No character like McVie
By Marc Katz
I know, there were iconic entertainment groups that played early in their careers at Hara Arena, and plenty of rodeos and truck pulls and politicians, as well.
But the also iconic complex that will close with a comic book show this week will always be known to me for hockey.
You and Jim Bucher can talk all you want about your youth and the great shows that went on there, but it was hockey that became the core of the operation, and I was never as young as Bucher, anyway.
While the names of Pat Rupp and Sid Garant and Dave Forbes and Stan Jonathan and General Manager Lefty McFadden flash through my head, it would be tough to leave that place to either some future developer or just a patch of weeds without mentioning Tom McVie.
When McVie was first called up to coach the floundering NHL Washington Capitals in the middle of the 1975-76 season, the team was awful but the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, was beautiful.
It was built so every patron had a perfect view from his or her seat. It was the first American sporting facility with Sky (now called “luxury”) Boxes. It was the first facility that had a four-sided scoreboard and video screen hanging from the ceiling above mid-ice.
McVie liked Hara Arena more.
“The thing was, I enjoyed the Wamplers’ arena,” says McVie, 81, who made reference to the late Harold and Ralph Wampler, who built and owned the place.
The family is letting go now due to a maze of tax issues it would take years to explain, but if you wanted to go out and see a hockey game there, I’m sure Rue and Karen Wampler, who are seeing the complex through its complex end, could fire up the generators and have an acceptable sheet of ice down in less than a day.
McVie would love to coach that game, even though he has slowed his activity to being a scout for the Boston Bruins.
We had a telephone conversation the other day, and he acted as if coaching at Hara Arena was better than coaching in Washington.
“We had no practice facility in Washington,” McVie says. “Not one. We had some place out in Virginia somewhere we’d go.
“At the Capital Centre, they had 400 events in a year, and closed the place down in August. We never practiced there, ever. Maybe the day of a game. At Hara, we had two sheets of ice [attached Winterland held the other]. A nice dressing room.”
He also had a team that wasn’t very good, but after a very short time the coach of the Gems was sending prospects to both the Washington Capitals and Bruins, including Jonathan, Jim Pettie, Tony White, Gord Lane, and Larry Bolonchuk.
When he wasn’t coaching, McVie was working out. He had spent a long time in the upper levels of the minor leagues, never making it to the NHL as a player, but coming tantalizingly close.
He often spent mornings in the summer running along the outer edges of Hara’s vast parking lot.
“Sometimes, it would be 100 degrees, and I’d be running through these grapes – the Wampler’s had all these grape vines,” McVie says. “They were in the wine business well before anyone else. I’d get the sweet smell of the wine.”
He walked into a lot of rinks like Hara and probably didn’t run into too many owners like the Wamplers. They worked as hard at what they did as McVie did at coaching.
“One time, they had to take a big load of wire off a truck,” McVie says. “I’m just standing there and this guy says to Harold Wampler, ‘Can you drive that fork lift?’ He says, ‘Yeah.’
“‘You want to haul this thing off with that fork lift?’ “He says, ‘Yep.’”
“He goes up, picks it up, and sets it down. The guy says, ‘You’re a pretty good driver, there. Is Harold Wampler around?’”
“He says, ‘Who the heck you think you’re talking to?’”
“Harold would be driving the Zamboni. He’d be up in the stands sweeping the seats. I just loved it. It was just fantastic. I have great, great memories about that.”
McVie lives in Washington state, near where he played most of his career.
He finally made it to the NHL, as a coach, but always with bad teams.
He doesn’t regret being called to the majors from Dayton, but he really liked Dayton. “I was there, I was happy, and I was developing players,” he says.
I remember when he was called up and the Dayton Daily News sent me to Washington to do a story. McVie picked me up at my hotel—on game day.
After the game [a loss, of course], there were 20 or so reporters crowded around McVie. I stood in the back so as not to get in the way.
I could tell he was looking for me.
“Hey, Marco,” he says in his gravelly voice, “it’s a lot different than in Dayton, where it was just you and me…and Jim Pettie in the whirlpool.”
Those other reporters seemed confused, but not me. The Hara whirlpool was stationed in the coach’s office at the time.
Sure, like McVie, I’ve been to nicer rinks since. But like Hara’s jingle, there was no place like Hara, and no character like McVie.
The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at katzcopsnsports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@daytoncitypaper.com.