Alex McKay

John Cavallin was often called the Grand Old Man of Box Lacrosse for, prior to his death in 2002, he had spent over 70 years involved in the game as a player, coach, manager and executive.

No question about it: John played with, against, or viewed the greatest players in the game. The often asked question of John was who was the best.

“0h, there were so many great players,” John would reply, “but I’ll tell you this — the best defenseman ever was Alex MacKay.”

High praise, indeed, for a quiet, unassuming ex-fireman who went from pickup games on an East Vancouver school playgrounds to greatness in both soccer and lacrosse.

“John Cavallin was my mentor,” MacKay reflected recently. “He was still playing when I broke into senior lacrosse in 1948 and he kind of took me under his wing. Later, he was my coach.

“John was more influential on my career than any other individual.”

That lacrosse career produced one trip to the Minto Cup championships and five to the Mann Cup finals, three as a player and two as a coach.

Oh, yes, Cavallin was also responsible for a nickname that was thrust upon MacKay. John was only one of two players to wear a helmet in those early days of box lacrosse and, when he retired, he gave his helmet and face mask to MacKay to protect a broken cheekbone.

Thereafter, Alex MacKay became known as “Bucket-head.”

Born in Vancouver on September 11, 1928, Alex spent all of his free hours during those Depression Years playing pickup soccer and baseball games on the Lord Nelson School grounds. Then, one day, some his chums showed up with lacrosse sticks; Alex was hooked.

“I began playing soccer for the Hastings Bluebirds and many of my teammates also played for the Bluebirds lacrosse teams,” said MacKay. “Lacrosse was just the thing to do.”

The “thing to do” carried Alex and his Bluebirds team to the Minto Cup finals in 1947; however, a powerful St. Catharines squad, led by future Hall-of-Famer Harry Wipper, captured the title.

The following year, Alex joined the Vancouver Burrards, which went on to a Mann Cup victory in 1949 and a tough, seven-game loss in 1951.

MacKay set lacrosse aside between 1956 and 1959 to concentrate on his all-star soccer career with Vancouver Firefighters in the winter Mainland League and the New Westminster Royals in the elite B.C. summer league.

But Alex was lured back to the Vancouver lacrosse club in 1960 for two seasons as a player and three more as the coach. The successful reunion led to Mann Cup victories in 1961, 1963 and 1964.

Alex also enjoyed Canadian championship victories in soccer with Vancouver City in 1950 and New Westminster Royals in 1957. In addition, he was a member of the B.C. Selects that played against Moscow Lockomotiv in 1956 and Hearts of Midlothian and Admira Wein (Austria) in 1957.

Another highlight of his lacrosse career was taking part in an exhibition match before the future Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1951.

A Vancouver fireman between 1951 and 1987, Alex survived several narrow escapes but the most frightening, he recalled, was not job or sports related.

In 1962, Alex had retrieved his sedated dog from a veterinary clinic and was placing him in the back seat of his car when five prisoners escaped from a paddy-wagon and attempted to hijack his vehicle. With the help of a passerby, Alex battled the prisoners, capturing two of them and frightening off the other three. Only after turning over the prisoners to police did he learn one of them was contract killer Murray Boyd.

“It was not a pleasant experience,” he understated. “I wouldn’t want to do that again.”

MacKay played a total of 272 games in his senior lacrosse career that involved ten full seasons over a 14-year span, registering 116 goals and 122 assists.

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