2022 oohic lanny macdonald updated

The life of Lanny

A larger-than-life legend of the game, Lanny McDonald’s impact on Canadian hockey – as a player, an executive, a cheerleader and a fan – has spanned generations

Chris Jurewicz
June 23, 2022

There’s a photo of Lanny McDonald from 1989 that has become synonymous with the sacrifice it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

There is Lanny, the red-haired and moustached co-captain of the Calgary Flames (also bearded at that time from the long playoff run), sweat dripping from his forehead and still wearing his bright red Flames jersey with the captain’s ‘C’, cradling the Cup. Look at Lanny’s face and you can see elation at reaching the pinnacle of pro hockey following years of hard work and commitment.

Every year during the NHL playoffs, that seems to be among the most prominent photos shown.

Over 30 years later, McDonald, a product of nearby Hanna, Alta., continues to call Calgary home and is such a legend in the town that he can’t really go anywhere without fans wanting to meet him and talk to him (mostly) about 1989. He says it is still magical to this day.

“It is unbelievable,” says McDonald. “That is a moment in time for not only myself and all of our teammates. To have nine of the guys from the Stanley Cup team still live in the city, that is remarkable and shows how much everyone loves Calgary. How we all still want to be a part of it. To be able to share that with people, grandparents, parents, and now they’re telling their kids. I sign autographs for so many little kids that I’m sure have no idea who I am but their mom or their dad or their grandparents said ‘Oh, this is a legend.’”

The word ‘legend’ is thrown around a lot in sports, but there’s no doubt it applies to McDonald. Following three seasons in the Western Central Hockey League (a precursor to the Western Hockey League) with the Calgary Centennials and Medicine Hat Tigers, he would go move on to a Hockey Hall of Fame career that spanned 1,111 games, an even 500 goals and 1,006 points. His first eight seasons were with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Rockies before a memorable day in November 1981 when Lanny was traded to the Flames, the club with which he spent the remainder of his career, concluding with that Cup win over the Montreal Canadiens, 33 years ago.

There have been countless individual and team accolades over the years for McDonald and, this year, there’s one more – he is among three Distinguished Honourees of the Order of Hockey in Canada. He joins the late Guy Lafleur and legendary women’s hockey goaltender Kim St-Pierre as the newest members of the Order, which honours those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of hockey. McDonald was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. He says the latest honour is right up there.

“You certainly never think of ever receiving an award like this. When [Hockey Canada CEO] Tom Renney called, at that time he was on the board of the Hockey Hall of Fame so I’m thinking, ‘Tom must want to talk about something about the Hall of Fame,’” says McDonald. “And then he gives me that news and you’re speechless. It was just so cool. Tom and I have been friends forever and to hear that come from him was pretty darn nice.”

That iconic picture from 1989 is certainly what McDonald is best known for. But he also had a memorable international career; it included wearing the Maple Leaf at the 1976 Canada Cup and 1981 IIHF World Championship, and facing the Soviet Union with a team of NHL all-stars during the 1979 Challenge Cup.

The 1976 Canada Cup roster is considered by many the greatest-ever Canadian team. McDonald was one of 18 future Hockey Hall of Fame inductees on that team, which also included Lafleur, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne and Bobby Clarke. Really, a who’s-who of hockey in that generation. That ’76 team would triumph in a best-of-three final over Czechoslovakia, claiming the first Canada Cup title.

“That was a star-studded team. You have the likes of Lafleur, Esposito, Bobby Clarke. The list went on and on,” says McDonald. “I think there were 18 Hall of Famers on that team. I was like a little kid in a candy store looking on in the dressing room, like which one doesn’t fit in.”

McDonald has continued his involvement in international hockey since the end of his playing days. He was general manager of Team Canada at the 2001 and 2002 IIHF World Championships and was director of player personnel of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2004 worlds.

He notes that many Canadian kids grow up dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup, but international hockey is unique and special in its own ways.

“I think because it doesn’t happen every year. Yes, the world championships happen every year … but you only get to it every so often,” says McDonald. “When it happens, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, this is one of the coolest things you could ever possibly do.’ There’s such great pride in the Maple Leaf and the jersey. I have had such a fun time over the years of being part of Team Canada.”

These days, he is chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame, which he describes as the coolest job.

“If you love the game and love the history of the game, what a great position to have,” says McDonald.

He also does what he can to grow the game. In May, McDonald was in Finland at the IIHF World Championship. That same month, hockey fans who took in the Battle of Alberta between the Flames and Edmonton Oilers also saw McDonald on the big screen cheering on his beloved Flames in Game 1 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. In early June, he was cracking jokes and entertaining crowds at Tooth of Dog Pound Creek Golf Course for a charity event.

McDonald is a self-described fan of the game. That includes the history of the game and also where it is today. You likely won’t find a better cheerleader for the game of hockey and one who is so recognizable wherever he goes.

He loves where hockey is today but knows there’s more work ahead to continue to grow the game and ensure all kids have the chance to play.

“You look at Hockey Canada and you look at a company like Scotiabank which is a major sponsor of hockey across the country, we’re all trying to make sure that it’s inclusive and available for everyone,” says McDonald. “To see kids that may never have that opportunity all of a sudden find this love affair with this great game that we have all had feelings for all along, is so great. We just have to continue to work at it and make sure that hockey is for everyone.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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