together and we’d always have our hot stove league. There would be people there from Windsor to Digby, so many mutual friends with lots of memories about those early days in the 40s and 50s.

“Connie really was much beloved by everyone. So personable and always going out of his way to help people who were ailing or a little aged. Connie was always the first guy to be there for them. Very few people were more well-known or better liked than Connie.

“As I said, we enjoyed a lot of good times and took a lot of sports trips together. He was interested in sports history, a great guy to talk to and we shared a lot of memories. A lot of people will certainly miss him.”

Former Axemen hockey coach and now Acadia athletic director, Kevin Dickie, echoed Russell’s sentiments.

“I’ve known Connie for a long time and I can tell you he really will be sorely missed,’’ said Dickie. “I was in Toronto this past week and he had emailed me on Monday to set up breakfast on Tuesday.

“He had that ability to provide counsel to you when you didn’t even know you were asking for it. You’d walk away and your day would be better and you’d be smarter. I found as a hockey coach at Acadia, Connie would often pop down and say something to me and I’d say to myself, ‘I never thought of that.’ He had this tactful and instinctive way of of helping me get better.”

Dickie, also a former AD at the University of New Brunswick, led the Axemen hockey team to three successive AUS finals between 1997 and 2000.

“Acadia is about people and when you think of it from that perspective, the man that had the most impact on me was Don Wells (former hockey coach and AD at Acadia),” said Dickie. “But when you’re talking Acadia athletics, no one had a more profound and significant impact on people than Connie. I really can’t say it right in words but he was just one of the nicest people anyone ever met.

“So respected, not only by kids in his own program, at Horton high school and such, but also by students of every generation. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. If you played the word association game between Acadia and the alumni, Connie’s name always came to the forefront.”

Perhaps Darren Burns, who has been head hockey coach at Acadia for the past 12 years and involved with the program as a player, assistant coach and coach since the early 90s, caught the essence of MacNeil best.

“The best way I can put it is that I was driving down the road just last week and I guess I had had a bad start to my day. Anyway, I saw Connie walking down the street, taking everything in and that totally changed my outlook. I just thought that’s the way you’re supposed to live your life. He had a certain way of dealing with people that always left them inspired. That’s just who he was.

“He was an icon in this area and one of the most respected men I’ve ever met. Whether it was a 30-second chat on main street or a conversation after an hour meeting, you just went away feeling proud you knew him. He was a role model and mentor to so many guys. A lot of our players talked to him and when they did they knew they’d made the right choice in coming to Acadia.

“He was everywhere in our community and such an important person in so many people’s lives. I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people have contacted our department or myself personally wishing to pass on best wishes to his family. That says volumes.”