September 25, 2018

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Jets' Winnipeg-born first captain, first goal-scorer Ab McDonald dies at 82

Ab McDonald seemingly did it all. He was a four-time Stanley Cup champion. The first-ever captain of his hometown Winnipeg Jets who scored the team's first-ever goal, a loyal teammate and friend and a charitable force who was fiercely proud of his roots.

And so, McDonald's death on Tuesday, at the age of 82, created a major ripple throughout the city and the sport he loved so dearly. He died following a brief illness.

"On behalf of all of us who currently wear the Jets logo, I'd like to extend our condolences to the friends and family of the original captain — Ab McDonald. He was a true ambassador for the game and our franchise, as well as a Stanley Cup champion," current Jets captain Blake Wheeler said Wednesday in a statement.

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Ab McDonald seemingly did it all. He was a four-time Stanley Cup champion. The first-ever captain of his hometown Winnipeg Jets who scored the team's first-ever goal, a loyal teammate and friend and a charitable force who was fiercely proud of his roots.

And so, McDonald's death on Tuesday, at the age of 82, created a major ripple throughout the city and the sport he loved so dearly. He died following a brief illness.

AB MCDONALD BY THE NUMBERS:

Born: Feb. 18, 1936 in Winnipeg

NHL Career

— 14 seasons: Montreal Canadiens (3), Chicago Blackhawks (4), Boston Bruins (1), Detroit Red Wings (2), Pittsburgh Penguins (1), St. Louis Blues (3)

Born: Feb. 18, 1936 in Winnipeg

NHL Career

— 14 seasons: Montreal Canadiens (3), Chicago Blackhawks (4), Boston Bruins (1), Detroit Red Wings (2), Pittsburgh Penguins (1), St. Louis Blues (3)

NHL Stats

— 762 regular-season games: 182 G, 248 A, 200 PIM.

— 84 playoff games: 21 G, 29 A, 42 PIM.

WHA Career

2 seasons: Winnipeg Jets

WHA Stats:

— 147 regular-season games: 29 G, 41 A, 24 PIM.

— 18 playoff games: 2 G, 6 A, 4 PIM.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:

— Played three seasons of junior with the St. Boniface Canadiens in the MJHL. Was scoring champion in 1954, won the league championship in 1953 and 1954.

— Played two more seasons of junior with the St. Catharines Teepees of the OHL

— Five-time NHL All Star (1958, 1959, 1961, 1969, 1970)

— Four-time Stanley Cup Champion (1958, 1959, 1960, 1961)

— Following his retirement, coached for two seasons with the Portage Terriers of the MJHL.

— Inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

"On behalf of all of us who currently wear the Jets logo, I'd like to extend our condolences to the friends and family of the original captain — Ab McDonald. He was a true ambassador for the game and our franchise, as well as a Stanley Cup champion," current Jets captain Blake Wheeler said Wednesday in a statement.

The Winnipeg-born star, whose given names were Alvin Brian, played 762 career regular-season NHL games over 14 seasons in Montreal, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis before joining the Jets for their inaugural World Hockey Association season in 1972-73. He spent two seasons here before calling it a career, with 29 goals and 41 assists in 147 regular-season games with the Jets.

The 6-2, 194-pound left winger had exactly 500 regular-season points combined in pro hockey (211 goals, 289 assists) while winning his four Stanley Cups in consecutive seasons — three with Montreal (1957-60) and one with Chicago in 1960-61, when he scored the winning goal.

Ab McDonald in his basement with his memorabilia including two replica Stanley Cups from the 1960 Montreal Canadiens and the 1961 Chicago Blackhawks. Ab has been on four Stanley Cup-winning teams, three in Montreal and one in Chicago. He was raised in Winnipeg and was the first-ever captain of the original Winnipeg Jets.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Ab McDonald in his basement with his memorabilia including two replica Stanley Cups from the 1960 Montreal Canadiens and the 1961 Chicago Blackhawks. Ab has been on four Stanley Cup-winning teams, three in Montreal and one in Chicago. He was raised in Winnipeg and was the first-ever captain of the original Winnipeg Jets.

McDonald was perhaps best remembered for playing on the Scooter Line in Chicago with Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram. He was also the first captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1967-68.

"Hockey has lost one of its great guys," the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame said in a statement.

Winnipegger Art Stratton played junior with McDonald in St. Catharines, then again a decade later when they were NHL teammates in Pittsburgh for a season, and then one more time near the end of their careers in the AHL.

"Ab was a great winger. All you had to do was give him the puck and he did the rest," Stratton, 82, told the Free Press Wednesday. But as enjoyable as the hockey experience was, Stratton said his fondest memories of McDonald are away from the rink, whether it was on long bus rides together or during many of their rounds of golf.

