Wednesday

Lanny McDonald

Lanny McDonald's bushy moustache is his trademark, but so were such characteristics as speed, work ethic, and commitment. Those traits, not really counting his facial hair, helped make him a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Toronto Maple leafs made McDonald their first round selection (fourth overall) in 1973, following a brilliant junior career with the Medicine Hat Tigers. His high skill level and intensity enabled him to make the jump directly to the NHL and contribute in 1973-74 straight from junior hockey, an amazing accomplishment for anyone. For Lanny it was simply unreal - he had spent his entire youth dreaming of wearing the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs and now he would get to fulfill that dream.

However Lanny would struggle initially, and the fans weren't overly pleased. Coming into training camp as such a high draft pick and an expensive and publicly known contract thanks to the bidding war between NHL teams and World Hockey Association teams, McDonald had a terrible rookie season in his own estimation, and compared to the other profile rookies who were tearing up the NHL, he was right. Lanny's second season wasn't a lot better statistically, though he did make more of an impact in games thanks to his relentless hustle.

McDonald arrived as the star NHL player that he was predicted to be in 1975-76. He scored 37 goals and 93 points in his break out year. He would always thank coach Red Kelly for sticking with him through the lean years and helping him achieve his destiny.

Roger Nielson took over as coach in 1976-77. Though McDonald admired Red Kelly, he would term Nielson's tenure in Toronto as the most exciting time in his NHL career. Under Nielson's innovative coaching, the young Leafs team ascended to the cusp of NHL greatness. Fans could feel that something was special with that team, however they would never get to witness the culmination of Nielson's hard work.

Nielson teamed McDonald and Darryl Sittler together permanently, often with Errol Thompson or Tiger Williams on left wing. McDonald prospered on the top line.

McDonald stared the 1976-77 season at the first ever Team Canada training camp for the Canada Cup. He admitted he was a surprise selection to the team, but he played a key role as a grinder with the likes of Bob Gainey. He picked up 2 assists and a lot of respect on the team many agree is the greatest team ever iced. He followed that up with a spectacular season with the Leafs. He scored 46 goals and 90 points to lead the team, plus scored 10 goals and 17 points in an exciting playoff season which lasted 9 games.

McDonald's greatest moment as a Leaf came in 1978. Coming off of a 47 goal, 87 point season, McDonald was ready to again lead the Leafs in the post season. His scoring totals were way down (he scored 3 goals and 7 points in 13 contests), but he was a star most nights. He was the brightest star in game 7 of the Leafs second round showdown with the NHL's other hot young team on the rise - the New York Islanders. In sudden death over time McDonald - sporting a broken nose and a broken bone in his wrist - fought through a crowd in front of the net to poke a loose puck past Isles' goalie Chico Resch. McDonald's goal ranks as one of the Leafs greatest playoff moments in the illustrious history of the franchise.

The Leafs would run out of gas in their next playoff match - with their eternal rivals the Montreal Canadiens. But the Leaf fans greatly appreciated the efforts of the 1977-78 Leafs, which only led to greater expectations in 1978-79. The team would struggle. Coach Nielson would be fired during the season only to show up behind the bench for the very next game, but would be fired again at the end of the season along with general manager Jim Gregory.

Replacing the Gregory/Nielson regime was a Leaf legend from the past - Punch Imlach. However Imlach would tarnish his reputation as he tore apart the young Leafs team in order to put his stamp on team. He was most famous for publicly feuding with star center and team captain Darryl Sittler. McDonald, a close friend of Sittler and the Leafs' NHLPA union representative, was one of the first to be exiled from the Leafs.

Imlach traded McDonald and defenseman Joel Quenneville to arguably the worst team in the league - the Colorado Rockies - in exchanged for Pat Hickey and Wilf Paiement. McDonald was devastated. He was dumped by the team he grew up idolizing, and just prior to the birth of his second child. The move to Colorado was not easy, although coach Don Cherry did everything he could to ease the situation by arranging for him to be with his family at all times other than when the Rockies played games. McDonald rarely practiced with the team and spent most of his time in airports and on airplanes.

