To most hockey fans, Lanny McDonald is best known for his time in the NHL as a star for 2 prominent Canadian NHL teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames. Aside from his bushy red moustache, Lanny McDonald was also known for his great character. A right-winger, Lanny McDonald played with a combination of skill, determination and enthusiasm throughout his 16 year NHL career. Born in 1953 in Hanna, Alberta, Lanny McDonald was raised on a farm in the hamlet of Craigmyle, located 35 kilometres outside of Hanna. The youngest child of Lorne and Phyllis, Lanny McDonald had 3 siblings, a brother Lynn and sisters Donna and Dixie. As a child, Lanny McDonald helped his father around the family farm and credits his father for teaching him the value of honesty and hard work. Lorne McDonald was a good hockey player himself, having played Senior Hockey. A young Lanny McDonald first got into hockey by serving as the stick boy for his father’s team and listening to broadcasting legend, Foster Hewitt, do the play by play on Hockey Night in Canada on the radio. Lanny McDonald first started skating at age 5 and was in organized hockey at 7 years old. At age 16, Lanny McDonald made the jump to the junior ranks, suiting up for the Lethbridge Sugar Kings of the AJHL.
After 2 seasons in Lethbridge, Lanny would make the jump to major junior hockey, joining the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WCHL (now the WHL). Lanny would emerge as a prolific scorer for Medicine Hat, scoring 253 points in 136 games over 2 seasons with the Tigers. In his 2nd and final year in Medicine Hat, Lanny’s 37 points in 17 playoff games helped the Medicine Hat Tigers win the WCHL Championship. Lanny McDonald’s standout junior career led to him being drafted by his favorite childhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs 4th overall in the 1973 NHL Draft. During a time when the NHL and the former WHA were constantly competing for talent, several players had alternatives to playing in the NHL. Having also been drafted by the Cleveland Crusaders 10th overall in the WHA Draft, the WHA remained a viable option for McDonald. Lanny McDonald ultimately chose the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs, signing a contract that was then considered amongst the most lucrative in the NHL. Making his NHL debut in October of 1973, McDonald recorded 2 assists, but also sustained a concussion and needed several stiches after landing on his head following a Rick Martin hip check. After wearing no helmet in this game, McDonald would wear a helmet for the remainder of his NHL career. Despite having head coach Red Kelly take a special interest in him, McDonald struggled in his rookie season, scoring 30 points in 70 games. After a modest improvement in his 2nd NHL season, Lanny McDonald showed the promise he had delivered as a junior in his 3rd, breaking out for 37 goals, 56 assists for 93 points in 75 games. Lanny McDonald’s breakout season led him to be invited to Team Canada’s training camp in preparation for the 1976 Canada Cup. Named to the final roster alongside Maple Leafs teammate Darryl Sittler, McDonald dressed in 5 of the team’s 7 games and recorded 2 assists, including assisting on Sittler’s Canada Cup winning goal over Czechoslovakia.Upon Canada’s 1976 Canada Cup victory, Lanny McDonald and Darryl would continue to be the offensive catalysts for the Maple Leafs, as they both finished in the top 10 in NHL scoring in 1976/77 and 1977/78. One of Lanny McDonald’s most memorable moments as a Toronto Maple Leaf occurred in the 1978 playoffs. Facing the New York Islanders in the quarterfinals, the series would go to game 7 overtime, during which Lanny McDonald scored the overtime game winning goal, ultimately eliminating the New York Islanders. Although Toronto would be eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the semi-finals, McDonald’s goal marked the first time in 11 seasons the Maple Leafs made it to the semi-finals. Dark times would fall upon the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in the coming years, as management made several questionable decisions that displeased fans. One of those decisions was trading Lanny McDonald to the Colorado Rockies on December 28th, 1979. After completion of the trade, angry Maple Leafs fans picketed in protest from the parking lot of Maple Leaf Gardens. McDonald would finish the season netting 45 points in 46 games for the Rockies, and would be named captain of the team prior to the 1980/81 season, during which he’d net 81 points in 80 games. The 1980/81 season would be Lanny McDonald’s only full season in Colorado, as he was traded to the Calgary Flames in November of 1981. Now back in his home province of Alberta, McDonald would continue to score at a high level as a member of the Flames and became an instant fan favorite.
In 1982/83, his first full season with the Flames, Lanny McDonald would score a career high 98 points in 80 games and was awarded the Bill Masterson Trophy (goes to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey) at the end. Throughout the mid to late 1980s, the Calgary Flames emerged as one of the best teams in hockey. Named captain of the Flames prior to the 1983/84 season, McDonald would help guide the Flames to an appearance in the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals, ultimately losing to Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens. A keen supporter of many charities, including the Special Olympics and the Alberta Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals throughout his career and beyond, Lanny McDonald was recognized as the first ever winner of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1988. The King Clancy Memorial Trophy goes to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice, and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.The 1988/89 season would be Lanny McDonald’s last NHL season, and while he was in and out of the lineup throughout the season and he didn’t put the type of numbers he did for the better part of his career, McDonald’s last season was memorable. Throughout the regular season, Lanny McDonald hit 3 huge milestones. He’d play in his 1000th NHL game, score his 1000th NHL point and reach the 500 goal plateau. While he reached some impressive accolades, the best would come in the playoff for McDonald. After defeating the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, the Flames faced a rematch of the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals, going up against the Montreal Canadiens. With the Flames in position to win the Stanley Cup in game 6, McDonald scored a now famous goal in the 2nd period, giving the Flames a 2-1 lead. Calgary would ultimately win the game and Lanny McDonald earned the Stanley Cup after 16 NHL seasons.
Having reached several milestones and topping the 1988/89 season off with a Stanley Cup victory, Lanny McDonald retired as a player. In retirement, McDonald would hold several positions within the Flames front office and would also hold various positions with Hockey Canada, including General Manager of Canada for the 2001 and 2002 World Championships. Having first been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992, McDonald would subsequently serve on the Hall of Fames’ selection committee for 9 years. In November 2014, Hockey Hall of Fame chairman and former NHL player and coach, Pat Quinn, passed away. As a result the Hockey Hall of Fame needed a new chairman. In announcing Lanny McDonald’s appointment at a March 2015 press conference, vice-chair Jim Gregory said the following in a statement posted on the NHL website: “As a perennial supporter since his induction in 1992 and a member of the selection committee for the past nine years, Lanny is familiar with the affairs of the Hockey Hall of Fame just as the hockey world remembers his achievements during his outstanding playing career. While Lanny is highly recognized as an exceptional hockey player, he is also a dedicated family man, community benefactor, philanthropist and successful businessman whose leadership qualities will be a valuable asset to the Hall and its continued growth and development.” Shortly after the announcement, Lanny McDonald stated to the Toronto Sun “it’s a very humbling day for me. It’s a thrill and an honour to follow in the legacy created by those who came before me — Pat, Jim Gregory, Bill Hay and John Davidson.” While the announcement was made in March 2015, McDonald would not begin officially serving as chairman until July as McDonald still had to fulfill his prior role on the selection committee for the upcoming 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The Hall of Fame’s first induction class under Lanny McDonald was an impressive one, as the class included former NHL stars Sergei Fedorov, Phil Housley, Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Pronger. The class also featured one of the greatest female hockey players in Angela Ruggiero, former Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr., and former Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Bill Hay. It is safe to say that due to Lanny McDonald’s experience, integrity and character, the Hockey Hall of Fame is in great hands for years to come.
Written By: Chris Cunneen