The Moustache Man
This is an interview with Lanny McDonald. ’Nuff said
by Stephen LaRose
WITH LANNY MCDONALD, GLEN SUITOR AND MORE
The Decline And Fall of Alberta Civilization can be recorded through one incident that confirms the asshattery of Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger. As a teenager, he used a pickup truck to knock down the sign, on the highway into Hanna, Alberta, commemorating the community as Lanny McDonald's home town.
You don't have to be a Toronto Maple Leafs or Calgary Flames fan to, upon hearing this, delete your entire Nickelback collection from your My Music folder (why you would have Nickelback music files in the first place is another question for another time…).
Then again, Kroeger was just a kid - mentally, he's still in adolescence, if you slog through a Nickelback lyric sheet - while Lanny's The Man.
But that's understandable. If you're not old enough to vote or drink legally, you're too young to understand what Lanny McDonald means - not only as a tough, hard-nosed sniper but also as a cultural icon - a western boy playing in the biggest stage in hockey in front of his hometown fans. Getting traded from the Colorado Rockies (not the baseball team but the floundering NHL team that later became the New Jersey Devils) was probably the best thing to happen to Lanny, and a great thing for Canadian hockey in general.
But McDonald's reputation was cemented with his dramatic Game 7 overtime goal against the New York Islanders in the 1978 NHL Stanley Cup semi-finals. And his reputation as a class act survived his exile to Colorado by the paranoid, vindictive and stupid Harold Ballard the following year.
Our interview, conducted by phone, was done when Lanny had a few other things on his mind. He and his family were on their way to a hospital in Montana where Lanny was about to see his first granddaughter (he has two grandsons).
How's life after hockey?
It's been awesome. There's never a dull moment and I don't expect that to change for a long time. I left the Flames organization 11 years ago and have not looked back. I work for an oil and gas services company; I serve on a couple of boards and do some advertising for a couple of different companies. And our family owns a microbrewery, restaurant and a couple of other developments in Montana. We've got a lot on the go.
How many of these meet-and-greet engagements (such as this one for the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and Museum) do you do a year?
I do, probably, 12 to 15 of these a year.
Apart from a free meal or appearance fees, what do you get out of this?
I enjoy meeting people! I had a blast my entire career; nobody had any more fun playing the game than I did, whether it was at practice or in the game. It's an opportunity to share a few laughs and stories with a few people.
Darryl Sittler made a cameo in Corner Gas. Are you jealous?
Not a chance. Darryl and I are best friends, and I remember him talking about that episode (where Brent LeRoy and Hank Yarbo argue over the possession of a Darryl Sittler rookie card). On my work, I go through where they filmed Corner Gas all the time, heading for Weyburn or Estevan.
But you'd think the Lanny McDonald rookie card would have been worth more than Sittler's. That may be the only photo of you in a Leafs uniform without your trademark moustache. (McDonald started growing the famous facial hair the following season.)
Then you would have had the argument, "Wait, this is Wendell Clark country." And the debate would go on and on. Darryl was a great choice for that episode.
What inspired you to grow that moustache?
At the end of the first season I drove back to Medicine Hat from Toronto, and I didn't shave on the way home, and grew the beard for the rest of the summer. I knew that I couldn't keep the beard because it was it was against Maple Leaf rules and regulations, so I had a Fu Manchu for two or three days, and I looked pretty sick with that. So I decided to keep the moustache and … what is it, 35, 37 years later, I still have it.
Never had a desire to shave it off?
I've had many offers at many times by different companies, but I would have to go into hiding for a couple of years. I like it just fine.
You were a member of the 1976 Canada Cup team, which, arguably, was one of the greatest hockey teams Canada has ever assembled. If that team, at its prime, played, say the 2002 or 2010 Olympic gold medal teams, who would win?
Those are different eras and different styles of play. If you look at the 76 team, and you look at that lineup and the amount of hall-of-famers on that squad, it was a pretty damn good team. But if you look at those Olympic teams, there's probably going to be as many or more hall-of-fame players on those teams as there were on the Canada Cup team. It's two different eras, two different styles of play. You could never say 'Yeah, we'd beat them,' or 'Yeah, they'd beat us.' It's an honour to play for your country.
There's a lot of talk in hockey about concussions, especially in light of what's happening with Sidney Crosby. Did you suffer any concussions in your playing career?
My wife still thinks I have a concussion... suffered six or seven different concussions. Back then, they just believed you just got your bell rung, you'd take the smelling salts and go back out. You'd play on instinct for a couple of shifts or even a period, before you'd realize, 'Oh my God, now it's coming back to me," and you'd never know you had just played.
It happened a lot but it's a serious issue, especially with the size of the players, the speed of the game, and hardness of the equipment that is now being used. They're getting dressed up like gladiators out there. The equipment's made out of plastic now and it's so hard that even if you just get a glancing blow when you get hit with an elbow or shoulder pad, you get a concussion.
There's been some research done about the medium- and long-term effects of concussions on the human brain. Do you get concerned about your fate?
"Absolutely you do, especially when you have family. We have four children; we're celebrating the birth of our third grandchild and we want to be around to enjoy the time we have with them. You can't go back in time, but because you love the game, you want to make sure that it gets better, not worse.
How will that be done? By more suspensions on headshots in the NHL or the Canadian Hockey Association or minor hockey...
Absolutely. I think the NHL is doing a much better job in doling out discipline for infractions that are meant to injure, as opposed to being part of the play. But the players have to have greater respect for each other, and the game. There's a great program that Sheldon Kennedy and Wayne McNeil [run], that they're getting the information out to all minor hockey across Canada. We need to get the respect back in sport - all levels of sport, but we really have to get the NHL on line because kids want to do what their heroes do in hockey, and, obviously, that's the NHL. They've got to get it right because, like it or not, they're teaching the next generation of hockey players how to play the game.
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