I have been asked many times to write some articles on former Hounds that have entertained our local fan base over the years. We have been entertained by them and have seen them mature into fine young men. They have inspired are young ones and to give them credit is only fair. My pharmacist Jake McCracken is one of those fine men, and I had a chance to chat with him. I know you will enjoy this piece.
1) What were your first memories about moving to the Soo and playing for the Greyhounds, and do you still keep in touch with your billets.
Driving to the Soo with my parents was the longest drive of my life. The long bus rides were tough. Up to that point I thought it was hard to sit still for anything longer than an hour drive. After the first year I got used to riding the bus, and I didn’t have to share a seat in my second year which made it a lot more comfortable (laughter).
That first training camp was pretty intimidating. I had been sent a summer workout plan but had Mono that summer and was still suffering when I got here. The vets had a lot of confidence and it was pretty intimidating but tryouts went pretty well. I wasn’t used to practicing on a daily basis (twice a week for Jr. B down south) so I had to learn to pace myself a little bit.
Also, Bawating was intimidating. I came from a high school with three hallways, ,and was pretty worried about getting lost. (laughter)
It’s been a year or two but I do still keep in touch with my billets. I was with Greg and Lydia Anderson for three and a half years.They were amazing and very supportive. They didn’t have children of their own so they spoiled us pretty good.They even let me rent their camp on Upper Island Lake my first summer in the Soo as a pharmacist until I could find a place to live.
2) When you were injured in your 4th year, was that a factor that you had to retire from persuing a pro hockey career? What was the injury?
When I was at Detroit’s training camp I strained my groin a bit. Nothing I hadn’t done before. I should have rested it but when I got back to the Soo I had to prove myself to our new coach, Paul Theriault. I wasn’t even allowed in the dressing room until I passed the 5K run and other fitness test. The practice before my first exhibition game that year, I slid across in the splits and felt something let go. I finished up practice but could barely get my gear off because my leg had swollen so much. It turns out I’d almost completely torn my adductor longus.
So after a month or two of physio, I was back on the ice practicing. Long story short, I came back too early and ended up tearing the same muscle again but at a different spot. I went home at Christmas (Ray Emery got the call up) and I did physio until the end of summer. I was invited back to Detroit as a free agent but had to decide between doing that and starting university. When my physiotherapist said I was as good as I was going to get, so I chose school.
I ended up playing two part seasons of varsity hockey. It was a lot of fun and a great bunch of guys, but I had to take it easy in practice, go hard in the game, and then do physio all week until the next game. It proved to me that I made the right decision.
3) Do you still keep in touch with some of the old Hounds and if so who that be?
Rob Zago was my goalie partner for a year and I still run into him a fair bit so we keep in touch. I see Vinnie Zavoral at the rink as well from time to time.Other than that I keep in touch via facebook with a bunch of guys but that’s about it.
4) Moving forward, after deciding that a pro hockey career was not in the cards, why have you chosen to remain and live in Sault Ste. Marie?
I met Meggan (my wife) while I was at Bawating. We’ve been together since my second year in the Soo. She took accounting at Laurier and graduated a year before me and was able to land a job up here. I had originally hoped to move back to my farm (Melbourne, Ontario) but after a couple of years living here we were really enjoying the life we’d made for ourselves, so it didn’t make sense to move.
5) Why did you chose to be a pharmacist and where did you study ?
I got into the University of Toronto Pharmacy program after two years at Waterloo. My billet had originally planted the idea. I knew I wanted to so something with health care but I’m not a huge fan of blood (laughter). I also liked the fact that every small farm town where I was from had a local pharmacy. There was a lot of opportunities and it seemed like a great way to be a part of a community. The pharmacists where I grew up were pretty good role models.
6) Do you have any kids, and if so are they involved in hockey?
I have 3 boys, Quinn 11, Carson 9, Kaiden 6 and a daughter who is twenty two months old. They all played hockey last year at the Peewee.This year Quinn is the only one at the Peewee but we will still find ice for the other two. Quinn loves it the most and he’s a goalie. My boys love playing the game but just for the fun of it. I’ve been fortunate enough to help coach or act as trainer for all three of them.I work a lot of weekends so I was never able to be quite as involved as I might have liked.
7) Do you play pickup hockey with some of the boys from time to time?
Yes, I just started up playing men’s league again this year after a couple of years off due to injury and time constraints. There’s a lot of good hockey players in this town and I’ve been trying to spare for a few teams to get back into it.
8) Do you attend Hound games anymore, and what do you think is the biggest difference from playing today, than when you were playing ?I make a few games a year with my boys For goalies, it’s changed a lot; you need to be big and it’s all butterfly now. When I played it was split style; I still got in trouble if I went down on a high shot. Now the equipment is designed for the butterfly style and its come a long way.
When I played there were still lots of players who weren’t that serious about fitness. It seems like that’s changed, perhaps to last loner in a bit of a faster game. I’d say there is more depth too. We had our 3rd or 4th line grinders who weren’t as skilled but were very physical and could get the crowd on it’s feet with their checking (and fights). Now even the third and fourth lines are highly skilled. We still had guys using wooden sticks!
9) With the Greyhounds success over the past 6 or 7 years, what do you think about the Hounds organization with hiring two dynamic GM’s in Kyle Dubas and Kyle Raftis, as well as coaches Sheldon Keefe and now John Dean?
Kyle (Dubas) was actually our stick boy when I played! I thought it was brave when they hired him but also great that they took the chance. He was obviously passionate about the game and about his job and had fresh ideas. Sheldon played during my time and also had a reputation of being a hard worker and very dedicated. All of them worked hard to get to where they are at, and continue to prove themselves. I would say they (coaches) have to work even harder than a proven coach these days, because they don’t have the years of success to fall back on if the season starts to fall apart. A big name coach can perhaps ride out a rough spell longer, and will find another job if he’s let go.
10) Who was your favourite role model within the Hounds oraganization, whether it was a coach or a trainer or anyone for that matter?
Jerry Bumbacco all the way. Jerry was a teacher at Bawating and the Hounds educational consultant. He was very enthusiastic and he has a huge heart. It didn’t matter if you were a fifth line player or Joe Thornton. I watched him engage everyone the same; always caring and excited to help them with whatever they needed. When Jerry found out I was interested in pharmacy or health care he helped me choose the right courses and set up an appt with the guidance counsellor to make sure I had all the prereqs for university programs that would give me a shot at it.
I still see Jerry quite regularly and he is still just as excited to help people and talk about hockey and family. He’s a very genuine guy with a big heart.
There you have it folks, former Greyhound still doing great things, and because of the beauty here in Sault Ste. Marie, chose to stay and make this his permanent home. I’ve known Jake for many years, and he must have learned a lot from Jerry because Jake is the same way. He is always polite,friendly, and friendly and very humble.
Go Hounds Go!