A sturdy defenseman who played more than 500 games in the National Hockey League, Al MacNeil owns a place in AHL history thanks to his successes behind the bench.
MacNeil spent parts of four seasons on the blue line with the Rochester Americans from 1956-60, earning spot duty with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He later played for the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL before moving into the coaching ranks in 1968.
Returning to the Canadiens organization, MacNeil was player/coach for the AHL’s Montreal Voyageurs in 1969-70, skating in 66 games and guiding the first-year squad to a league-best 43-15-14 record. He was brought up to the parent club as an assistant coach in 1970-71 and was promoted to head coach mid-year, piloting the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship that spring.
After the Voyageurs moved to Halifax in the offseason, MacNeil, a Nova Scotia native, was appointed head coach of the AHL club. In 1971-72, he led the Vees to a 41-21-14 record and their first Calder Cup championship, earning the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the league’s outstanding coach. Nova Scotia returned to the Finals in 1973 and qualified for the playoffs again in 1974 and 1975 under MacNeil’s direction.
MacNeil’s Voyageurs posted two of the greatest back-to-back seasons in AHL history in 1975-76 and 1976-77, combining for 100 regular-season wins and capturing consecutive Calder Cups. MacNeil, who won his second Pieri Award in 1976, guided the Voyageurs to four 100-point campaigns in his seven years at the helm.
MacNeil returned to Montreal as the Canadiens’ director of player personnel and won two more Stanley Cups in 1978 and 1979 – giving him six league championships in nine seasons. He joined the Atlanta Flames as head coach in 1979-80 and was assistant general manager of Calgary’s Stanley Cup winning team in 1989.
With a 304-149-78 record in his six seasons as an AHL head coach, MacNeil owns the highest winning percentage (.646) in league history. He is one of only six coaches ever to win as many as three Calder Cups, and one of six men ever to coach championship teams in both the AHL and the NHL. Players who skated under MacNeil’s tutelage in the AHL include Hockey Hall of Fame members Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Steve Shutt and Guy Lapointe.