“We knew he was on the decline,” McKie said, putting the situation into sobering perspective. “It just happened to be late in the season going into the playoffs.”
“In a way I'm glad that he finally is gone now, because I didn't want to see him like that anymore. He wouldn't want that.”
It is said that lightning never strikes the same place twice, but McKie’s passing came less than 24 hours after Patsy J. Murphy, Jr., the father of Coach McKie’s fiancée, Debbie Manobianco, also passed away from Alzheimer’s. Both McKie and Manobianco made visits to their respective father’s on their final day of life.
Dealing with the impact of both losses, McKie struggled to keep his composure during the first-round game against Auburn, letting his assistant coaches, John Parks and Shaun Norfolk, manage the benches.
“That was definitely the toughest week,” McKie said. “I was pretty quiet most of the night. It was on my mind throughout the game.”
But McKie resolved not to let his inner demons afflict his players.
“I just know that my dad's gone and I don't bring that into the team,” he said. “They're young and here to play hockey, that's what our focus is - at least in the way I coach. I don't let that be a distraction.”
Scott Firman, the team’s lone senior captain, does not take the situation lightly.
“It wasn't locker room talk, but we all certainly had it in our heads,” Firman said. “I made it a point to mention it in the huddle once or twice a game that we're playing for coach because he loves the sport and he works really hard. Coach had a rough patch, and I think we've helped him out a little bit.”
The late-season success has made it easier for McKie, a hockey lifer, to manage his emotions. That strength, in turn, has made an impact on the team.