Coffee with....Alberni's Al McCulloch
Watch what you say to kids because it can impact them for the rest of their lives.
That’s the best advice Al McCulloch ever received and they are words to live by, he says.
The married father of two was one of the invisible people behind the successful drive by the Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society to wrest control of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
McCulloch has been involved with Alberni Valley minor hockey as a parent, coach and board member for the better part of a decade.
His earliest hockey memory dates back to 1971. “That’s when the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup with Jean Beliveau,” he said.
Born and raised in Port Alberni, McCulloch attended Calgary Elementary School, Klitsa Junior Secondary and Alberni District Secondary School.
McCulloch’s favourite teachers were in junior secondary.
“Dallas Lane and Rick Chase made me want to learn in their classes,” McCulloch said. “They were good educators and they taught by example to give back to your community.”
McCulloch graduated from ADSS in 1983 and remembers a ceremony that was like a slow car ride on a long road at the old Athletic Hall.
“There were 400 of us in that class and it seemed like it took forever for everyone to cross the stage,” he said.
McCulloch enjoyed school but he had a clear idea from the outside what it was he wanted to do when he left high school: construction.
He attended BCIT’s carpentry program for four years off and on before finally coming away with certified carpenter’s credentials.
He worked with Robson Construction in Nanaimo before opening his own company with is brother-in-law — SA Construction.
McCulloch met his wife Stacey through his business partner Steve (her brother). The couple was a proverbial match and they’ve been together for more than 21 years.
Domestic life with avid hockey interests is a delicate balancing act, Al said. “You have to be patient and put in a lot of time to make it all work,” he said.
McCulloch eschews critics of the Alberni Valley, whom he says don’t know of what they speak. “These guys that write about how Port is one of the worst places to live,” he said. “Let them spend six months here to get to know the community and people they’re criticizing instead of just doing it from the outside.”
The Alberni Valley, McCulloch says, is an ideal place to raise children.
“We’ve got sports, theatre, arts and that’s huge to me,” he said.
Earlier this year, McCulloch was approached by Darren DeLuca and Bob Cole and asked if would be part of a group that wanted to assume majority ownership of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
“It’s high level hockey and it’s good for the community — I believe in it,” McCulloch said. “Besides, sitting back and letting someone else do the work when you’ve been called to help isn’t my way.”
McCulloch jumped in and did his part to help bring the initiative to fruition. “The best part of being involved was putting out our best effort and watching the community rally behind it,” he said.
“The biggest challenge was getting our message out accurately (so) people knew exactly what it was we were trying to do.”
McCulloch says he’s seen a lot in the Valley when it comes to minor hockey and that his advice to those becoming involved is simple. “It’s just a game, it should be fun and that’s it. That’s the best way I can put it,” he said.
McCulloch reflects for a moment before answering what the best advice was he ever received. “Tom McEvay said once ‘Choose your words carefully, especially with young people. What you say can really affect their lives’.”
McCulloch reiterated an example of a player who wasn’t the most talented on the team but who, during one game, gave his best effort.
“His mother called me and my first thought was ‘what did I do now?’” he said. “She told me that one thing I said meant the world to him. Like I said, you’ve got to be really careful what you say to a kid.”