Doctor of Laws (honoris causa)
Allister Wences MacNeil was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia on September 27, 1935 and for over fifty years he has forged an impressive professional hockey career as an NHL player, coach and executive. A two-time winner of the Memorial Cup, he’s hoisted the Calder Cup three times, won the 1976 Canada Cup, and his name has been etched onto the Stanley Cup four times. Mr. MacNeil is admired and beloved by his family, colleagues and teammates and he continues to make his hometown proud.
Following an impressive junior hockey career with the Toronto Marlboros, where he won back-to-back Memorial Cups in 1955 and 1956 (the second time serving as team captain), Mr. MacNeil began his professional playing career. As a rugged, hard-hitting defenseman, he played in 524 NHL games on the blue line for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks, New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In 1968, he was encouraged to join the coaching ranks by legendary NHL General Manager Sam Pollock. For the next two seasons, Mr. MacNeil cut his teeth serving as a player-coach for the Houston Apollos and the Montreal Voyageurs, a demanding job that hastened his transition from player to coach. In 1970, he was hired as the Assistant Coach of the Montreal Canadiens. When Claude Ruel stepped down in December of that year, Mr. MacNeil was promoted to the job of Head Coach. In the midst of a political firestorm and much controversy, he emerged as the rookie Head Coach of the 1971 Stanley Cup Champions.
The Stanley Cup win also gave Mr. MacNeil the honour of coaching Bobby Orr and a team of superstars to a win in the NHL All-Star Game the following season. After a lengthy discussion with his wife Norma, they decided to leave Montreal and accept a position as the General Manager and Head Coach of the American Hockey League’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs. From behind the bench he led the “Vees” to three Calder Cup Championships in 1972, 1976 and 1977. During this time, Mr. MacNeil became a two-time winner of the Louis A. R. Pieri Award, as the American Hockey League Coach of the Year (1971-72, 1976-77). He also served as Scotty Bowman’s Assistant Coach for Team Canada when they won the Canada Cup in 1976.
After enjoying success running their top farm club, Mr. MacNeil returned to the Montreal Canadiens as the Director of Player Personnel where, in 1978 and 1979, he was awarded two more Stanley Cup rings. From there, Mr. MacNeil and his family moved south where he became the last Head Coach of the Atlanta Flames. The team moved to Calgary in 1980, where Mr. MacNeil led the team as Head Coach for two more seasons, before becoming the Assistant General Manager and winning his fourth Stanley Cup in 1989. He has held a variety of executive positions with the Calgary Flames since then and, on three separate occasions, has returned behind the bench (once as an Assistant Coach and twice serving as Interim Head Coach).
Respected as a leader and a builder within professional hockey, Mr. MacNeil currently works as a consultant to Calgary Flames team President Ken King. In 1980, he was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame and in 1998, he was inducted into the Cape Breton Sports Hall of Fame. Notably, Mr. MacNeil was also the first Maritimer to coach in the NHL.
In addition to his passion for hockey, community means a great deal to Mr. MacNeil. For many years he was the Director of Scotia Hockey School in Antigonish. Every summer, he returns to his cottage in Big Pond and volunteers at the community breakfasts. He enjoys reading, boating, golfing and is a big Toronto Blue Jays fan.
Mr. MacNeil currently resides in Calgary, Alberta. He and his wife Norma, have two children, Allison and Allister, and a son-in-law, Paul Sparkes. They also have two wonderful grandchildren, Jack who is seven years old, and Ben who is six.