SURREY — Gerry MacGillivray celebrated his 75th birthday last Sunday doing what he loves best: driving to the hockey rink to coach a game.
He’s an assistant coach of two top-end rep teams with Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association, helping his bench-boss sons Brian and Bill. Forty-three years into it, Gerry is among the longest-serving hockey coaches in all of Canada.
“I’m retired now, so that gives me more time,” he said with a smile.
“Hockey keeps me busy just about every day, and I have a very understanding wife.”
He and Rosemary had been living in their St. Helen’s Park-area home for a few years by the time their sons first hit the ice. In 1973, Gerry stepped up to coach Brian’s Peanuts-division team in North Surrey, and he’s been behind one bench or another every season since.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of kids in Surrey and other parts of the Lower Mainland have learned the game from Gerry.
Along the way, he taught his sons how to teach the game, too.
This season, Bill is the Bantam A1 team coach in Cloverdale and Brian heads the Peewee A1s. Together, they run MacGillivray Hockey camps every summer.
Three or four times a week, Gerry laces up his skates, puts on his gloves and grabs a stick to help coach adoring kids, one of which is his grandson, a player on the peewee team.
On Tuesday night, due to the work schedules of his sons, both employed as firefighters, Gerry led the Peewee team’s practice in Fleetwood before skipping over to another arena to be with the Bantams.
The two teams are rostered with the best hockey players Cloverdale has to offer in the 11-to-15-year-old range.
“The fact that he’s 75 years old and still coaching two rep teams, nobody else in Canada is doing that at that age, I’m pretty sure,” said Kevin Gallant, a parent on the peewee team who helped organize a birthday celebration/ceremony for Gerry prior to a game tonight (Thursday) at Cloverdale Arena. They’ll sing “Happy Birthday” and applaud the man.
“It’s just a way to pay tribute to him, because he deserves it,” Gallant explained.
“I’m absolutely fascinated that he’s still at it, still on the ice and so active. He still runs practices and participates very actively in the game. My kid loves him, and most kids do, because he’s now like a grandpa to them.”
Gerry isn’t entirely thrilled by all the attention this week, but that’s just his personality.
“To be totally honest with you,” said son Brian, “he’s probably more embarrassed about all this than anything, because he does it just because he loves doing it. He loves coaching, teaching and being involved in the game.”
Until his retirement last spring, the former Maritimer owned and operated excavators for a living.
“He’s just engulfed himself in hockey again, and that’s the way it’s been for four decades,” Brian noted.
Over the years, Gerry has coached rep and junior-level teams in Surrey, White Rock, Burnaby, New Westminster, Semiahmoo and Cloverdale. A few of the players he’s coached – including Colin Fraser, Surrey’s recently-retired, three-time Stanley Cup winner – have played in the NHL and other pro leagues.
“And there were others, probably 10 guys, who just didn’t carry on, you know,” Gerry said. “They had the tool box but just didn’t want to put the tools in it, that extra effort.”
These days, Gerry likes to help young players with the small things that can help make them better.
“I kind of listen and watch and pick up things that we need to work on,” he said with a shrug.
“I shoot the puck around with them and work on those little things with them, like if they’re shooting off the wrong foot or not getting enough extension in their arms, all kinds of things they need to work on.”
This season has been a bit different for Gerry, who has had to adapt to an assistant-coaching role.
“It’s been excellent coaching with him,” Brian noted, “and my dad is very strong-willed. It’s kind of a role-reversal, because when I first started coaching and then coached with him, I was always the assistant coach, and now my dad is in that role. But he gets that equal say, that’s the difference, because he has a lot to offer and I learned my hockey from him, right?”
The Vancouver Canucks plan to pay tribute to Gerry during a stoppage in play at a game later this month, according to Gallant, and a Global TV news camera was at Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex Tuesday.
It’s the kind of attention that makes Gerry cringe a little.
“Hockey has been really enjoyable for me,” he said. “There’s no real need for a celebration for me because I get so much joy out of it.”