In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports reporter Mark Monroe talked with former Toledo Goaldigger Jim McCabe, who led the organization to two Turner Cup championships in the 1970s. McCabe played for the Goaldiggers for six years and never scored fewer than 20 goals a season.
Jim McCabe played on one of Toledo's most popular professional hockey teams that, he says, featured "a bunch of characters with a lot of character."
McCabe was a goal scorer and playmaker during an era when brawls were commonplace.
McCabe never scored fewer than 55 points a season and scored a career-best 40 goals in 1978-79. The 6-0, 180-pound center also never had more than 27 penalty minutes per season in six seasons for the Goaldiggers.
He centered a line with legendary U.S. Olympian Mike Eruzione. He also played alongside fan favorites Doug Mahood, Paul Tantardini, Ian MacPhee and Juri Kudrasovs.
McCabe literally grew up on outdoor ice in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He played Junior A hockey and then was selected by the NHL's California Seals in the eighth round of the 1974 draft.
He was sent to the Goaldiggers as a 20-year-old rookie professional in 1974 and immediately helped the team win an International Hockey League title. It was the first of two Turner Cup championships.
McCabe met his wife, Bette Jo, in Toledo in 1975 and married her the next year. The couple has two children, son Jay, 26, and daughter Katie, 24.
After he retired from hockey in 1980, the McCabes settled back in Sault Ste. Marie. They moved back to the Toledo area nine years ago and now live in Blissfield, Mich.
Jay McCabe, a right winger, earned a full scholarship to Western Michigan. Jay played one season of pro hockey and is now a claims processor for a car company. Katie McCabe is an actuary.
Jim McCabe, 51, has been with Toledo-based Shrader Tire & Oil for 14 years and is now a vice president in the oil division. He has served as a color commentator on BCSN for Storm games.
"WE LIVED ON the Canadian side of the [Upper] Peninsula where there was always a lot of snow and ice. You were considered unusual if you did not play hockey in the 'Sault.' All the best athletes played hockey.
"I remember crawling on the ice when I was 2 years old on the outdoor ice. They put skates on us before we could stand up. We'd play from November until March. There would be music playing and there'd be a bunch of lights.
"We'd play on ponds and ditches. There was no coaching. Pickup hockey was the most fun I ever had playing hockey."
"I WAS SO AFRAID when I first came to Toledo. I came from this small town in Canada. I couldn't believe the traffic. I remember all the people hanging out downtown. It was scary. I almost turned around and went home.
"That first year was our miracle year. I met all of them that first year - Mahood, Tantardini, MacPhee, Kudrasovs. We barely squeaked into the playoffs. We pulled three upsets and we won the [Turner] Cup in 1975. I was 20-years-old and I could not believe how the town treated us like NHLers. I had 80 points that season. We were a tough team. I was more of a play-maker and goal scorer than a fighter. They were the fighters. My main goal was to score goals."
"BACK THEN YOU always had those big brawls erupting. Everyone would grab someone. The benches would empty. It's easy to see how quickly those fights escalated. Nowadays they send the players to their respective benches. There are stiff penalties involved.
"One major difference between then and now is that guys respected each other. There were no sticks to the head, ever. Now guys come out of college hockey where they wear [caged] helmets and they don't respect each other and what they do with their sticks.
"Fighting took care of a lot of that business. Two guys would have a good scrap and it was an accepted part of game. I grew up that way. I did not think any thing of getting into fights in bantam hockey."
"WHEN I BROKE into the IHL I knew half the guys in the league. Probably 99 percent were from Canada. It was like a small family. Now there are lot of players from Europe. The skill level has escalated, but now there is a lack of respect. The kids are bigger and faster and their skills are unreal.
"The biggest change from my day and now is the goaltending. It is so much better. Back in my day we'd put the least athletic kid in net. They've turned it into a science."
"I THINK THE NHL will come back very strong. I think real hockey fans are really anxious. Hockey fans are not bitter like baseball fans were about it. Hockey fans are humble people. A lot of the players come from small towns in Canada. They don't have the arrogance that athletes have in other sports.
"I like [the NHL rule changes] overall. I like the shootout. It's great for the fans. I like it in the regular season but I'm glad they won't have it in the playoffs. There is nothing better than overtime hockey in the playoffs. Every rush and pass could lead to a winning goal or a great play or save.
"I also like the center line coming out. It will open the flow with all these bigger and stronger players.
"THE PLAYER I most remember is Mike Eruzione. He was my winger for half a season [1978-79]. We got to be real good friends. He helped paint my house. He's a great guy and he deserved everything he got. He was very patriotic. I remember him holding his hand on his heart during the National Anthem. Some of us Canadians made fun of him."
"THE GOAL I remember the most was one that did not count. It was in the last 40 seconds in a playoff game against Fort Wayne. I scored the tying goal but it was disallowed. The referee thought I directed it in with my skate. But I clearly didn't. A riot ensued. The fans threw chairs and beer cans on the ice."
"TOLEDO REALLY NEEDS a new hockey arena. Just check out what the Hens have done the last few years. It would open the game up to a much larger clientele. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about the possibility of losing the Sports Arena. I still remember the first time I walked in there and I couldn't believe we were going to play on that small ice surface."
"THE FANS STILL treat me like a celebrity. I love when they pull me aside and ask me about this play or something that happened with Eruzione. I enjoy reliving those days. Those were our glory days. The fans and ours. We shared them."
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