Victor Mercredi fondly remembers the day his son came home from school beaming because he was asked a simple question by his teacher: “Who was the first person from the NWT to play in the NHL?”
The little boy had thrown up his hand and proudly stated, “My dad!” and he couldn’t wait to tell his father about it when he got home.
“This is what happens when you get older, you become a trivia question!” Vic Mercredi exclaimed in recollection during an interview with The Journal.
Now 60 years old, Mercredi was inducted into the NWT Sport Hall of Fame last week in recognition of his professional hockey career and later contributions to growing the sport back home.
“It’s always been something I’m proud of, that I’ve accomplished. Even more so for my children that they know a little bit about their father’s past,” Mercredi said about the recognition.
Born and raised in Yellowknife, Mercredi started skating when he was 4 years old on Frame Lake until the rink opened in town. Yellowknife was much smaller then, he said, but skating was one of the most popular winter activities and the rink was always full of children.
“There wasn’t that much to do in town in the winter time when it starts getting cold. There were no skidoos, no internet. There were just winter sports, which was primarily hockey,” he said.
Louie Prince was the rink manager when Mercredi was a young “rink rat,” hanging out at the area day after day doing chores in exchange for ice time. Prince, Mercredi said, was instrumental in his development as a hockey player.
“Mr. Prince really stressed skating, so we had to skate in circles one way, crossing over, then skate the other way,” he said. “Then he coached me throughout my minor hockey career.”
In was on Prince’s recommendation to a coach in the south that Mercredi was scouted for his first junior hockey placement with the Penticton Broncos. From there, the young player’s skill level and notoriety rose with each team he played and titles like MVP and top scorer became common.
In 1973, Mercredi was drafted by the Atlanta Flames, one of 16 teams in the NHL that year, making him the first NWT hockey player to play in the NHL.
Mercredi was at the top of his game, but a broken shoulder later that year cut short the three-year deal with the Flames and was the “beginning of the end” of his hockey career, he said.
He went on the play in Sweden and eventually Arizona before hanging up the skates.
Years later, Mercredi and his wife moved back to Yellowknife to raise their family of three boys. Sports, he said, were an important part of their upbringing.
“I just think it builds character, for one, when you’re involved in something that requires attention to your health, you’re eating well and you’re sleeping well,” Mercredi said. “I think sport, especially for me, has given me that direction as a man of purpose.”
Encouraging youth is a main goal of the NWT Sport Hall of Fame, now in its second year of inducting athletes, builders and teams that have been an inspiration to their sport.
Also inducted this year were Father Jean-Marie Mouchet, an Oblate priest who came to Canada’s North in the 1960s where he started teaching cross-country skiing and encouraged people to join the Territorial Experimental Ski Training program, and the 1974 Yellowknife Junior Merchants, the first NWT team to compete in the Canadian Junior Men’s Softball Championships held in Ottawa where they won the tournament with a final game against Quebec 6-5.
A ceremony was held by Sport North last Friday to honour the new inductees at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.