Early Life and Hockey Career
Lanny McDonald was born in Hanna, Alberta, the youngest of four siblings, to Lorne and Phyllis McDonald. He grew up on his family’s farm in Craigmyle, Alberta, about 25 km from Hanna. While his father worked the farm, his mother was a teacher at the local school. McDonald later credited his upbringing with instilling in him the values of hard work and family. “I think when you grow up on a farm and you’re a part of farming life and hard work you have a whole new appreciation for what it takes as a family to get the job done,” he told the Calgary Herald in 2013.
DID YOU KNOW?
Lanny McDonald is not the only famous Canadian from Hanna, Alberta. The town is probably best known as the birthplace of rock band Nickelback.
McDonald played minor hockey for years before deciding at age 16 to try out for a team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He scored only two goals in 34 games in his first season with the Lethbridge Sugar Kings (1969–70), but the following season improved markedly, with 37 goals and 45 assists in 45 games. That season (1970–71), he also played six games with the Calgary Centennials in the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League (WCJHL). He played the next two seasons with the WCJHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, scoring 50 goals in 1971–72 and 62 goals in 1972–73. By the time of the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft, he was considered one of the top picks, noted for his shot, his skating abilities and his toughness.Lorne McDonald loved hockey and was a big fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Lanny’s middle name, King, was his father’s tribute to King Clancy. Young Lanny learned to skate at the age of five and shot pucks in the basement with his older brother. He was also allowed to play hockey with his brother’s friends, “with the understanding that you had to keep up and there was no whining. That probably worked in my favour. We didn’t have a whole lot but we had a whole lot, if you know what I mean. We had family and that was the most important thing.”
Toronto Maple Leafs
In the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft, McDonald was first pick for the Toronto Maple Leafs and fourth overall. It was a dream come true for the young player, particularly since he and his father were both big fans of the Toronto team.
Growing up listening to Foster Hewitt — we didn’t have a TV until I was 10 — listening to the Leafs on Saturday nights with my father.... Mostly because of that bond with my dad, he loved the Toronto Maple Leafs and obviously I came to love them, too, and to have a chance to go there and play… it was just so cool.
He had a slow start with the Leafs, scoring only 31 goals in total in his first two years. In 1975–76, however, that changed. Toronto coach Red Kelly put McDonald on the same line as Darryl Sittler, and they seemed to click. As Sittler later put it, “…it soon became an instinctive and intuitive situation. 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.” McDonald shone in 1975–76, scoring more goals (37) and points (93) in one season than he had in the previous two campaigns combined. Over the next three seasons, he was one of the top six goal-scorers in the league, averaging 45 goals per season. However, in December 1979 he was traded to the Colorado Rockies by Punch Imlach — much to the disgust of fans and teammates, including Sittler.
McDonald played only two years with Colorado — including one season (1980–81) as captain — before he was again traded in November 1981, this time to the Calgary Flames.
Calgary’s trade for McDonald was inspired. “The minute — no, the second — he walked into the dressing room, things changed” for the team, according to general manager Cliff Fletcher. McDonald’s first full season with the Flames (1982–83) was spectacular. He scored 66 goals (second only to Wayne Gretzky in the league) and just missed a 100-point season (98 points total). He was also awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy that year as the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
McDonald played some of the best hockey of his career with the Flames and was team captain for six years. In 1988, he became the first recipient of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his leadership on and off the ice and his humanitarian contributions (see Charitable Activities below). McDonald retired following Calgary’s Stanley Cup victory in 1988–89, having scored 500 goals and 1,006 points in 1,111 regular-season games over his 16-year career in the NHL.
McDonald was chosen to play for Team Canada at the 1976 Canada Cup, an international tournament featuring teams from Canada, the United States, the USSR, Sweden, Finland and Czechoslovakia. He played five games and made two assists during the tournament, including the overtime goal by Leafs teammate Darryl Sittler that won the series for Canada. McDonald was also part of the NHL All-Star team that played the USSR in the 1979 Challenge Cup series, which the Soviets won. He again played for Canada at the 1981 World Hockey Championships, scoring three goals in eight games (Canada placed fourth).
Following his retirement from the NHL, McDonald became a vice-president with the Calgary Flames and served in various positions with the team until 2003. He also served as general manager of the national men’s team at the 2001 and 2002 world championships and as director of player personnel for the 2004 championship, where Canada won the gold medal. McDonald served for years on the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee and in 2015 was named chair of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Man Behind the Moustache
McDonald was known for his shot, his toughness, his dedication, his work ethic — and for his thick red moustache. According to McDonald, he was inspired to grow his moustache in the 1970s by the impressive facial hair sported by New York Yankees relief pitcher Albert Walter “Sparky” Lyle. “I didn’t grow it for attention,” he remarked in 2017. “But it becomes a part of your personality, your persona. Did I ever dream how much attention it would receive? No. Not in a million years. The red in it is certainly gone now but I could never shave it off.”
McDonald is well known for his charitable activity, particularly for his lengthy involvement with the Special Olympics. Since 1974, when he represented the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Special Olympics Summer Games, he has been involved in awareness and fundraising campaigns with the organization. In 1986, he coached the Canadian floor hockey team and was honorary coach of the Special Olympics Summer Games in Calgary. He has also been involved with the Flames Foundation for Life, the Children’s Miracle Network and the Soldier On Fund.
McDonald credits his father — who for years was volunteer secretary-treasurer of the Hand Hills Stampede — for demonstrating the importance of giving back to the community.“When I left home, my father said, ‘As great as it would be to be recognized as a hockey player, I hope they recognize you as Lanny McDonald the man,’” he told the Edmonton Journal in 2008. “I thought about it — what the hell did he mean by that? … What he was basically telling me is, live your life with integrity — be a part of whatever happens out there. He was the greatest example I could give of helping make a difference.”
Lanny McDonald and his wife, Ardell, have four children — sons Barrett and Graham and daughters Andra and Leah — and several grandchildren. In Captain: My Life and Career (2016), former Leafs teammate Darryl Sittler summed up his friend in these words: “Lanny McDonald is a truly genuine guy, down-to-earth, sincere, a character with a big heart. The great love he has for his wife and kids has to be seen to be believed. He’s a one-of-a-kind type of guy and has the dependability and generosity inside that makes him a friend for life.”
Honours and Awards
- Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (1983)
- Ralph T. Scurfield Humanitarian Award, Calgary Flames (1987)
- King Clancy Memorial Trophy (1988)
- NHL’s Man of the Year (1989)
- Jersey (#9) retired by Calgary Flames (1990)
- Hockey Hall of Fame (1992)
- Alberta Sports Hall of Fame (1993)
- Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2017)