Despite the emotionally and physically draining affair, McDonald played well under Cherry. He finished the season with 25 goals with the Rockies to finish the year with 40 goals - making it the 4th consecutive year with at least that many goals in a NHL campaign.

There were few Rocky Mountain Highs for anyone involved with the Colorado Rockies. Although he enjoyed some of his greatest friendships with members of the lowly Rockies, he was more than thrilled to leave the hockey abyss early in the 1981-82 season when he was traded to the Calgary Flames.

If McDonald isn't remembered as a Leaf, he certainly is remembered as a Calgary Flame. Born in southern Alberta, returning home turned out to be a great thing for Lanny. The Flames would rise to the top of NHL elite for much of the 1980s, thanks in large part to the contributions of Lanny McDonald.

McDonald enjoyed his greatest season in 1982-83. Playing with underrated super star Guy Chouinard, McDonald unthinkably challenged Wayne Gretzky for the NHL goal scoring total. Gretzky would end up with the crown thanks to his 71 goals, but McDonald wasn't far behind with an overachieving 66. It was simply an amazing season for McDonald. Everything he touched turned to gold that year. He was honored with the 1983 Bill Masterton Trophy as well as a second all star team nomination.

The Flames made major changes in 1983-84, including the trading Chouinard to St. Louis. McDonald would miss the creative playmaking of his center from the year before, and it showed in his scoring totals. In 65 games he scored 33 goals and 66 points. Had he been healthy all year he likely would have topped the 40 goal plateau again - a more realistic level for McDonald.

McDonald's goal scoring would slow over the following years, but he remerged in the 1985-86 playoffs. As co-captain of the Flames, McDonald led the Flames to the Stanley Cup finals against the Montreal Canadiens thanks to 11 goals and 18 points. After finally knocking off their rivals from the north - Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers - in a dramatic 7 game playoff series that many would argue was the greatest playoff series ever played, the Flames seemed to run out of gas against a Montreal team that they should have been able to beat.

The Flames would get another chance in 1989 when the Flames returned to the finals and again faced the Montreal Canadiens. By this time McDonald was definitely near the end of his career. For three seasons he became more of a third or fourth liner who was present for his leadership. It was a good year for McDonald nonetheless. He recorded his 500th goal, 500th assist and 1000th point all in the same season. Then in the playoffs the Flames would not be denied and finally captured the Stanley Cup championship. McDonald scored just one goal in that playoff year - in the decisive 6th game of the Finals!

McDonald, one of the classiest gentlemen to ever play in any sport, retired as a champion shortly following the Cup victory. He would be honored as the NHL's Man of the Year and King Clancy Memorial trophy in the summer of 1989, and would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992 - his first year of eligibility. His number 9 has been retired by the Flames organization as well.

He would remain with the Calgary Flames in several capacities in retirement, and devoted more time than ever to charities. He also became involved in Team Canada. He was instrumental in the 2001 World Championship entry and the 2002 gold medal winning Olympic squad.

3 comments:

Anonymous,  2:21 PM  

I really love that guy!One of my fav players next to Michel Goulet and Luc Robitaille.

donnie27 2:45 PM  

Lanny was one of my favourite players when I was growing up. We lived in Mississauga and my older brother delivered The Toronto Star to his house. I would tag along when he had to go collect payment, and Lanny would always answer the door. He was such a kind man. He would give my brother and I autographed postcards of him or pucks. I wish I still had them. When he was traded to Colorado, I was crushed. Seeing him win a Stanley Cup in Calgary was awesome.

Anonymous,  10:46 PM  

You know Lanny McDonald has a book (called Lanny)? It sold fairly well, written in 1987. He co-wrote it with Steve Simmons.

Found it for fairly cheap at a BMV book store (and also saw a copy at I think a Salvation Army or Goodwill store in Guelph).

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