The clock on the scoreboard ticked down to zero, too slowly for one team and too quickly for the other. For the first time since the 1928 New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Maroons, a visiting captain would raise the Stanley Cup in victory at center ice in the world famous Montreal Forum – the only time it happened against the Montreal Canadiens.
In the final game of his illustrious career, the jubilant captain of the 1989 Calgary Flames skated towards NHL Commissioner John Ziegler to receive the sporting world’s most prized possession. Lanny McDonald was a champion. His No. 9 now hangs from the rafters in Calgary (the very first number ever retired by the Flames organization) and in 1992, he received hockey’s highest honour, induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“You grow up dreaming of playing in the National Hockey League, you never dream of having your number retired, or for that matter ever think, ‘Will I be that lucky to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?’ You just want to play the game,” McDonald told Rick Gethin and Mike Colligan during a recent appearance on The Hockey Writers Live radio show. “Afterwards, when you look back at some of those things that have happened, those are bonuses upon bonuses along the way that you never dreamt about or even thought were possible.”
In 1,111 regular season NHL games and 117 playoff games, McDonald scored 544 goals and added 550 assists. His first and last career goals were scored against the Montreal Canadiens at the Forum.
“To be the only team to ever win the Stanley Cup on Forum ice, that was pretty darn cool,” said McDonald. “I hate to go back all the way to the Original 6, but if you were Canadian at that time, probably three-quarters or 90-percent of the people cheered for either Montreal or Toronto. So, to score against a legendary team like that, my first and last goal – what a great way to go.”
With the creation of his development company, Bear Mountain Montana, McDonald has made a successful transition from his hockey career into the business world. The family also operates a brewery and restaurant, the Tamarack Brewing Company Ale House and Grill in Lakeside, Mont.
“I have been going down to Montana for the past 40 years, I absolutely love it down there. It is sort of the last of the wide-open spaces and we fell in love with the place. We own the micro-brewery restaurant/bar here and have a whole lot of fun – I’m on quality control at the brewery, it’s the best job I have ever had,” McDonald said with a laugh.
“Bear Mountain is a 160-acre development that myself and a couple of buddies from Calgary are doing. There are only 26 properties, they are 5.5 to 8.5 acres each; there’s golf for the families and also water access on spectacular Flathead Lake – it’s gorgeous.”
Hockey players are well known for their charitable work and McDonald has been very active with a number of charities during and after his time in hockey. He continues to be a leader in the community working with numerous organizations as a member of the NHL Alumni Association. Most recently, his famous moustache is helping to raise awareness for Movember.
“I would like to think that I scored a couple of goals and assists, but yes the moustache certainly set me apart from everyone else. We are having a whole lot of fun still today with that moustache, helping them do the advertising for Movember, which is to raise public awareness for prostate cancer.”
“There are so many great causes out there that we all try and support, like the children’s hospitals, like our friends at the Special Olympics, the Boys and Girls Club, the Kids Help Phone,” said McDonald. “Not only myself but all the other players.”
The most exciting aspect of the “Ask the Alumni” series is the opportunity for readers here at The Hockey Writers to submit questions for our NHL Alumni guests. After appearing on The Hockey Writers Live radio show with Rick and Mike, I spoke with Lanny McDonald to ask him your questions. Without further delay, here are your answers – straight from the Hall of Fame hockey legend!
Matt in Columbus, OH: With the struggles of the Colorado Rockies, were you pleased by the success of the Avalanche in Colorado?
Lanny McDonald: Absolutely, that was a great hockey town; it’s a great sports town in the first place, but a great hockey town. Even if the Rockies could have been, say a .500 hockey club that made the playoffs, we would have been fine. Unfortunately, when you are mathematically eliminated at the end of October, it’s a little tough for the fans to get up for the rest of the year and we just didn’t win enough hockey games. That was the sad part because we all knew it was going to be a great franchise.
Jeff in Hagersville, ON: Who was the best player you have ever played with, and who was the best player you have ever played against?
Lanny McDonald: That’s a loaded question if you think about it; I went through some great times. I played a ton against [Wayne] Gretzky and [Mark] Messier, two great leaders but in different ways and different styles. Gretzky was such a talented player and Messier was the consummate leader – he grabbed the bull by the horns.
Then you had guys like [Guy] Lafleur, he was such a colourful player and so much fun to watch in the old days of the Toronto-Montreal rivalry. How can you not mention Mario Lemieux? At a young age he was so influential as a big power forward player. The last one I will mention is Bobby Orr; I had the opportunity to play with him in the 1976 Canada Cup and on one leg, he was better then most players were on two, what a treat to watch him play. I had so much fun having the chance to play against all of those guys and with some of them on special instances.
The best player I played with? Probably the guy that I would mention right away would be Darryl Sittler. He was not only a great player, he’s my best friend. He could do it all – pass, shoot, he wasn’t afraid to mix it up, and he was also such a great leader. He wasn’t afraid to say things in the dressing room that needed to be said or grab guys when they weren’t pulling their weight; that is what it takes to be a great player.
