Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The Man In The Ice

Illustration for article titled The Man In The Ice

Nine years ago, Chris Jones wrote this keeper for Esquire:

Even the landscape has changed in the meantime. Not the biggest things—Saskatoon still rises out of the flats, and a green river still runs through it, and the prairie sky still swallows up the land in the same big hopeful blue. But since Duncan MacPherson went away, the leaves have turned color fourteen times. And the grain elevators that sat on the horizon have been toppled one by one, landmarks gone to tumble and felled like trees.

There's also a statue downtown that he wouldn't recognize, at the corner of First Avenue and Twentieth Street, across from Sears and down from Joe's Lunch. It's a bronze of the badlands hero Gordie Howe, capturing him in his Motor City prime: helmetless, elbows up, and carrying a straight-bladed stick, old school. It was dedicated in 1993, according to the accompanying plaque, "for his outstanding contribution to the sport of hockey." Here in Saskatchewan, when winter blows in and there isn't much light to go by, that's reason enough for a vanishing man to be remembered.

Fewer people remember that MacPherson played hockey the way Howe played hockey, mostly in the corners and in front of the net, elbows up, and carrying a straight-bladed stick. He'd played it tough enough to lose his front teeth and well enough for the New York Islanders to pick him in the first round of the 1984 NHL draft. (He never made it to the big club.) Then, in 1989, he disappeared while traveling in Europe and never made it home.

It took him until last summer to surface. Even the landscape had changed in the meantime. But while the leaves had continued turning and Gordie Howe made the long, slow transition from man to monument, Duncan MacPherson had achieved the impossible. He'd remained forever what he was.

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