Stuff of Legends: Lanny McDonald
Friend of The Hockey Guys, Bill Kellet, brings us yet another discussion on a legend, Lanny McDonald. We hope you enjoy the latest installment.
by Bill Kellet
There are two great memories that come out of Calgary for this player.
One is his game winning goal during the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs that earned the Calagry Flames their only Stanley Cup, a game which would be this players final NHL contest. The other is his trademark mustache, something he became known for towards the end of his career, more than the scoring accolades or what he had accomplished throughout an amazing 16 year career.
Where to begin?
He was one of those player who you could not dislike, regardless of whether you liked his team or not. He is regarded in Calgary as a folk hero to this day; a city that continues to sell his jerseys.
This man is known as Lanny McDonald.
A new generation who never got to see Lanny McDonald play are still well aware of who he is. Even though he played for three different NHL teams, Lanny is and always will be a member of Calgary Flames.
Lanny King McDonald was born February 16 1953 in Hanna, Alberta, Canada. Before the mustache or the image of him streaking down the right side he was a young kid and quite shy by all accounts. Lanny was learning to play hockey on the frozen ponds of Alberta.
He would first play for the nearby Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL.
After an impressive junior career for the Hat Tigers, McDonald was selected 4th overall in the NHL draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. His rights were also selected by the Cleveland Crusaders of the WHA, but like most Canadian kids the NHL was his calling.
The 1973-74 season was McDonald’s (no not Ronald’s) first season playing in the NHL and though he showed flashes of brilliance, it was a season that did not become one which we would consider a stand out year. He appeared in 70 games for the Leafs yet he only recorded 30 points and the Leafs failed to make the playoffs that season. Lanny would see his points increase to 44 in 64 games the following year and the Leafs would make the playoffs, but unfortunately McDonald would be held off the scoreboard altogether in the post-season.
During his time in Toronto, McDonald would form a partnership with Daryl Sittler; one of the greats of this fine game. They would play together, along with another good friend Dave “Tiger” Williams, which completed a line that would be very productive. The three of them resembled the likes of “the three stooges” with Sittler being the cagey one, McDonald the quiet reserved one and Williams the over the top prankster and all around trouble maker.
They would all produce great numbers in the coming seasons, with McDonald topping out with 93 points in the 1975-76 season and adding another 8 points in the playoffs.
Lanny would see seasons of 46,47 and 43 goals while playing in Toronto, but things were beginning to change.
A feud began between Sittler and team GM Punch Imlach and brash owner Harold Ballard. It began over money, but also continued on to include Sittlers religious beliefs, as he is a staunch Christian. One of his other friends on the team was former journeyman player Laurie Boschman, also a devote Christian. Once Ballard found out of his beliefs, Boschman was immediately dealt. This made the feud worse, and instead of trading Sittler, they felt it necessary to torture him.
Imlach began with dealing those close to Sittler, and it started with McDonald. Not only was he going to punish Daryl Sittler he was also going to punish those that were his friends, and as such he tried to deal players to the worst possible destinations. McDonald was sent packing to the lowly Colorado Rockies for his punishment, for the crime of befriending a great player and playing his heart out for the Leafs. Also sent to Colorado was Joel Qunneville and in return the Leafs received Wil Paiment and Pat Hickey; hardly a fair trade.
In the coming years the Leafs would see Tiger Williams dealt to the Vancouver Canucks and finally Sittler sent to Philadelphia; all three exiled because of the feud.
The years in Colorado were lean to say the least. The team struggled having little direction and McDonald found it hard to keep his head up all the time. Though he would get 45 points in 46 games his first season there and score 35 goals his next, it was certainly not a happy place to be. The management couldn’t agree on a game plan, and even head coach Don Cherry was often confused as to what ownership and management were trying to accomplish.
At this time McDonald had already started sprouting his trademark facial hair. That combined with the awful uniform color the Rockies had made the organization look like a circus sideshow. A guy with a red mustache big enough to smuggle hostages in combined with the rainbow uniforms made it difficult to take the team seriously and people stayed far away. Eventually, in ,the team would re-locate to New Jersey and be renamed the Devils.
However, a season prior to the move, in 1981-82, the team was bleeding money and they had to cut costs somehow. It was decided they would have to jettison some of their talent to pay the bills and Lanny McDonald would fall victim to the cuts.
