By SEAN ROONEY on April 13, 2019.
No matter what Jack Shupe did, hockey always came back for him.
And he was always there for hockey.
The legendary first coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers died of an apparent heart attack Wednesday at the age of 89. He leaves a legacy of friends, family and former players who remembered him fondly.
“Jack was kind of a player’s coach, one of those guys who let the players grow on their own and give the guidance that was needed,” said Gary Benson, who played under Shupe from 1975 to 1977. “A lot of his talent was being able to pick a group of players that could gel, get the few stars he needed to be able to develop a winning team. He had a really good eye for talent.”
The native of Weyburn, Sask. got his start coaching his hometown Red Wings in the early ’60s, then spent a season in Regina before the Tigers came calling. The newly minted team in the Western Canadian Hockey League wasted little time, winning the league title in 1973 with such names as Tom Lysiak and Lanny McDonald.
“He was a really nice man, probably a better manager than a coach but his ability to pick talent was incredible,” said Brian Hill, who played for the Tigers for three seasons including Shupe’s last as coach tin Medicine Hat, 1976-77. “If it wasn’t for Jack, all of us, where would we be? Jack was the whole reason.”
Shupe coached the WHL’s Victoria Cougars for five seasons, earning another trip to the Memorial Cup tournament in 1981. He amassed 466 wins between the two clubs – 10th-most in WHL coaching history. His 228 wins in Medicine Hat puts him third in franchise history behind only Willie Desjardins and current coach Shaun Clouston.
His son Jerry remembers growing up in the Gas City and spending time at the rink.
“Going to a Tigers game was always the place to be,” he said. “People used to dress up and it was quite a deal back then.
“He was pretty much the same, big family guy. His players always meant a lot.”
But he was still tough on them at times. Hill can still picture Shupe, cigarette in hand, pacing the dressing room floor, yelling up a storm during intermissions.
“Viscount cigarettes. All-white cigarette, he’d be red as hell in the face, still smoking those damn cigarettes but he did finally quit,” said Hill.
Even after he left the Cougars in 1982, hockey was still a huge part of Jack’s life. He coached junior teams in Langley, B.C. and Lloydminster, then wound up back in Medicine Hat to be the team’s general manager for a couple seasons in the early ’90s.
“It always seemed he’d get away from it, but was always drawn back into it,” said Jerry Shupe, noting his dad even coached a senior team in Unity at one point.
Jack and wife Lila had four children; Jerry, Judy, Jill and Jane. Lila died two years ago. The family is inviting the public to Jack’s memorial service May 4, 11 a.m. at Saamis Memorial Funeral Chapel.
The Tigers did not respond to a request for comment Friday, nor did they acknowledge their first coach’s death publicly. Shupe, who still lived in Medicine Hat, had filed a lawsuit against the club in 1992 after being fired.
He was brought back on the ice a few years ago for the team’s farewell to the Medicine Hat Arena and dropped the ceremonial first puck at Canalta Centre in 2015.
He was asked then how the game was different from his heydey.
“Quite a bit different, I’ll tell you,” said Shupe. “When you get to my age, you get away from it for so long and it’s kind of hard to imagine, kids are so quick now, things have changed so much.”
He reconnected with many former players in recent years, routinely having coffee with Hill and even seeing McDonald one night at The Keg when Lanny was in town for Sportsnet’s Hometown Hockey weekend in 2017.
“What we had was we would get together, Jack was always interested in what else you were doing in life,” said Benson. “We’d be talking about goofy things that happened, some of the intricacies that players had.
“We were out with Jack just before Christmas. He was struggling a little bit but he was in good spirits.”
“He didn’t go to a lot (of games), but he kept track of it though,” added Hill. “He knew what was going on. He watched the players that he coached, he’d be cheering them.
“He’ll be dearly missed.”
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