"None of us were thinking about playing in the NHL, though," the oldest brother, Brian, says. "That was someplace that was in another world. No one from our area ever had done it. Not even close. Just getting an NHL tryout would make you famous forever. We were just playing for ourselves."
Most of the early, organized hockey was played on lower levels in Port Hawkesbury, a 28-mile drive. MacInnis's mother, Annie Mae, 28 years a school teacher, would drive her assorted players to their assorted games in the green family Chrysler, waiting out the time in the cold rink. The disorganized hockey was played in Port Hood. Before the rink was built, there was a pond that froze in the winter, carved out of the ground behind the MacInnis farm. There were constant games, constant activity. There was plywood in the summer. Plywood?
"There weren't any swimming pools or day camps or movie theaters or any organized activities in the summer, so you had to be creative with your time," MacInnis says. "We had a piece of plywood on the ground and a four-by-six piece of plywood against the barn as a goal. I'd just go out there with a bucket of pucks and start shooting at that piece of plywood. The problem was, I didn't hit it all that much. Every fall, my father would be out there again, putting up shingles where I'd knocked them off during the summer. It never changed. Every fall."
The shot somehow arrived. Somewhere in all of this practice it appeared. Who knows how these things happen? Even now MacInnis cannot explain why his shot is harder, faster than his brothers' shots, than anyone else's shot. It was a gift. He has heard people try to explain about the 6'2", 195-pound size of his body and the unusually short stick and the arc that he takes and...a gift. Bob Feller could throw fastballs at the side of a barn in Van Meter, Iowa, a thousand years ago. MacInnis could knock the edges off the barn in Port Hood, Nova Scotia.
By the time he was 15, he was taking the shot with him and marveling at the big-city lights (big-city lights?) of Regina, Saskatchewan, in Junior A hockey. By the time he was 18, he was taking his first slappers at a goalie in Calgary. The shot was leading the way, and he simply was following, traveling to places where no one else from his hometown had gone.
"I remember he came up, he had this big reputation from junior, this kid who was scoring goals from the red line," says Bruin backup goaltender Reggie Lemelin, a Flame when MacInnis appeared. "I had a lot of fun with him. We'd work out after practice. I'd say, 'Keep it low, or you're going to be shooting at an empty net. Understand?' He'd break the toes of my skates. I'd make a stop, and the toe would be crushed. I'd go right into the dressing room for another pair of skates. Uh-uh, I wasn't going to stay out there with a broken toe on my skates. Not against him."
The first gift MacInnis bought when he signed with the Flames was a satellite dish for his mother and father. It was one of the first satellite dishes in all of Port Hood. The house became a winter gathering place for the increasingly large family—MacInnis now has 21 nieces and nephews, and his wife, Jackie, is pregnant with their first child—and on the TV there were some sights to see. The highlight was the Flames' Stanley Cup championship in 1989. All of Port Hood celebrated. MacInnis was selected as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.
"I remember I didn't know what to buy when I signed, but I think now that I made the perfect choice," he says. "My mom passed away last summer. Cancer. All eight of us and our father were there at the hospital. I think of her watching those games on that television in the winter of Port Hood. I think of her driving all of us to that arena, the way she loved hockey. She wouldn't have liked anything better, just watching those games."
He now makes a million dollars a year, working the second year of a four-year, $4 million contract signed during this sudden hockey-salary boom. He collected 103 points (28 goals, 75 assists) last year, only the fourth defenseman in history to go past 100 points. He has been injured a bit this season, missing two weeks with a separated shoulder as the Flames have struggled below the .500 mark, but he is back and firing and making other people duck. If anything, the shot has seemed even more lethal. It has sent at least three opposing skaters—Stephane Matteau of the Chicago Blackhawks, Troy Murray of the Winnipeg Jets and Mark Tinordi of the Minnesota North Stars—onto the injured list this year.
Matteau suffered a broken ankle when he was hit by a MacInnis shot. Murray's injury was more gruesome. The puck struck his shinbone and tore open a hole. "It was amazing," Jet coach John Paddock said. "The puck sort of ripped open this hole in his shinbone the size of a quarter, maybe a 50-cent piece."