Lanny McDonald: The Player Behind the Mustache

Lanny McDonald might be one of hockey’s most recognizable players. His iconic mustache makes him almost more remembered than his Hall of Fame career. But, make no mistake about it, McDonald did have an NHL Hall of Fame career

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Perhaps most interesting was the fact that, in his last NHL regular-season game, he scored his last NHL goal. That goal was the 500th regular-season goal of his career. His final playoff goal put the Calgary Flames ahead to stay in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on the way to the first championship in their history.

Lanny McDonald’s Early NHL Years

McDonald was born in the small town of Hanna, Alberta. He was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the fourth-overall choice of the 1973 NHL Entry Draft. The Maple Leafs had been McDonald’s favorite team when he was growing up on the farm. 

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After scoring 14 goals during his first season and 17 goals in his second, McDonald had a break-out season in 1975-76 by scoring 37 goals and adding 56 assists (for 93 points). The difference that changed everything for McDonald was that then Maple Leafs’ head coach Red Kelly put McDonald on the same line as Darryl Sittler

That twosome found immediate chemistry. Sittler noted that the on-ice relationship was “instinctive and intuitive.” He added that “Each of us knew where the other was going on the ice. Lanny came to play every night, and he had a great, very accurate shot.” (from Captain: My Life and Career, by Darryl Sittler & Mike Leonetti, McClelland & Stewart, 25/10/2016).

For as long as that duo was together, the chemistry never stopped working, and McDonald scored at least 43 goals over his next three seasons. Over those three seasons, he was one of the top goal-scorers in the league, averaging 45 goals each season. Sadly, that duo didn’t stay together for much longer. Being teammates ended in a bit of a huff. 

McDonald Became Collateral Damage in a War Between Sittler and Imlach

In what was a power move overflowing from a rift between Sittler and new (and once former – he was the team’s coach during their earlier glory days) – Maple Leafs’ head coach Punch Imlach over control of the team, Imlach wanted Sittler gone so he could control the players. 

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Because Sittler had a no-trade clause, Imlach proceeded to trade everyone around Sittler that mattered to him. That included Sittler’s best friend and linemate McDonald, who was dispatched to the Colorado Rockies – one of the NHL’s worst teams – in December 1979. Sittler was disgusted and tore the C (for Captain) off his uniform.

McDonald and the Calgary Flames Finally Find Each Other

After McDonald was traded to the Rockies in 1979, he scored 25 goals in 46 games for the team. It was his fourth straight 40-goal season. He spent another full season there and scored 35 goals and 46 assists (for 81 points) in 1980-81. After 16 games into the 1981-82 season, McDonald was traded to the Calgary Flames. It became a marriage made in heaven.

Lanny McDonald
NEW YORK, NY – 1980: Lanny McDonald #9 of the Colorado Rockies skates with the puck during an NHL game against the New York Rangers circa 1980 at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Not only was McDonald close to his hometown but he helped the Flames turn the corner and become perennial Stanley Cup contenders. McDonald had his best season in 1982-83, when he established NHL career highs of 66 goals and 98 points. In 1985-86, he helped the Flames finally upset the two-time defending Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the 1986 playoffs. The Flames went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

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Over the last three seasons of the 1980s, McDonald was hit by a variety of injuries; and, by 1988-89 he had become a role player. However, even as a role player, he rose to the challenge. During his final season, he achieved two great milestones. His goal against the Winnipeg Jets on March 7, 1989, gave him 1,000 points in his NHL career. And, two weeks later, he scored his 500th goal club against the New York Islanders.

McDonald Saved the Best for Last

McDonald was a healthy scratch for Game 4 and Game 5 of the 1988-89 Stanley Cup Final, but he played Game 6 at the Montreal Forum the arena where he scored his first NHL goal. In that game, the last goal of his NHL career beat Patrick Roy in the second period put his Flames ahead 2-1. Calgary went on to win that game to win their first NHL championship since entering the NHL as the Atlanta Flames in 1972. Flames’ captain Lanny McDonald skated the first victory lap holding the Cup.

McDonald retired after the Stanley Cup season to become the Flames’ vice president. He remained in that role for several seasons. His No. 9 jersey was retired by the team on March 17, 1990. Two years later he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He now serves as the Chairman of the Hockey Hall.