The first person of colour ever signed by the Montreal Canadiens is from Sarnia, and you might have bought pet food from him.
Mike McKegney has owned Healthy Paws Pet Nutrition Centre for the past 27 years, but before that he briefly shared the ice with some of the biggest names in NHL history.
The SCITS grad came up during Sarnia’s golden age of hockey talent, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Robbie Moore, Kerry and Rick Fraser, and Bob Neely, he said.
“This was a really good hockey town,” said McKegney, 64.
McKegney was adopted as an infant into a family of six and grew up on Shepherd Street. His father, Lowery McKegney, was a chemist at Imperial Oil. By age five, McKegney was playing organized hockey.
“My dad always built a rink in the backyard. We played hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer.”
Following his midget season, McKegney joined the Sarnia Bees and was drafted a year later by the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.
Recalling his three seasons in Kitchener makes McKegney smile. He estimates 75% of his teammates made it to the NHL.
But he also had his first experience with racist fans when playing against the Knights in London, he said.
“It got to the point where I just went, ‘They’re razzing me, so I must be doing something good.’”
In the off season, McKegney returned to Sarnia to lace up with Wayne Merrick, Jamie Hislop and others in a summer league at Germain Arena.
Montreal selected McKegney in the fourth round of the 1974 amateur draft, making him the first person of colour to join the franchise.
“I got a phone call from (coach) Scotty Bowman… he said, ‘Mike we’re going to draft you tomorrow,’” he recalled.
McKegney is quick to admit he wasn’t in game shape for the NHL. He never played a regular season game with Habs and spent the next two seasons in the Canadiens’ feeder system.
“I was in horrible shape. I skated, but I drank a lot too,” he said with a chuckle. Until then, raw talent had carried him through.
“I was there for a good time, not a long time.”
McKegney played in a few other leagues before returning to Sarnia. His brothers Tony and Ian also had hockey careers, with Tony playing 17 seasons in the NHL.
Despite his short tenure in the Montreal system, McKegney said he has no regrets today.
“You’re 20 years old, you go to a training camp of one of the best franchises on the planet. You’re sitting in the dressing room… there’s Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden,” he said with a smile.
“How can you have regret with that?”