Monday, April 26, 2010

Frank McGee

Frank McGee's accomplishments are astounding, considering his best years with Ottawa's Silver Seven came after he lost sight in one eye and before the tender age of twenty-three. “One-Eyed” McGee's record of fourteen goals in one Stanley Cup match still stands 105 years later.

Born to a prominent Ottawa family, Frank's uncle was Thomas D'Arcy McGee (a Father of the Confederation) and his father Joseph was Clerk of the Privy Council. Frank excelled at sports, playing lacrosse and rugby as well as hockey. As half-back for Ottawa City rugby team, he helped win the Canadian championship in 1898.

Unfortunately, in 1900 Frank's career appeared at an abrupt end after a nasty blow to the left eye by an opponent's stick during a charity match in Hawkesbury, Ontario left him blind in that eye. Frank didn't remain out of the game for long, however, taking up the one position in which perfect vision wasn't necessary: he became a referee.

Being a referee only made him miss playing more, so despite the risks, he joined the Ottawa Senators in 1903. Despite the rough-sounding nickname, “One-Eyed” McGee became known for his immaculately clean and pressed uniform and play-making.

At only 5'6,” he was one of the smallest players in a brutal game. Size never mattered though, as Frank scored two goals in his first game to help Ottawa win. Soon thereafter, he was averaging three goals (or more) a game, and his 63 goals in 22 Cup games stands as a pre-NHL era record. His most notable accomplishment, a record fourteen goals in a single Cup game came on January 16, 1905 against the Dawson City Nuggets. Eight of those goals were scored at nearly a goal-a-minute pace.

McGee's remarkable skill and accuracy helped lead Ottawa to three consecutive Stanley Cup championship years from 1903 to 1906, defeating the Rat Portage Thistles, Winnipeg Rowing Club, Toronto Marlboros, Brandon Wheat Kings, and Montreal Wanderers along the way. He wasn't the only star of the club, merely its brightest, playing alongside fellow future Hall of Famers Alf Smith, Harry Westwick, Billy Gilmour and Tommy Smith.

McGee had somewhat of a reputation as a practical joker: when the team was invited to dine with Governor General Lord Minto [Elliot] at Government House, other team members worried about their ignorance of Ottawa society etiquette. McGee, being from Ottawa high society, told them not to worry, to imitate everything he did. McGee then proceeded to pick up his finger bowl and slurp from it. Innocently, his teammates copied him. It is reported that even the Governor decided to drink from his finger bowl!

After Ottawa lost the Cup to the Montreal Wanderers in 1906, McGee retired at age twenty-three. Apparently, his job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs prevented him from travelling with the team much.

When World War I began, McGee somehow managed to enlist in the army in 1915, despite his bad eye. The story is that McGee passed the physical by simply switching the hand covering his eye, and not the eye. Since Frank's disability was part of his legend, the examining doctor couldn't quite play along; on McGee's physical, the doctor simply wrote “good” for vision in the right eye and the blank for the left eye was left empty. He became Lieutenant Frank McGee, of the 43rd Regiment (Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles) of the 21st Infantry Battalion in early 1915. In December of that year, he was travelling in an armoured car in Belgium, hit by a shell and suffered a knee injury. He recuperated in England and was offered a desk job at Le Havre, France, which he refused. On September 16, 1916, Lt. McGee was killed in action at Courcelette, one of 624,000 Allied troops who gave their lives during the Battle of the Somme.

When the Hockey Hall of Fame inducted its first members in 1946, Frank “One-Eyed” McGee was one of them. In 1966, he was also inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. A fitting tribute to not only a hockey hero, but also a national hero.

Written by Jennifer Conway.

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