Hockey players past & present remember…The Major

I entered RMC in 1967 and graduated in 1971.

During those four years, I had the pleasure and challenge of playing senior varsity hockey for the “Maj,” Danny McLeod. He approached me during the warm-up skate at the first practice in the fall of 1967 and asked me where I had come from and where I had played hockey.

Thus began my four-year hockey career at RMC. Playing for the Maj was a challenge at the best of times. RMC did not have a strong team through those years and each game was an uphill struggle. If the struggle was not achieved during the weekend games, Monday’s practice was normally spent doing wind sprints on the ice, punctuated by very detailed descriptions of where each player may have gone wrong.

Prior to RMC, I had played two seasons of OHA Junior C hockey in the town of Elmira, Ontario. Although the coaching style was demanding in Junior C, it was nowhere as intense as the Maj’s style. He had a variety of inspirational lines or quips, all unprintable, that he often used that got the point across in no uncertain terms.

Playing hockey for the Maj was a hugely positive hockey and life learning experience. He demanded no more than what he believed each player was capable of giving. He complemented and he criticized and I always knew exactly where I stood in the big game.

From the ice to the classroom, the Maj was a large and influential supporter of each hockey player from an academic standpoint. Bottom line, I firmly believe that had it not been for Major Danny McLeod, I would not have been blessed with a 29-year career in the RCAF. God bless you, “Maj.”

8878 Major (Ret) George Wissler

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Despite only seeing the coaching side of Major Danny McLeod that was enough to be certain of what a great man he was.

As a player, I remember countless times in the dressing room where he would come in and give the team a “guest” coach’s post-game summary. Not twice did he deliver the same speech, but each speech packed the same message: A fundamental critique of the team’s developments and areas for improvement.

Through a focus on fundamentals, he had the ability to make something complex into something simple, easy to digest, and therefore effective. As he spoke to our dressing room, the respect from the players was clear. We followed his words with reverence and agreement.

For me, the Major was an inspiration. He taught me to keep the game simple and to pass that message on to others. It is my hope that someday I can have a similar impact on a team of my own.

24662 Jeff Oke (Danny McLeod Recipient 2008-09 Season)

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The legacy of Maj. Danny McLeod is without a doubt as impactful as it will be lasting. When reading the Major’s biography it is impossible not to be awestruck by the scope of his accomplishments, let alone their breadth and variety. There will be many tributes in the coming days, indeed many will offer various accounts of the remarkable life led by this even more remarkable man. Many will chronicle in greater detail the various exploits and triumphs of his career, both as a decorated officer and a legendary coach. In this light, what I wish to offer is a personal account, a portrait of a man who’s voice can still be heard echoing in Constantine Arena by all who had the honour of knowing him.

I arrived at RMC almost four years ago, a hockey recruit embarking on his first foray into the military. While I knew that the hockey program at RMC had a storied history I didn’t truly appreciate it at the outset of my career as a Paladin. During my first season sporting the red and white I was struck by the constant presence of one older gentleman, clearly a veteran, at all of our home games. Every time the team emerged from the tunnel to take the ice he was there, a constant face of encouragement and solidarity no matter what results we endured on the ice. It was not until after FYOP that I discovered this man’s identity. As you might have already guessed, it was Major McLeod.

Throughout my first season I had many conversations standing in front of the glass with Danny, always struck by his passion for the game and his commitment to the team. He saw us as “his guys” even though he had long since vacated his post behind the Paladin bench. I can remember vividly Danny coming into our dressing room during that first year and offering his sage advice, always very passionately and with a flare that all who knew him would instantly recognize. As I look back on these moments now I realize that they truly informed my sense of what it meant to skate for RMC, of the tradition and the honour that was inherent in donning our country’s colours and representing a storied institution while playing our great national game. Danny never let us forget this. He knew that the results on the ice often did not reflect our efforts and he recognized that we faced daily challenges that no other team in the CIS could dream of facing. However, he continued to stoically watch from his usual seat, his very presence serving as a reminder of the legacy that was ours to protect. His determination reminded us that we must continue to “soldier on” for all those that had come before us and all those who would come after.

In my second season at RMC I had the great privilege of travelling to the United States Military Academy at West Point to play in the first game of the renewed historic hockey series. As any RMC player will tell you, there is nothing like this game. In many ways the West Point game embodies everything that Major McLeod stood for, both on and off the ice. The West Point game is about far more than hockey; it is about brotherhood, fraternity, respect, and above all, a passion for competition on the ice. These are the very values that the Major spent years instilling in the RMC hockey program. The night before the game the team attended a dinner hosted by BGen Eric Tremblay with many VIPs in attendance. Major McLeod stood to speak at the end of the dinner, his voice trembling with the emotion of the moment. He didn’t speak for long, but when he spoke the room hung on his every word. He reminded us of the gravity of the West Point game, his own experience clearly permeating his reflections. He reminded us of all that was bigger than ourselves, of the love for the game, for the man beside us and for our country that we must constantly embody. Indeed, he made it clear that this was an ethos that we were entrusted to protect, to safeguard for those young men who would follow in our footsteps in the seasons to come. Much of his sentiment may well have been lost on some players; however, I like to think that the Major’s words that night affected every Paladin in the room in some way. As an aspiring young officer and an athlete I knew I was fortunate to be at RMC, but I don’t think I truly understood the weight that the Major’s words carried. Now, in my final season at RMC, I realize and truly appreciate the passion that Major McLeod demonstrated every single day. His love for the game, for decades and decades after he was finished playing, is indicative of what we all owe this great sport that has given us all so much. It is my sincere hope that the younger Paladins players, many of whom never had the pleasure of meeting the Major, will one day come to understand this too.

The game transcends us all, but in the life of one great man we can see this transcendence embodied and reflected in his humble smile, his contagious laugh and his constant support. His life serves as a reminder to every hockey player, both at RMC and beyond, that the values we learn in this game during the pond hockey of our youth can serve as a guiding compass for the rest of our lives. Although Major McLeod will not be there to see his Paladins take on the Army Black Knights next weekend rest assured that we will hit the ice as he would have wanted us to, full of passion and proud to contest such a unique and historic game. For some of us it will be our last time facing off against West Point, but as Danny told us that night three years ago, the game will live on in our hearts and we will continue to stand in fraternity with every Paladin that takes the ice in the coming seasons. His is a legacy that we, as RMC hockey players, are fortunate to safeguard and truly privileged to uphold every time we take the ice. It is in the spirit of this ethos that I can say, with full confidence, that when we hit the ice next weekend Major McLeod will be rooting for us from on high, as he always was.

26219 Officer Cadet Colin Cook Assistant Captain, RMC Men’s Hockey

Please feel free to contact the author: [email protected]

One Comment

  • 7643 Larry Cassie

    January 21, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Colin,
    Just read your fantastic tribute to Major McLeod. Thanks for such a superbly written insight into his legacy; you have managed to put into words how much this one man has given to so many! And you have so vividly expressed the essence of the RMC/West Point game…as alumnae we will be there to support our team, from the bleachers and from high above, as the Paladins take to the ice “full of passion and proud to contest such a unique and historic game”. Enjoy every moment!
    Larry Cassie
    7643