NCAA Frozen Four: Fifteen Parker Mackay fans made the trip to Buffalo from Irma, Alberta
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Parker Mackay will tell you, first offering credit to his parents, that he has been raised by a village.
Much of that village made the trek from Irma, Alberta, to the KeyBank Center in upstate New York to watch the University of Minnesota Duluth senior captain play in his final NCAA Frozen Four men's hockey tournament.
"It's been unbelievable," Mackay said of the 15-person party that traveled — a maroon-clad crew with a strong presence in the lower bowl of Section 102 on Thursday when the Bulldogs topped Providence College 4-1 to advance to their third consecutive championship game.
UMD plays University of Massachusetts in the final today at 7 p.m.
"It's a small town and they've been nothing but supportive," Mackay said Friday afternoon, after the Bulldogs' final practice of the season. The forward was popular with the media during the allotted period for interviews, and a line formed in front of him in what is usually the Buffalo Sabres' locker room.
Irma has a population of about 500, according to Mackay, and a lot of those people are relatives. His mother, Kristal Mackay, who he identifies as Mama Krissy in his phone, has four sisters. His father, Trevor Mackay, is one of nine siblings.
The village's three big industries are oil and gas, agriculture and military, according to its official website. It has its own K-12 school, a volunteer fire department, its own summer festival. It is 90 minutes from Edmonton. Curling is big; hockey must be, too.
On Wikipedia, it lists four notable people, including Gordon Mark, who closed his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers in 1995. One is Mackay; one is his cousin Carson Soucy who played for UMD through the 2016-17 season and now is with the Minnesota Wild organization.
Team Mackay included his brother, a future sister-in-law, a 1-year-old cousin who toddled around looking for things to climb. The newly-minted walker doesn't know how to skate, yet, but he will learn, his mother said.
"Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins," said Trevor Mackay, Parker's father, describing the Irma contingent after Friday's game. By the time UMD scored back-to-back empty-netters to close the third period, he was out of his seat. "Unbelievable. Three Frozen Fours in a row. It doesn't happen."
Kristal Mackay described Irma as a place where the accomplishments of Parker and Soucy have been celebrated.
"It's a very special town," she said. "I don't have words."
Parker Mackay said that when he was playing for Spruce Grove of the AJHL, a bus was sent from his adopted hockey town to his hometown to collect about 50 fans. When his family isn't on the road with the team, they will sometimes host 15-20 people to watch Bulldog games on TV, he said.
Mackay has had a crucial role in postseason play. He scored both goals against Bowling Green in the regional semifinal game, and then added an empty-netter against Quinnipiac in the regional final. He had an assist on Justin Richards' goal in the second period Thursday at the Frozen Four.
Mackay said he goes home every year for two months in the summer. While people travel great distances to see him play, he said no one treats him differently at home.
"I have no words for how great it's been to be part of that," he said.