Talking hockey with Lanny McDonald

Lanny McDonald's trademark moustache has lost much of its red hue, but he's lost none of the gregarious nature that made him a fan favourite

Lanny McDonald (left) had some great battles with current Abbotsford Heat president Ryan Walter during his Hall of Fame NHL career. Walter's Montreal Canadiens beat McDonald's Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup finals in 1986

Lanny McDonald (left) had some great battles with current Abbotsford Heat president Ryan Walter during his Hall of Fame NHL career. Walter's Montreal Canadiens beat McDonald's Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup finals in 1986

Lanny McDonald’s trademark moustache has lost much of its original reddish hue – these days, it’s mostly silver. But the 59-year-old has lost none of the gregarious nature that made him a fan favourite during his Hall of Fame NHL career with the Calgary Flames, Colorado Rockies and Toronto Maple Leafs.

McDonald was in Abbotsford on Thursday, making appearances in the community as part of the Heat’s Hockey Heroes Night, and he took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with The News.

Q: Former NHLer Ryan Walter is president of the Abbotsford Heat, and you had some great battles against his teams over the years – his Montreal Canadiens beat your Flames in the 1986 Stanley Cup finals, but the Flames got revenge in the ’89 finals. Have you had a chance to catch up with him, and what are your recollections of him as a player?

A: “Ryan played tough all the time. Every time you were faced off against him, whether you were lined up at centre ice or in the corners, you knew you were going to have to give it everything you’ve got to find a way to beat him. He was just that kind of a player.

“He was a great team guy, and probably had the same kind of love for the game I had. You hated playing against him, but now we can be good friends and actually enjoy the friendships outside the trials and tribulations of the NHL.”

Q: You’re one of the rare NHL players who didn’t spend any time in the AHL (McDonald went directly from the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers to the Toronto Maple Leafs). What are your impressions of this league, in terms of what it does for the development of your players?

A: “When you look at the Calgary Flames this year, one of the things that happened when they had all those injuries and were calling up players from the Heat all the way through it, it was some of the best hockey they played. The youth and enthusiasm that the young Heat players brought up, but also the skill level is unbelievable. I think they added a tremendous amount to the Flames when they were hanging in there that whole time. They might have to call a couple of those guys back up to find a way to get into the playoffs, I don’t know.

“The skill level of today’s player is absolutely phenomenal. They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster. When you watch each and every day how well they can pick up the puck in stride, whether it’s in their skates, backhand, forehand, you name it. One of the challenges in our game today is, there’s not a lot of room out when you add in the factor of bigger players, faster players. Sometimes how fast that gap is closed before you know it.”

Q: During your career, you crossed paths with a lot of iconic people in the game and were involved in a lot of memorable moments. I wanted to ask you first of all about playing for Don Cherry with the Colorado Rockies. What was that like?

A: “Don made it entertaining every game and every year, regardless of whether he was in Boston or there. And especially now on Coach’s Corner. I always tease Don that if he’d have kept coaching, he would have run out of teams – he would have gone through all 30. And now that he’s on Coach’s Corner, even the CBC can’t fire him at this point.

“But the one thing I absolutely love about Grapes is, what you see is what you get. His support of the Canadian armed forces and what the men and women in the Canadian armed forces represent for Canada is absolutely phenomenal. So I’ll stick up for Don all the time.”

Q: Back in ’86, you were involved in the memorable Game 7 between the Flames and Oilers where Edmonton defenceman Steve Smith scored on his own net.

A: “It was such a hard-fought battle. We’d lost to them, I believe it was in ’84, up there in Game 7. Now, all of a sudden you’re back there thinking, will this ever end? And then lo and behold, Steve Smith scores that goal.

“The interesting thing about that play was, (Oilers goalie) Grant Fuhr never really got a whole lot of the criticism for not being on the post. And it hits him in the back of the leg and goes into the net. Quite frankly, we didn’t feel sorry. We were ecstatic at that point, and thank God we finally broke that goose-egg and won that series.”

Q: The moment most people associate you with was in ’89, when you scored the key goal in the victory that clinched the Stanley Cup for the Flames in Game 6 of the finals at the Montreal Forum. Walk me through scoring that goal on Patrick Roy.

A: “First of all, I had just taken a penalty before scoring that goal. I had a great chance – I think Dana Murzyn took a shot from the point, and all I had to do was grab it, pull it sideways and put it in the open net. You’d think after 16 years . . . but you’re in the Stanley Cup final, and hopefully this is it. But I just made the play too quickly, and Patrick Roy made the save and the puck went in the corner. I took a hooking penalty trying to get the puck back from Bobby Smith, and ended up having to go to the box for two minutes.

“I come out of the box, and Hakan Loob grabs the puck going up-ice, and I jump into the play. He throws it over to Joe Nieuwendyk on the far side, and people don’t realize what a great pass Nieuwendyk made. It was a one-timed pass in between Chelios’s stick and skates. We all knew that if Patrick Roy slides across, you’ve got to go top-shelf. When that puck went in, it was like, end this game right now! Get me out of here. It was pretty cool.”