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A Lifetime Spent in Hockey: Peter McNab Story

Peter McNab Story

In this edition of articles looking at former Boston Bruins players, we pay homage to the late Peter McNab. On November 6, the hockey world mourned as McNab passed away at 70 following a battle with cancer. Between his playing career and the broadcasting career that followed, McNab dedicated most of his life to hockey. Take a look at the ride from start to finish McNab’s path to the NHL, his best playing years with the Bruins and everything after.

The Peter McNab Story: A Lifetime Spent in Hockey

Early Days

The Peter McNab story begins when he was born May 8, 1952, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He inherited a history of hockey bloodlines as his father, Max McNab, won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1950. At 14, McNab, a Canadian born American moved to the United States, where his father was the coach of the Western Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls.

University of Denver

McNab played center on the ice. However, he entered the University of Denver while playing on a baseball scholarship. As fate would have, McNab made the Denver Pioneers hockey team while attending the school. In his rookie season with the Pioneers, the 6-foot-3-inch centre scored 19 goals and 14 assists for 33 points in 28 games.

In his sophomore season, McNab nearly doubled his production as he scored 27 goals and added 38 assists for 65 points in 38 games.

During his final season with the Pioneers, McNab helped the team finish as NCAA National Runners-up. He also received all WCHA honours as he led the Pioneers, scoring 32 goals and 40 assists for 72 points. At the culmination of his three seasons with the Pioneers, McNab finished with 170 points, currently ranking him 10th all-time for the team.

NHL Draft, Cincinnati Swords, and the Buffalo Sabres

McNab was drafted 85th overall in the 1972 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Making his professional hockey debut in the 1973-43 season, McNab split time with the Cincinnati Swords in the AHL and the Buffalo Sabres. In 49 games with Cincinnati, he scored 34 goals and 39 assists for 73 points. In his first season, he appeared in just 22 games for the Sabres, scoring three goals and six assists for 9 points.

After splitting that first pro season between the AHL and NHL, McNab never looked back, becoming a full-time NHL player for the remainder of his career. In the 1974-75 season, McNab played in the Stanley Cup Finals. However, the Buffalo Sabres lost to the Philadelphia Flyers.

With each season spent in Buffalo, McNab consistently increased his offensive production. After parts of three seasons with the Sabres, McNab totalled 108 points with 49 goals and 59 assists in 154 games played.

Boston Bruins

Following the 1975-76 season, the Buffalo Sabres traded McNab to the Bruins in exchange for Andre Savard. The trade benefitted the Bruins as McNab went on to play the best hockey of his career in Boston.

While in Boston, McNab posted seven consecutive seasons with at least 70 points. In his first season with the Bruins, McNab set career highs for total points and assists. Through 80 games, the Bruins center scored 38 goals and added 48 assists for 86 points.

His second season in Boston saw McNab score a career-high 41 goals for the Bruins. He finished the season with 80 points. McNab played in one NHL All-Star game during his tenure with Boston. The 6’3 center was the model of consistency for the Bruins, and he helped Boston make the playoffs in each of his seasons spent with the club.

Over eight seasons wearing the spoked-B, McNab totaled 263 goals and 324 assists for 587 points in 595 games.

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McNab was also involved in many memorable moments in the Bruins’ history.

Bruins Jump the Glass in New York

Things got out of hand on December 23, 1979, at the end of the 3rd period against the New York Rangers. The Bruins won the game 4-3. However, during the final seconds, a scrum broke loose involving Bruins tough guy Stan Jonathon. During the scrum, a Rangers fan ran down, reaching over the glass and struck Jonathon with a game program resulting in a cut to his face. Terry O’Reilly thought the fan had punched the Bruins player and promptly climbed over the glass and into the stands. McNab followed right behind O’Reilly, and chaos ensued.

In all, 18 Bruins climbed over the glass during the altercation. O’Reilly and McNab were each handed eight-game suspensions. The Rangers fan, John Kaptain, who started the brawl, was sentenced to six months in jail.

Too Many Men

The 1979 playoff series against rival Montreal Canadiens was all but ended by a “Too Many Men” penalty. In the final minutes of the 3rd period, with Boston holding onto a 4-3 lead, the Bruins were assessed the bench minor. What happened next is history as the Canadiens would score the tying goal and win the game in overtime.

“The toughest part was when it was over, we knew it was over,” McNab says. “By not winning that game, and not winning the Cup, it didn’t allow us to be as close to each other as the Bruins teams just before us, which had won two Cups (in 1970 and ’72). I’m honoured to have played with these men. We were friends then, and we remain friends. Hockey friends. We didn’t have a chance to be the kind of friends that comes from winning the Cup together.” McNab said about the Game 7 loss to Montreal.

Trade to Vancouver

On February 3, 1984, Boston traded McNab to the Vancouver Canucks for forward Jim Nill. “With the good showing made by young centers Doug Kostynski and Greg Johnston, we were able to part with a player such as McNab to pick up a player of Nill’s style,” said Boston general manager Harry Sinden.

McNab played parts of two seasons in Vancouver as his scoring touch began to tail off. In 89 games with the Canucks, McNab scored 24 goals and added 31 assists.

Finishing his Playing Career in New Jersey

McNab played the final two seasons of his career with the New Jersey Devils. He suited up for 117 games for the Devils, scoring 27 goals and 36 assists for 63 points.

Following the 1986-87 season, after 14 seasons in the NHL, McNab decided it was time to hang up the skates. He finished his career with 363 goals and 450 assists for 813 points in 955 games.

In 2021 McNab was inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame; his 813 points rank 21st overall among players of US Nationality.

Straight to the Broadcast Booth

After deciding to retire as a player the Peter McNab story was not done as he wasted no time finding a new job within the hockey world. He started broadcasting as a colour commentator for the New Jersey Devils beginning in the 1987-88 season. McNab worked in the Devils booth for eight seasons before moving to the Colorado Avalanche. He worked with the Avalanche doing colour commentary from their inaugural season until this season. McNab battled through his cancer diagnosis and continued to work through chemotherapy treatments. He even called games to start this season in October until his health declined. On November 6, it was announced that Peter McNab had passed away at 70.

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