Bear was a man of many talents, many interests and many loves. Those fortunate to have spent any time with Bear would surely be the wiser and more worldly for he was a most willing dispenser of his accumulated knowledge for all those interests he possessed. I know I will never be able to look at the ripples in the sand on a beach at low tide without thinking of Bear, or driving along the highways between Sydney and Newcastle and not marvel at the stratification of the rocks without thinking of Bear, or listening to a Stan Rodgers song without thinking of Bear, or watching the sunset with a glass of red wine without thinking of Bear. We have learned and shared so much from this giant of a man.
But I want to talk to you about the fire that burned deep down in his soul, the one true passion in his life, his raison d’être other than his family – HOCKEY.
For Bear, hockey is where all his loves came to live in one place and represented the sum of all he did. Hockey was the bedrock of his being, where the melodic rhythm of life and movement could best be practiced and displayed, where teaching found it’s most eager and willing students, and where everyone became a member of one big, growing family – the hockey family, where he was the grandfather to all.
In Bear’s hockey universe there were four distinct quadrants: There was Bear the Hockey Player, Bear the Administrator, Bear the Fan, and Bear the Coach.
Bear the hockey player was the everyday man, the guy who played because he loved the competition and for the only reason that really counts – it was fun. He understood that hockey was a game and that it allowed us to maintain the childish wonder that playing games provided. Being the academic, though, allowed him to see beyond fun and games. He knew that hockey, like all games, was a metaphor for life. If you worked hard, did your best, strived to improve, supported your teammates, and laughed at your own foibles the game was infinitely more fun and enjoyable and would allow you to grow to be a better individual. He did his worldly best to impart these truths onto all with whom he came into contact as a player.
The list of players with whom he played with, or against, was extensive. There was the members of the Melbourne Nite Owls, his first Australian team, and all his contemporaries in Melbourne. The Chiefs, a team in our local Senior C competition and all those who played in the competition, and his beloved Canberra Senators with whom he played for 15 odd years and travelled the country playing in old-timer hockey tournaments. Watching Bear in a tournament was a marvel, not necessarily for his hockey skills but in the way he greeted people and how they greeted him. He literally knew everyone in the room and had everyone’s contact details on his phone. All of these players, many whom are with us today, are better people for having known him. Bear, we all thank you for your sense of fair play, concern for the well-being of others, and your undying enthusiasm that wound its tentacles through all of us. I know our Senator’s change room is not the same without your positivity, kindheartedness and moderating voice. I know Bear, in his humble way, would turn the tables and instead thank you for your camaraderie, friendship and the opportunity to be involved with each and every one of you.
Bear was never someone who could sit idly by when something needed to be done. He embodied the ideal of when you want something done right ask a busy person to do it.
He didn’t complain when things weren’t going according to plan or how it was hoped things should turn out. No, he put up his hand and volunteered to lead from the front to make positive change. This was Bear the Administrator. He served as President of Ice Hockey ACT on several occasions, during which time HE rewrote the organization’s constitution, he served as Coaching Director, he was a long-time presenter at coaching certification seminars, Director Of Women’s Programing, Director of the Australian Tier 2 Women’s Ice Hockey League Eastern Division, and he served as Chef de Mission on several Ice Hockey Australia World Championship teams. He was a valued voice on hockey matters across the country whose opinion was eagerly sought out. He intimated to me that he could see himself serving as President of Ice Hockey Australia as he felt he had much to give for the development of the sport across the country. I have no doubt we would all have benefitted from his guidance if he had the opportunity to be in the role.
Bear was probably the epitome of the hockey fan in the city. He attended games played by players of all ages and skill levels. He was at the rink to watch the kids so they would be supported, he watched young men who believed they were modern day warriors because he loved their hunger for the game, he watched the women because they were the new kids on the block whose unbridled passion was an inspiration to him, he watched the Knights/Brave because they were the best in the city, and he watched his kids because they were – his kids, his pride and joy. After work hours Bear was always at the rink because he loved hockey, all forms of hockey, and as a result hockey loved Bear.
In Bear’s hockey universe, it is in the last quadrant where his influence has been most felt and appreciated, and missed – Bear the Coach. After his death I put a wallpaper on my computer screen that has Bear as a coach. In that picture Bear is in the middle of a group of players. His arms are spread wide emphasizing an important point – no doubt saying “Bend your knees”, there is a distinct twinkle in his eye, there is an unmistakable smile on his lips, and the players are captivated by his larger than life presence and passion. This is the picture that is etched in my mind of Bear. The passion. The booming voice. The beard. The coach.
Like all of us here, I had a deep and personal connection to Bear. Our friendship grew out of a mutual admiration for each other because of shared values and love of the game of hockey. It was through coaching, though, that our friendship matured and deepened, and over the years it seemed like we were always coaching together – two peas in a pod. We would share almost daily telephone conversations. He would greet me with his familiar “Hello Coach” or “Hello young guy” or “What’s up, eh?” He always had a way to make me smile. Our conversations were the conversations shared by all good friends but ultimately it always ended up as a way to discuss hockey and coaching. He was always looking for ways to improve as a coach and to improve the lives of those for whom he had the responsibility to coach. Such was the nature of our relationship and it was one I cherished.
For the majority of the hockey people here today your connection may not be as personal as the connection Bear and I shared but I am sure it was none-the-less as deep, for Bear touched us all in that way that only truly exceptional beings can reach. Because Bear coached so many of you at some stage in your hockey careers you have also been able to experience the warmth and humanity he emanated that endeared him to all.
Bear has coached at all levels: PeeWees; Bantams; Midgets; local development learn-to-play for youth, seniors and women; national PeeWee, Bantam and Midget development camps; state representative teams from bantam aged to senior men including the old Canberra Knights. He mentored countless coaches even if he wasn’t an official coach. Over the last years of his life he took on a new responsibility, one that he absolutely loved, helping to grow the nascent women’s hockey program by coaching at the club and representative level as well as the national level with the Canberra Pirates. He has truly touched everyone from all ages and gender. One would be hard pressed to find a hockey player in Canberra who hasn’t had Bear as a coach at some point in their career. And Bear’s coaching was not confined to the bench. I have heard countless tales from players who said that Bear was always helping them with positioning and technical hints to improve their game all while he was PLAYING AGAINST them. Once a teacher and coach, always a teacher and coach.
To understand Bear’s influence as a coach is not to know that he coached everyone. It was what and how he coached. For Bear a coach took on the incredible responsibility for maintaining the well-being of a group of young (and some not so young) men and women. This responsibility meant that a coach must always have the best interest of the group, and not an individual, at the heart of all that is done. He taught that success could only come through hard work, commitment and dedication to the task. Respect for each other and the game was always the highest principle to maintain. Treat everyone as you would want to be treated yourself. It is better to emphasis the good and find the way to improve as opposed to criticizing the bad and belittling the player for mistakes. At the end of the day hockey is a game and the only reason to play games was to have fun. Bear understood this probably better than anyone I know. Bear, I believe this is not just your coaching legacy but your hockey legacy.
As we have this final gathering to celebrate your life and your contributions to other’s lives, I salute you with the words that brought so much happiness to you and those you touched.
“HOCKEY HOCKEY HOCKEY It’s a great day to play hockey, eh!”
By Donald MacDonald
Ice Hockey ACT with the blessing of the McPhail family, Maria, Christina, Sean, Chris and Joey will be introducing a new annual association award in Bear’s honor this year.
The Bear McPhail Award will be awarded to a player, coach or volunteer who exemplifies the true meaning of sportsmanship, dedication and a love of the game of Ice Hockey.