Student of the Game
Craig MacTavish has always studied
the game of hockey. The native of London, Ontario, worked
his way through a Massachusetts Division II university
(Lowell) and was impressive enough to attract the
attention of the nearest NHL club, the Boston Bruins.
reputation earned him the role of checking-line
of hockey’s toughest jobs.
In both the minor leagues and with the Bruins (MacTavish
bounced between the NHL and the American Hockey League
from 1979 to 1983, finally earning a full-time job in 1984),
coaches often assigned MacTavish the thankless job of guarding the
opposition’s best players.
In 1985, after a year out of hockey,
MacTavish was brought to Edmonton by Oilers general
manager and coach Glen
Sather. Although, the Oilers played an offensive
minded game, Sather—an old checking
forward himself—believed that if the team was to become
a dynasty, Edmonton would need to limit the
opposition’s scoring chances.
soon as he put on Oiler colours, MacTavish elevated his
play and became one of the best checking forwards in the
game. Not only did he finish the season with a +17
rating, he added 47 points, many of them coming in the
form of clutch goals. Shockingly, the
Flames upset the Oilers in the playoffs. Despite the bitter
loss, MacTavish established himself as integral part of the
team, and playoff success would be inevitable. He would remain as one of the top two-way forwards
in the NHL throughout his Oilers career, winning three
Stanley Cups in 1987, 1988 and 1990. He remained with the
club until the 1994 trade deadline when the New York
Rangers, already loaded with ex-Oilers, wanted MacTavish
to be one of the final ingredients to a championship run. The Rangers
chose well. Although they gave up a promising young forward named
Todd Marchant (who would establish himself as one of the
top checking centres in the League in the 10 years he
spent as an Oiler), MacTavish would become a key member of the
Rangers’ first Stanley Cup win in 54 years.
New York, MacTavish then went on to play for
the Philadelphia Flyers and the St. Louis Blues. Due to
his exceptional play his
reputation as one of the game’s top two-way players finally
earned him a selection to the NHL All-Star game in 1996.
Even in his last seasons with St.
Louis, MacTavish chose not to wear a helmet. Due to
a grandfather clause in NHL rules, he was allowed to
play without one, as he entered the League before the
NHL made helmets mandatory safety equipment. When he
retired from the game in 1997, the League lost its final
MacTavish went back to New York as an
assistant coach, before returning to Edmonton in 1999.
In 2000, the master pupil became a head coach for the
Oilers, where he continued to impress the hometown
crowds by winning his 100th
game in less time than any other coach in team history.