Inverness County's greatest sports figures link up at Classic
The Al MacInnis Golf Classic is the biggest fund-raising event of the year for Port Hood’s arena commission. But for the average duffer, it’s a chance to rub shoulders with some of Inverness County's greatest sports figures.
Paul MacIsaac, of the Cape Breton West Major Midgets, receives a bear hug from Grey Cup champion Bruce Beaton (left) while Andrew MacDonald, of the New York Islanders, laughs at Paul's predicament during Friday's golf tourney at Bell Bay in Baddeck.
There's Allan himself: Stanley Cup champ, Olympic gold medalist, Norris Trophy winner, Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and perhaps the greatest defenceman to ever play in the National Hockey League.
MacInnis is also responsible for accessing the funding that enabled the Port Hood Arena to undergo a major renovation several years ago, after which it took the new moniker, the Al MacInnis Sports Centre.
This year, Bell Bay Golf Club in Baddeck welcomed two-time Grey Cup champion Bruce Beaton.
Also a Port Hooder, Beaton led the Edmonton Eskimos to two Canadian Football League championships. He now conducts leadership programs in Kentville, where he lives with his family.
And Andrew MacDonald joined the group this year as the newest "celebrity" golfer. A Judique native, MacDonald signed a three-year deal with the NHL's New York Islanders last season. Just 23, the young defenceman is an inspiration to all hockey players as someone who came out of the Cape Breton West Major Midget AAA program and worked his way up to the big league from Junior A.
The Oran caught up with all three sports icons on Friday morning before setting out on their day of golf at Bell Bay. We asked them what it meant to come home and take part in the charity event.
"It's no secret here where the funds go," said MacInnis. "There are a lot of great charities out there, from cancer research to Alzheimer's disease to MS. But there are other good charities as well. Practically every kid in this part of the country plays hockey.
"They play with the dream of someday making the Major Midgets, of getting drafted into the QMJHL, or of someday playing in the NHL. And if we're going to grow the game, the more arenas we keep open, the more we can do to keep those dreams alive," he said.
MacInnis said he could attend a charity event every day of the week if he didn't have a family and a job. As it is, he attends 12 to 15 dinners and tournaments a year. "You do the best you can," he said.
MacInnis said he enjoys having his name attached to this tournament for a number of reasons, including that it brings him home each year so that he can reconnect with his family and friends.
"The rink is also the home of the Major Midget team, which is huge for the community. It's the rink's main tenant, and it's a pretty important building in our home town."
MacInnis, who underwent knee surgery this past spring, said there was no truth to the rumour he was considering a one-year deal with the Port Hood Bees should the West Island Senior Hockey League resume operations this fall.
"I haven't played in a couple of years, and I think my competitive hockey days are over," he said. "But don't rule it out completely. They're always asking me to play, and I hear that over-35 team is pretty good, though I haven't got an e-mail yet."
Not known for his golf game, it was Bruce Beaton's first appearance at the Classic.
"Unlike hockey players, I had to work every summer," he said with his big, wide grin beaming. "But I'm sure it's a lot like football: the more you put into it, the better you get. And when I played, I was always doing the extra: extra film, extra training, extra technique drills.
"But the goal for me, whether I'm golfing, playing football, or working, is to always have fun," he said.
"This is a chance to hear some stories from 20 years ago, and to learn what's happening right now. It's living in the present and reliving the past; a good space to be in."
Beaton had the opportunity to meet Andrew MacDonald for the first time, and the two hit it off by harassing Paul MacIsaac as he helped coordinate media interviews and photo ops with the celebrities.
MacDonald was all-teeth as well in his first appearance as a celebrity at the Classic.
"It's a different feeling, not something I ever thought of myself doing, but here I am," he said.
MacDonald said players coming up into the NHL often receive lots of advice from team officials, but there was one thing that stuck with him.
"The one thing I learned before I started playing with the Islanders came from a team scout who said if you ever do make it big, then be sure you give back to your community," said MacDonald.
"Growing up in Judique I basically spent all my time in Port Hood. It's a great arena, and I'm glad to do my part here."
MacDonald is currently in Halifax for the summer where he is training with Jonathan Doucette, of Inverness.
"Jonathan is a great trainer and was in Moncton this week at the world track and field meet. He works with sprinters and jumpers, and he's been helping me with strength training. I've put on 12 lbs. with him."
MacDonald returns to New York in three weeks, but before that he will team up with Jon Simm and Colin White in New Glasgow on Aug. 13th and 14th for a Play With the Pros program.
"I'll be in New York a month earlier than I have to be, but I want to work with our trainer and basically show my commitment."
Apart from their Inverness County roots, commitment is the common thread all three men share. Despite different ages and different sports, it was their commitment, their determination to put the beers and girlfriends on the shelf for a while as they focused on their goals, that has made all three men sports figures to be admired, from rural Inverness County to our North American cities and beyond.
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