On November 25 1981 he was traded along with a draft pick to the Calgary Flames for Don Lever and Bob McMillan.
The Flames were a fairly new franchise though known because they were originally a product of Atlanta; the destination they moved from the previous year. They were in desperate need of a leader and this deal secured that for the team. Not only did McDonald bring credibility, he also had a likable personality and was ecstatic to be joining the team closest to where he grew up.
It was a great situation for McDonald and both he and the team would benefit for years to come.
Rejuvenated and happy, McDonald got to work immediately on setting a course for the Flames. That initial season in Calgary saw McDonald recorded 34 goals, add 33 assists totaling 67 points in only 55 games. However, the best was yet to come as McDonald established himself as a fan favorite the next season.
With his mustache now in full bloom and his dedication to the team evident, fans responded to Lanny McDonald by selling out almost every home game. He had become somewhat of a phenomenon and people everywhere, even non-Flames fans, found they could really warm up to the player.
During the 1982-83 season, McDonald would set two records. The first, a league record and second a club record, both of which still stand today. McDonald would score an eye popping 66 goals that season, a club record which has yet to be surpassed but he only recorded 32 assists, putting him at 98 points. This still stands as one of those strange league records as he is the only player to score 60 or more goals and not crack the 100 point mark. This also still stands as a record today.
The 1983-84 season would be the last true season of production from McDonald. He would earn 33 goals and the same amount of assists for 66 points in only 65 games, better than a point per game average. Though production would tail off in the ensuing years due to new talent being added to the mix, McDonald accepted his role and still showed the same dedication he has throughout his whole career.
The 1987-88 season promised to be his last. He dipped to 23 points in 60 games and his ice time was dwindling. Still a local hero and fan favorite, he felt it was time to pack it in.
However, something inside of him told him he still had more to prove. There was a goal that had not yet been achieved. He signed up for one more year, and it would prove to be magical.
The 1988-89 season saw McDonald become a pure role player, getting ice time when the opportunity allowed. For the most part, he was a healthy scratch that year. He would only score 11 goals, but still hung on hoping things would improve. That season in the playoffs, it did.
After nearly being eliminated by the upstart Vancouver Canucks in a seven game first round series, the Flames flew through the rest of the playoffs that season using the opening series as a warning sign. They didn’t take things lightly after that and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. These were the same two teams who played for the cup just three years prior. That year, McDonald was a force in the playoffs, having contributed 18 points in 22 playoff games and making his presence known.
Now, three years later, he would end up scoring only 1 goal in the playoffs, but what a goal it would be. It came in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. McDonald would streak down the right wing, as he’s done so many times before, and snap a shot through Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy.
It would prove to be the game winning goal as Calgary went on to defeat Montreal 4-2. Lanny McDonald played the hero, a fitting end to a great career.
After basking in the glory of his first Stanley Cup, Lanny McDonald called it a day and hung up his skates. He retired as one of the great players in history.
His goal in the 1989 finals would go down in history as one of the great feel good playoff stories ever told. The hometown boy scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in his last NHL game. What could be sweeter?
McDonald would only go on to elevate his status as an all around nice guy. He has worked in numerous charity organizations over the years and almost never misses a chance to suit up for any old timers game. Not surprisingly, the Calgary Flames retired McDonalds #9 not long after his retirement. It still rests high in the rafters, a reminder of not only the great scoring prowess of the man but also for many of his fans he gained over the years through his dedication; even through the tough times in Toronto and Colorado.
Lanny has worked many different jobs within the Flames organization since his retirement. Many of them as a public relations liaison, a position suited to his demeanor. He also has been the GM and Director of Player Personnel for the Mens Canadian National team, a position he has held for several years.
The legacy of Lanny McDonald is not his many accomplishments, or the fact he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Its not the 66 goals in a single season, or even the Stanley Cup winning goal in 1989.
No, the real measure of Lanny McDonald is how he was always looked upon as a leader, the wily old vet the young kids could look up to. He will be remembered as one of the all time favorites in Flames history, and for always making himself available. He will continue to be remembered for always ramping it up in the big game and isnt that what Stuff of Legends is all about?
Lanny was all that and more. 1989 will live in infamy for Lanny, and he will always be the quiet kid from a small town in Alberta who made it big.
Oh, and the mustache doesn’t hurt either.