Canada

Former NHLer Billy MacMillan remembered as humble, well-respected friend

P.E.I.’s Billy MacMillan played alongside some of the greatest hockey players in the world during his 446 games in the NHL, but you’d have to pry the stories out of him.

He won the Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders in 1980, but he’d never brag about it.

When he worked at the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission after his retirement, he was so well respected they named an employee award after him, but he never wanted to take the credit.

MacMillan, who is being remembered as a humble man who was deeply respected by those who knew him, died overnight Friday at the age of 80. 

“Strong, strong character man,” said Jamie MacLeod, who grew up idolizing MacMillan as a hockey player and later became colleagues with him at the liquor commission. He was one a group of friends that would meet Fridays at The Alley in Charlottetown.

Billy MacMillan
Billy MacMillan played 446 games in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders. He had a career-high 22 goals with the Leafs in 1970-71. (UPEI)

“Strong morals. Unquestionable work ethic, loyalty. Humble. Shy,” MacLeod said.

“If you could meet the man, you would have no idea unless you knew ahead because he wouldn’t tell you of the many accomplishments that he did in his career, not just as a hockey player but as a dad, as a brother.”

MacLeod remembered watching MacMillan play for St. Dunstan’s University, which later became UPEI, in the 1960s. He also followed his playing and coaching career in the NHL. 

While the other kids would play pond hockey and pretend to be Gordie Howe or Bobby Orr, MacLeod would always want to be Billy MacMillan.

So it was a thrill for MacLeod, who was 11 years younger, to become friends with MacMillan when they began working together at the liquor commission in 2005.

If you could meet the man, you would have no idea unless you knew ahead because he wouldn’t tell you of the many accomplishments that he did in his career, not just as a hockey player but as a dad, as a brother.— Jamie MacLeod

“The number of employees that work for Billy, that because of his mentorship, that were eventually elevated to more senior positions, including store managers themselves, I think it’s a tribute to the man.”

Other tributes having been pouring in on social media from players and coaches who knew MacMillan as a player with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders — as well as Canada’s national team — and as a coach with the Islanders, Colorado Rockies and New Jersey Devils.

But to MacLeod and his buddies at The Alley, he was simply a good friend.

“We would meet on Fridays for a couple hours, solve the problems of the world, pump Billy for stories because he was so humble you had to pump stuff,” MacLeod said.

“And through that friendship, it just developed and we became a very tight, tight, tight group.”

Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.

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