YORKTON - Every once in a while in this job you get to interact with your heroes.
I was always a fan of Lanny McDonald so recognizable on the ice because of his famous walrus moustache.
And, since I am fiercely Canadian in terms of which sports teams I follow, McDonald became even bigger in my mind when he co-captained the Calgary Flames to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 1989.
So, when I read recently Hockey Canada had announced McDonald, along with Guy Lafleur and Kim St-Pierre had been named to the Order of Hockey in Canada for 2022, I had to reach out to see if I could arrange an interview with McDonald.
Fortunately, when he was contacted, he said yes, actually surprising me with how quickly he called me back.
Of course my first question was what he thought of the most recent honour?
“It’s very surprising,” he said. “First of all I was excited and honoured, but also very humbled.”
Of course awards are not new for McDonald. He is a four-time NHL all-star, who had a 16-year NHL career with the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Rockies. McDonald won the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy, the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, while recording 1,006 points in 1,111 games. His No. 9 was retired by the Flames in 1990 and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.
As for the Order of Hockey, McDonald said he appreciates it at this point in his life because it provides a platform to further promote “the great game of hockey.” He said it’s a case he can have a voice not only with people who remember his playing days but with young people as well.
It is young people McDonald said he wants to see involved in the game, because of what it affords, and he wasn’t meaning opportunities to make millions as a pro.
“This great game creates friendships that last a lifetime,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned a new influx of immigrants from countries not familiar with hockey was concerning for the sport, McDonald said he wasn’t because the game is so integral to being Canadian.
“Hockey is such a big part of our country’s history and culture,” he said, adding “people coming here to Canada for the first time catch on very quickly.”
McDonald also said playing a team sport, whether hockey, or another one, is important for youth because it builds confidence and teaches how to work together.
“It’s not so much about hockey as the team concept,” he said.
Hockey is also something for a lifetime, offered McDonald. He related how a brother living in Old, Alta drives into Calgary to still play, and “he just turned 73 which is so cool.”
McDonald said it’s great “to be able to still be able to play the great game,” adding he is now 69 “and I play with them at least once a month if I’m not traveling.”
The idea of lasting friendships from the game is reflected in the Stanley Cup-winning team in Calgary. Nine members of that winning team still live in Calgary, and they get together often.
“We have so much fun together,” said McDonald, adding they often get together to do work in the community. “. . . We have one of the strongest alumni’s in the league.”
That said the Cup isn’t necessarily what he remembers most fondly.
“It probably meant more in the end to play the game for 16 years,” said McDonald.
So what about the Flames this season?
“I don’t think any of the experts saw them being on top of the (Pacific) division at this time,” said McDonald, adding the team has played at a high level the entire season, and watching them “has been so much fun.”
It helps the team has four players with 30-plus goals; Johnny Gadreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane.
“Who would have expected that before the season. I don’t think anybody saw it coming,” said McDonald. “They’ve not stopped since the drop of the puck to start the year.”
McDonald, Lafleur and St. Pierre will be recognized for their contributions to the sport at the annual Hockey Canada Foundation Gala & Golf in Niagara Falls in June.
The Order is a Hockey Canada initiative to celebrate individuals for their outstanding contributions or service to the growth and development of the sport of hockey in Canada. A total of 36 men and women have been named to the Order since it was first introduced in 2012.
McDonald returned to the significance of the award.
“When you start to play this game you do it because you love this game. You never think of the Hall of Fame, or the Order of Hockey In Canada,” he said, adding that when such honours come it is both gratifying and unexpected.
So what is the one nugget of advice for young players and their parents?
“I’d say it to both the parents and kids ... just let them go and have fun,” he said, adding if they end up playing pro that is great, but if it’s just the chance at a lifetime of going to the rink to play the game they have gotten the best out of the game.