Legacy on ice
It’s a mid-June afternoon, and the hockey hive officially known as the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center is buzzing with activity. Out on the center’s rink, figure skaters and their coaches go over intricate routines on the freshly resurfaced ice. Outside the locker rooms, preteen hockey players reminisce about their just-finished workout. And in a back office cluttered with stick blades, pucks and hockey gloves, the son of the Eagle River facility’s namesake tries to keep things organized while keeping up with a steady stream of requests for punch cards and skate sharpening from members of the skating public.
“Everyone’s been kind of champing at the bit a little bit,” says Reid McDonald, who manages the facility known simply as “The Mac.”
The summer ice at the center went in last weekend, just in time for a two-week hockey camp for about 80 youth hockey players. The facility, which was built in 1984, is also undergoing upgrades that will add an indoor turf field and a running track.
Nobody would be happier to see the center getting so much use than Reid’s old man, who was widely recognized as the area’s first hockey community leader.
“He is definitely the father of Eagle River hockey,” Reid said of “Coach Mac,” who died in a 1994 plane crash.
The elder McDonald was a teacher at Chugiak High School for 27 years who taught multiple generations of hockey players the game he loved. He was a driving force behind the building of the facility that now bears his name, and he helped establish the Mustang Hockey Association. But his son said simply teaching the game was his father’s greatest passion.
“He just had so much respect for the profession. He took it very seriously,” Reid said.
For his contributions to local hockey, Harry McDonald was recently honored by USA Hockey with the Walter Yaciuk Award in a ceremony at the organization’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I think he would have been very humbled to receive the award,” Reid said.
Along with helping establish a bustling hockey community in Chugiak-Eagle River and Anchorage, Harry McDonald’s legacy now spans generations. Along with managing the facility, Reid McDonald is a youth coach whose three boys all play the game. In fact, all eight of McDonald’s grandkids either played or currently play the sport. That list includes the children of McDonald’s daughter, Lynn Swanson, whose husband, Brian, is a former Chugiak High, Colorado College, NHL and Alaska Aces standout.
Reid McDonald accompanied his mother, Carole, the Swansons, and sister, Anne, to Colorado to receive the award (the fourth McDonald sibling, Kyle, couldn’t attend due to work), which Reid said was an enormous honor.
“The fact that they picked my dad was pretty cool,” he said.
He said it’s gratifying to see his father’s hockey legacy is still strong nearly two decades after Coach Mac’s death. But he also wishes the man whose picture hangs prominently above the rink were here to see the grandkids skate in person.
“One of the saddest things is you’ve got my boys out there, and Swannie’s kids and he would just be eating it up,” he said. “It would be nice to have the master of masters out there. They never knew him, and that’s what hurts sometimes.”
He said he knows his dad would be gratified to see the impact he continues to make on the Chugiak-Eagle River hockey world.
“He was probably most proud of being called ‘Coach,’” he said.