GoFundMe created after NHL alumnus with Mississauga, Oshawa ties dies suddenly in Mexico


Published April 14, 2022 at 7:27 pm

Mississauga-raised Tom McCarthy, a one-time National Hockey League all-star forward who found a second life in sports by coaching young players, died suddenly in Mexico today.

The 61-year-old, who developed into a future pro with the Oshawa Generals in the late 1970s after famously being the No. 1 overall choice in an Ontario league draft where Wayne Gretzky was available, had been living in Mexico. McCarthy suffered an aortic aneurysm earlier this week, which required emergency open-heart surgery. He died several hours after the attempted life-saving procedure.

The GoFundMe is intended to help his widow, Tina, and their family cover expenses.

“Tommy’s family will still be burdened with tremendous medical bills following the surgery and the attempt to save his life,” campaign organizer Stephen Black wrote. “I hope that we can support Tommy’s family in their time of grief.

“Tommy was a good friend, a wonderful man, and a giving soul. We are devastated at the loss.”

The campaign’s goal is $40,000. At this writing, $6,255 has been raised.

McCarthy was a first-round pick in 1979 who played 460 NHL games with the Minnesota North Stars and Boston Bruins, scoring 399 points, including 178 goals. He was on two teams that reached the Stanley Cup final — the 1981 North Stars and 1988 Bruins. He also played in the 1983 NHL all-star game, getting the nod during a season where he scored a career-most 39 goals in 66 games for Minnesota. (The franchise became the Dallas Stars in 1993.) Coincidentally, Gretzky, the player he was historically linked with due to the Ontario league draft six years earlier, won the game MVP honours after scoring four goals during the third period.

In an era when the sport science around injury prevention and treatment was much less advanced then today, though, McCarthy battled injuries. He was only 27 when he played his last NHL game in ’88.

Discovering coaching while behind bars

Elite athletes often face a tough adjustment to the next phase of life after their playing days end. In the early 1990s, while living in Minnesota McCarthy made headlines after being arrested for his involvement with a drug dealer named Carl Thompsen. At that time, the decriminalization of cannabis for recreational use was still more than 20 years away in Canada and in the United States, where it is legal in 18 of the 50 states.

McCarthy received a five-year, 10-month sentence for conspiracy to traffic a truck full of cannabis in 1994. McCarthy contended that a U.S. district court improperly calculated the quantity of cannabis attributable to him — by a factor of more than 12.

Prosecutors said he had been present while 2,000 pounds of cannabis was dried and processed. McCarthy contended that ther court should have only attributed to him the quantity of 150 pounds that he transported to Minnesota.

As a result of his conviction, McCarthy served time in the Leavenworth federal penitentiary in Kansas. However, as he told Scott Morrison of “Hockey Night in Canada” in 2008, being behind bars opened a new pathway. McCarthy started a ball hockey program that provided a healthful activity for fellow inmates.

Through the effort of his father, who worked through the appropriate channels, McCarthy received a transfer to Canada before receiving his release.

After his release, McCarthy turned to coaching. He initially helped out with teams in the Mississauga and Kingston, Ont., areas. He found his niche at the Junior A level, helming teams such as the Huntsville Otters, North Bay Trappers and Espanola Express. In 2012-13, he guided North Bay to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League title.

McCarthy also coached HSC Csíkszereda in the Romanian Hockey League in 2017-18.

“Hockey was his vehicle, whether as a player or coach — caring for others was his message,” said a statement from the McCarthy family released through the NHL Alumni Association.

Drafted before The Great One

Born in 1960, McCarthy played youth hockey in Mississauga. For his vintage of hockey player, the draft age into major junior was 17, rather than 16 like it is today. When McCarthy came of junior age in 1977, though, the draft pool also included a 16-year-old centre named Gretzky.

The NHL draft age at that time was 20, instead of the current 18. But teenagers had turned pro early by signing with the rival World Hockey Association, a challenger to the NHL that later had four of its franchises accepted as expansion teams.

The likelihood of seeing Gretzky go pro after one season — which, indeed, is what happened — led to Oshawa general manager Sherry Bassin passing on the future No. 99. Instead, the Generals invested their top pick in McCarthy.

(Three decades later, Bassin would cash in on getting to add a future Edmonton Oilers superstar to his OHL team’s stable. The Connor McDavid era with the Erie Otters were also Bassin’s final three seasons as the franchise’s managing partner. Erie lost ot the eventual Memorial Cup-champion Oshawa Generals in the 2015 OHL final, just before McDavid was selected by Edmonton and just before Bassin sold the franchise.)

In that ’77 draft,, the Niagara Falls Flyers chose a centre named Steve Peters with the No. 2 overall choice. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds then took a chance to nab Gretzky with the No. 3 choice.

Gretzky scored 70 goals in his sole season in the Soo. That was a league record for a 16-year-old that stood until present-day Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares scored 72 for the Generals in 2007.

McCarthy came close to matching that the following season, which became his draft year when the NHL lowered the age minimum to 18. He scored 69 goals in 63 games for the Generals, which led to him being chosen No. 10 overall by the North Stars.

(Cover images via GoFundMe and Village Media.)

insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising