Saturday

Tony McKegney

In the summer of 1978, one of hockey's finest young prospects was Tony McKegney. Yet he was being overlooked at the NHL draft table that summer because it was assumed that he signed with the World Hockey Association's Birmingham Bulls.

At the last minute, the deal between Birmingham and McKegney fell through for political reasons. You see McKegney was black and that wouldn't go over very well in Alabama according to some. The Bull's hockey management team wanted McKegney's size and a laser-like shot, as did team owner John Bassett. However some of Bassett's supporters convinced the owner that having a black hockey player in Birmingham was a bad idea. A disappointed Bassett reluctantly agreed and shied away from McKegney

Word about McKegney's availability was slow to reach NHL circles. It wasn't until McKegney's agent Alan Eagleson started spreading the word in the second round of the NHL entry draft. The Buffalo Sabres eagerly snapped up the left winger. Tony was considered to be a definite first round pick, perhaps even a top 10 selection, if he wasn't tied up by the WHA. Needless to say the Sabres were more than happy to grab him with the 32nd selection.

McKegney was obviously disappointed by the circumstances involved in the Birmingham experience. He was later quoted as saying "All I want to do is be a good player in the NHL, and show those Birmingham people how wrong they were."

If that was McKegney's driving ambition as a hockey player, then he sure accomplished his goal. He went on to enjoy 13 years in the National Hockey League, scoring 320 goals and over 600 points in 912 career games.

In the process he became the first black hockey star. Willie O'Ree broke hockey's color barrier and was a star in the minor leagues for years, but not at the NHL level. It wasn't until McKegney's arrival that the NHL saw its first black scoring star. At approximately the same time, black goalie Grant Fuhr was performing heroics by establishing himself as the best puckstopper in the world.

After a spectacular junior career with the Kingston Canadiens, McKegney enjoyed 5 years in Buffalo. After an 8 goal rookie season he stepped up his production to 23 goals and then 37. He slipped in 1981-82 when he fell back to 23, but rebounded to 36 goals in 1982-83, his final year in Buffalo.

The off season saw McKegney be a part of a major trade with the Quebec Nordiques. Quebec traded troubled Real "Buddy" Cloutier and a first round draft pick (Adam Creighton) for McKegney, French center Andre Savard, Jean Sauve and a third round draft pick (Iiro Jarvi).

McKegney only lasted 1 and 1/2 seasons in Quebec, as he struggled for ice time behind prolific left wing scorers Michel Goulet and Anton Stastny. Despite being a third stringer, he did put up respectable numbers, including 36 goals in a total of 105 games.

Tony was sent to Minnesota in December of 1984 and he finished the year strongly in Minnesota, picking up nearly a point a game in 27 contests. He followed that up with a terrific playoff, scoring 8 goals and 14 points in 9 games. However he followed that up with perhaps his most disappointing NHL season in 1985-86. He tallied only 15 goals and 40 points.

Tony started the 1986-87 season with the North Stars, but 11 games into the season he was traded to the New York Rangers. He recaptured his consistent 30 goal form, notching 29 as a Ranger for 31 total.

Tony's stay on Broadway was short, as he was sent to St. Louis in 1987-88 and had his best NHL season. He scored a career high 40 goals, 38 assists and 78 points. An aging McKegney slipped to 25 goals and 42 points in 1988-89.

Tony slowed down after that season, never reaching the 20 goal level again. He had very brief stops in Detroit (14 games) and Chicago (9 games) as well as parts of two seasons in a second tour of duty with the Nordiques.

Tony left the NHL at the completion of 1991. He spent one year in Italy before returning to North America to play for the San Diego Gulls of the IHL in 1992-93.

Tony was a big left winger, who was effective at the physical game though not an overly physical player by nature. His strong legs gave him good up and down skating ability with good acceleration, but lacked great agility to outclass some of the better NHL defensemen. He was very effective in front of the net where his good balance made him nearly immovable. Many of his goals came from tipping in point shots or banging at loose pucks in the crease. Tony's best physical asset was his excellent shot which he was always able to get away with uncanny quickness.

So why did Tony travel so much? He was a consistent 25-30 goals scorer who every once in a while would break out to the next level, like he did in 1980-81, 1982-83, the latter half of 1984-85 and most especially in 1987-88. But his problem was he had a reputation of having two good years but then having a stinker. As this reputation spread and, rightly or wrongly, was accepted, he became a rent a player who was acquired to hit a home run, but if he didn't hit it quickly, he would be traded away.

An interesting side note about Tony McKegney: His brother Ian also played in the National Hockey League, appearing in three games with the Chicago Blackhawks back in 1976-77. The defenseman however was not black, but white. Tony was adopted by the McKegney family as an infant.

3 comments:

dee 6:50 PM  

What a PRICE of pain to pay for being in the NHL. Sadly as of today, (2010) nothing has really changed.

Anonymous,  7:00 PM  

What a PRICE of PAIN to pay for being in the NHL. Sadly as of today,(2010) nothing has really changed...the color of the skin is still a problem that need to be solidified.

Autumn-n-Landis KD 8:05 AM  

Hey Emory is one of Favorite goalies next to Ryan Miller, and I'm a Sabres fan. He rocked for Ottawa. Not as many blacks play Hockey, but can say the opposite for Basketball. White are shunned now in Basketball. Personally I don't care what race you are, it's how you play. My close friend's mom dated Tony when he played for the Sabres. My friend said he was awesome.

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