"He'd get his guitar and have that on the back of the bus, and we'd have a lot of singalongs," Stratton said.

The two kept in touch over the years and would often see each other at various charity events. Their last meeting was last year, during the Penguins' 50th anniversary celebrations.

"I just about fell over when I heard," Stratton said of his buddy's death. "These things come on pretty quick, I guess."

Chicago Blackhawks in the 1960s. The original Scooter line - (l-r) Ken Wharram, Stan Mikita, Ab McDonald.

SUPPLIED

Chicago Blackhawks in the 1960s. The original Scooter line - (l-r) Ken Wharram, Stan Mikita, Ab McDonald.

McDonald leaves a huge legacy behind, he said.

"There's no question he meant a lot," he said. "Every blasted charity that was on, he seemed to be on it. He was involved in everything, it seemed. And he enjoyed it.

"He was always an easy-going guy. I don't think he wanted to say no to anything or anybody."

Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports & Entertainment, called McDonald a "a legend in this city's hockey history" whose "reputation as an outstanding teammate carried over into his life after hockey."

"(McDonald) always represented our hockey community proudly. Whether it was at a Manitoba Moose game or a Jets game, he was quick with a smile and willing to engage in a talk about the game he loved. As a valuable contributor to our organization, he was influential in helping us reconnect with such an important group in our history — the Winnipeg Jets Alumni and Friends. He will be greatly missed," Chipman said in a statement.

Joe Daley, the former goaltender and Jets legend, said McDonald was his "dear, dear friend." The two first played on the same team at the beginning of Daley's professional hockey career, as well as the end of McDonald's, with some stops in between.

"Our relationship was long, and it was a pleasure for me, that's for sure," Daley said. The pair played together with the Memphis Wings in 1965-66, the Pittsburgh Hornets in 1966-67, the Penguins in 1967-68, the Red Wings in 1971-72 and the Jets in 1972-74.

McDonald won four Stanley Cups in consecutive seasons three with the Montreal Canadiens in 1957-1960 and one with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1960-61.

MANITOBA HOCKEY HALL OF FAME

McDonald won four Stanley Cups in consecutive seasons three with the Montreal Canadiens in 1957-1960 and one with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1960-61.

"He was a wonderful man, supportive, and loved being a contributor to us young guys in regards to trying to teach us the way," said Daley, 75. "What I really liked about him was that he never tried to put himself ahead of you or anybody else. With him, it was, 'I'm here, I'm part of the group and here's what we have to do to try to win.' He had such a fun-loving nature. He loved to have fun with us."

Daley said McDonald shared what he learned about the game and life with those around him.

"He played with so many great players. If you pay attention as you go along in life and you encounter a lot of good people, if you pick up a few of their good traits, you're going to become a good person too," Daley said. "He played with enough great hockey players and great people that at the end of the day, Abby was a combination of all of them."

In a Winnipeg Free Press story in 2016 when he turned 80, McDonald talked about the importance of having fun while playing the game.

"The harder you work, the easier it gets. And if it’s fun doing it, it’s not hard work. It’s a crazy circle," he said.

When he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, McDonald spoke about how important it was for him to return to Winnipeg when the Jets and the World Hockey Association started in 1972, near the end of his playing career.

"I saw this as an opportunity to help bring major-league hockey to the city," he said.

McDonald and his wife Pat in their backyard in west Winnipeg in 2016.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

McDonald and his wife Pat in their backyard in west Winnipeg in 2016.

Daley said McDonald's commitment to the Jets was a great example of how much he loved hockey and his hometown.

"It would have been easy for him to say, 'I've had a great career, I've played 14 years in the National Hockey League, I've won four Stanley Cups, I don't need to do anything else,'" he said.

"Yet, it was important for him to be part of the group that got it started back in '72 and (be) a good contributor. He was our first captain and so he should have been. He had a lot of fun and he certainly lent his hand in guiding us, but that's Abby.

"He loved Winnipeg, loved the people of Winnipeg. He never forgot his roots."

Locally, McDonald played junior hockey with the St. Boniface Canadiens, who were Memorial Cup finalists in 1953. He won the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s scoring title in 1954.

The province awarded McDonald the Order of the Buffalo Hunt to celebrate his 80th birthday and his long volunteer service with Special Olympics.

"He had a wonderful career and accomplished a lot as an individual and certainly as a member of some great teams," Daley said. "Those things made him proud, but it never took him above anybody. He was just a great guy, loved his family, was so proud of his children and grandchildren. Just a great guy that we've lost but we'll talk about for a long time forward."

McDonald is survived by his wife, Pat, their five children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 at 8:14 PM CDT: Updates story.

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