Rodd in Waterloo, ON: What is one thing this NHL generation could take from yours, and do you consider yourself a Leaf or a Flame?
Lanny McDonald: Well, I think that the times change, and obviously there is the challenge of trying to fit the players into the salary cap, but I would say it is the closeness of our players. One player on a team can make more then our entire team did back in ‘89. Those guys (the ‘89 Flames), would go through a wall for one another; they had a phenomenal team spirit. I think it is more challenging today to try and find those guys that would go through a wall for each other and do whatever it takes for the team to win.
You know what, I consider myself a proud citizen of both teams. The fun part for me is, when I go down to the East Coast or different charity events in Toronto with the Maple Leafs Alumni, they don’t even acknowledge or recognize that I played for the Calgary Flames. They’ll say, “You were a Toronto Maple Leaf, I don’t think you played anywhere else!”
That’s hockey – you are the long-lost son that has come home finally.
Ron in Kitchener, ON: I was reading you were angry after finding out you were traded from Colorado to Calgary, Nov. 25, 1981. Would you have shaved your moustache at THAT moment to stay with Colorado?
Lanny McDonald: Ron, thanks very much for the question, but I haven’t shaved my moustache since I started to grow it in 1974, I don’t think just because of a trade I was going to shave it then. You know, I was disappointed when I got traded because first of all, your first reaction when you get traded is, ‘Oh my god they didn’t want me anymore?’ You never think right away of the other side, my gosh, that team actually wants me. It didn’t take me long to figure out – okay, this is probably a better deal, let’s head to Calgary.
Bruce in Dallas, TX: Knowing what you know now and have experienced, with the end game being making it and succeeding in the NHL, was it all worth it?
Lanny McDonald: I would not change anything I did in my hockey career – I absolutely loved it. I left home when I was 15 and it was tough leaving home, but it was a dream that I was going after, but every person is different. You need to have as much support as possible because there is going to be the highs and lows that you go through, but if you can, surround yourself with good people that can help you through those times; I would not change a thing.
All you want to do is play the game; you are like a little kid. I was like a little kid in my 16th year; I couldn’t wait to get to practice, loved the games but loved practice too. I just loved being on the ice and playing hockey and it is the same way today. I am the loudest, most boisterous guy – I have more fun than anybody!
Bryan in Sault Ste. Marie, ON: We are season ticket holders of the SSM Greyhounds and despite a lot of lip service from league officials and coaches; we continue to see dangerous hits from behind. We know hockey is a tough game and appreciate it for that reason but feel any hit from behind is to risky to be tolerated. Having played over 1,000 pro games, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the junior and pro leagues reluctance to come down strongly on players to remove this from the game.
Lanny McDonald: I think the NHL is finally getting it; they are making some stiffer penalties for blows to the head and checking from behind that should have been stiffer all along for a couple of reasons. First of all, it sends a message that it is not acceptable in the NHL but more importantly, sends a message to young people that are playing minor hockey, many that have no aspirations to become professional hockey players, just like playing the game. We need to send that message, that it is not acceptable in the pros and it is not acceptable in minor hockey.
Ed in Elmira, ON: A team coach can drastically change the direction and potential of any player be they amateur or professional. Who are some of the coaches that made a positive impact on your career and why?
Lanny McDonald: I would name three coaches; John Chapman, who has been a lifelong scout since he got out of the junior coaching ranks. John was with Philadelphia for at least 25 years as a head scout, and he taught me in junior hockey what it would take to be a good pro.
Roger Neilson in Toronto – he was so ahead of the curve of coaching. He brought in the videos, really broke down the tapes, and really prepared players for what to expect throughout the year.
Bob Johnson, bless his heart, both Roger and Bob are no longer with us, but had a huge impact on so many people’s lives. Bob had this thing, it’s a great day for hockey, and it really was; that’s how he treated each and every day. He just looked forward to getting to the rink every day and that positive influence rubbed off on so many of the players that he had a chance to coach.
Chris in St. George, ON: As a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and a current member of the selection committee, what one step would you take if you could to improve the selection process?
Lanny McDonald: I think the process is pretty darn good when you look at how many votes you have to get to be inducted into the Hall from the people deciding. There is a tremendous amount of thought and time and energy that goes into those discussions. I think that it is evolving, as we saw this year with the changes that happened on the women’s side. It’s pretty cool not only to be a part of that honoured group, but to have the opportunity to vote people in too.
On behalf of myself, all the contributors here at The Hockey Writers and all of our readers, thank you to Lanny McDonald for taking the time to answer our reader questions and sharing so many wonderful memories with us all; it was a tremendous honour to have him as our first “Ask the Alumni” guest. A very special thank you as well to NHL Alumni Association Executive Director Mark Napier, and Marketing and Media Coordinator Dylan Wade for helping to create the “Ask the Alumni” series, their input and support is greatly appreciated.
Lanny McDonald/Maple Leafs: NHL Alumni Association
Lanny McDonald/Flames: Stephen Downes/Flickr
Lanny McDonald at Juno Cup: Arieanna Schweber/Flickr
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.