Saturday

Bill McNeil

This handsome man is Billy McNeill. The image is courtesy of the 1959-60 Topps hockey card set.

Edmonton, Alberta's Bill McNeil played in 257 NHL games back in the days of the Original Six, all with the Detroit Red Wings. There is no doubting his proudest moment in the NHL - the night he set up Gordie Howe for his record breaking 545th career NHL goal.

"It was at Olympia Stadium on Nov. 30, 1963. Gordie and I were killing a penalty when I fed Gordie a pass inside the Canadiens' blueline. He fired a 30-footer that beat Charlie Hodge to overtake Rocket Richard's all-time career goal-scoring record. The Detroit fans went wild. I still get chills thinking about the ovation."

McNeill must have been playing center that night, which was a rarity for him in the NHL. Although he was a natural centerman with an impressive junior and minor league resume, the Wings used McNeill mostly on right wing, much to McNeill's dismay.

"The right wing wasn't where I was supposed to play," he told author Frank Pagnucco. "It's where (coach) Jack Adams wanted me to play. It was one of my misfortunes there that I didn't play center ice in the National Hockey League. One of my big arguments, of course, with Adams was that he had four right wingers. With Gordie Howe being there playing 45 minutes a game (not unusal back then), it didn't leave much ice time for the rest of us."

As a result, McNeill, who used an incredibly short hockey stick, was constantly shuttled between Detroit and the minor leagues.

"You'd get hotter than a firecracker and come back up again. Maybe in my particular case I was with the wrong team at the wrong time. Center ice was the logical spot for a river skater from Alberta. But we had no choice."

On February 5, 1960, McNeill was to be traded to the New York Rangers with Red Kelly for Bill Gadsby and Eddie Shack, but Kelly and McNeill refused to report and the transaction was cancelled. As a result Kelly temporarily retired and McNeill was suspended for the rest of the season. New York then picked him up in an intra-league draft in June of that year, only to trade him back to Detroit in January 1961, who in turn assigned him back to the Flyers in Edmonton.

In 1964 McNeill was once again demoted by the Wings, but this time he was never to return. He continued playing until 1971, most notably with the WHL Vancouver Canucks. Twice he would be named as the WHL's MVP while with the Canucks in the 1960s.

It was in Vancouver that McNeill took up permanent residence. After retiring from hockey he pursued a business interest in a Vancouver hotel. He later became a sales rep for Carling-O'Keefe Breweries for many years.

Billy McNeill succumbed to a 4 year battle with cancer on August 31st, 2007.

4 comments:

Bill Mcneil 8:36 PM  

Bill Mcneil, Is my cousins grampa he was a good man, RIP :)

Anonymous,  10:09 PM  

In 1956 my dad took me to my first hockey game Detroit vs Chicago. Billy McNeill scored his first NHL goal at that game and I never forgot that. Detroit won 3-1 Glenn Hall in nets for Detroit and Al Rollings for Chicago.

Anonymous,  6:40 AM  

Today, May 14, 2012 my cousin would be very proud of the resurgence of his former team, The Edmonton Oil Kings, in advancing to the famous Memorial Cup.
Bill, you were my inspiration.

Rest in Peace.

Paul

Anonymous,  5:21 PM  

He is my best friend, Brian's uncle. Heard lots of good things about him from my buddy. Proudly was born on mine and Gretzky's birthday! :)

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