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Bucko McDonald shaped Bobby Orr’s career

A veritable brute on skates, McDonald played from the 1930s through the 1940s with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers, winning championships with Detroit in 1936 and 1937 and then with Toronto in 1942.

He played in the longest game in NHL history, while in uniform with Detroit in their 1-0 victory in sixth overtime on the night of March 24-25, 1936. That night, he had pocketed a bonus of $185 from a loyal Red Wings fan, who had offered him $5 for each of the 37 hits he had cheerfully distributed to Montreal Maroons players.

Bucko has coached in the professional miner ranks in Rochester, NY, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Thirty-one years after his death on July 21, 1991 at the age of 79, he is still a lacrosse legend in Canada, having been inducted into the sport’s Hall of Fame in 1971.

He was an important player in federal politics as well. He was twice elected as Member of Parliament for Parry Sound-Muskoka. He retired in 1957, after 12 years, without ever having been defeated.

But Bucko, nicknamed as a boy in his hometown of Fergus, Ont., because of his natural strength and athleticism, left a legacy much bigger than that. Indeed, McDonald managed a young prodigy by the name of Bobby Orr for two seasons in Parry Sound, transforming the attacker into a defenseman and letting the young teenager play hockey with the creativity and the instinct that we know him today. .

Thanks to this freedom at the Oshawa Generals in the junior ranks, then eventually with the Boston Bruins, Orr would reinvent the position of defenseman. He took the style of play of Doug Harvey, the star of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s, to another level.

“Bobby Orr is the player who has had the greatest impact among all those I have worked with in my life,” wrote the late Jean Béliveau in his autobiography published in 1994. “He deserved his place in the history of the hockey by single-handedly changing the style played in my time to the one we see today. In my opinion, there can be no greater legacy. »

Orr spoke highly of the impact McDonald’s had on his career, which led him to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“Bucko McDonald was a giant with character, someone who always seemed to do things his way,” he wrote in his 2013 autobiography. if they had no one to drive them to the arena for practice or a game.

“I could hear Bucko’s truck park in front of the house, where I waited patiently for it on the porch, and then we drove to our favorite rest stop, just outside of town along Highway 69. .

We always went there for the pre-game meal, to gobble up all sorts of delicious things: hamburgers, fries, ice cream. You know all those healthy foods? By today’s standards, that hardly qualifies as an acceptable pregame meal, but Bucko didn’t care. He always said that the important thing was not what was in your stomach while playing, but rather what was in your heart. »

McDonald’s gaming system – or rather the lack of a gaming system – was equally revolutionary, especially when it came to a young player of unlimited talent.

“Bucko allowed me to play with my instinct on the ice: never get rid of the puck when you can control it. Keep it and let the game unfold before you, Orr wrote. It was so much easier to make games when I was on the move, and Bucko reinforced that concept in me.

“The best game in hockey is still pass and go, and you can’t make that game if at least one player isn’t moving. […] I believe that Bucko and all my other coaches have contributed to my career by allowing me to trust my instincts and skate with the puck. »

McDonald’s has always marveled at Orr’s skill and extraordinary vision. And Orr has always credited his coach at the bantam and midget levels for the crucial role he played in his career. His mentor was inducted into the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame of Parry Sound in 2016.

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Bucko had been particularly complimentary in March 1966 during a visit to the Montreal Forum. He had driven more than 300 kilometers to see the then 17-year-old Oshawa Generals captain compete against coach Scotty Bowman’s junior Canadiens.

Orr would make his Bruins debut seven months later, and hockey would change forever.

“He was an exceptional boy the first time I saw him,” McDonald said, while Bowman said “no one comes close to Orr” when it comes to skating.

“He had all the necessary assets, he was good with his stick and he was smart, in addition to being good at school. I made him captain at the bantam and midget levels, and then he was accepted as captain by boys who were older than him. He was the idol of the children in Parry Sound.

“He’s a carbon copy of Doug Harvey, and I consider Harvey the best of all time. Bobby can skate faster and he has a stronger shot than Harvey. »

Then, like a prophecy, he said, “Keep in mind that Bobby is still in the junior ranks, but he has the potential to become one of the greatest players of all time. He could draw NHL crowds and be the leader the Bruins have been looking for since Milt Schmidt retired. »

McDonald had seen talented players as a defender on 10 different teams. His career spanned from the junior ranks with Ottawa in 1931-32 to the senior Sundridge Beavers team in 1949-50. In the meantime, he has played with three NHL teams and made saves in the International Hockey League and other American professional minor leagues. He was also a trainer and scout. It’s simple, hockey ran through his veins.

Bucko was “a great communicator,” according to Orr, a skill he learned while debating in Parliament and with his hockey bosses, with whom he clashed on several occasions.

McDonald was 5-foot-10 and almost 200 pounds, and was known to be one of the hardiest players in NHL history. It was built in the shape of a barrel and it was a real bottomless pit when it came time to sit down to eat.

“Bucko gets his strength from every hamburger he eats,” journalist Dal MacDonald wrote of the Red Wings defenseman in a 1936 article. . When word got out, he received countless offers from Detroit restaurateurs to come in for all-you-can-eat meals, in order to make an appearance at a restaurant. »

Bucko was an excellent amateur and professional lacrosse player. He notably played for a team that Conn Smythe operated at Maple Leaf Gardens. When the professional ranks collapsed and he was no longer eligible to play at the amateur level, he received an invitation from Smythe to attend his NHL team’s training camp in 1933, even though his kick skate left something to be desired.

McDonald was going to be sent to the minors with the Buffalo Bisons, but since he was just warming up the bench, he asked to be released.

Smythe replied with a scathing telegram: “You’re as ugly as the January weather.” He granted Bucko’s wish by trading him to the Red Wings.

McDonald played six seasons with Detroit, winning the Stanley Cup twice, then was traded to Toronto in December 1938, obviously not as “ugly” as Smythe thought. A third Stanley Cup title followed in 1942 before his contract was sold to the Rangers in November 1943 for his final two NHL seasons.

Red Wings GM Jack Adams mocked the stocky defenseman during his final season in Toronto, responding to the few arrows McDonald had thrown at him.

“McDonalds? That means something to me, Adams said sarcastically. Is that the pot-bellied guy who stood on the ice last night in front of (Toronto goaltender) Turk Broda? I thought it was a fan who wanted to get a better view of the game. This big guy looked like a traffic cop, directing traffic towards the Toronto goal. He didn’t stop much. »

In total, McDonald played 446 NHL games, scoring 123 points (35 goals, 88 assists) and adding seven points (one goal, six assists) in 50 additional playoff games.

Bobby Orr was two years old when Bucko played his last organized hockey game, lining up for Sundridge at senior level while serving in Parliament. But their paths would cross in Parry Sound in the early 1960s, when McDonald was a scout for the Red Wings.

“I wonder how many young people have played under a coach who has been an NHL player and a Member of Parliament,” Orr wondered in his book. “Once his team was assembled, McDonald was the kind of person who could look at the big picture and he had that talent that all good coaches have of arranging for everyone to fit into the team. »

Months before Orr’s NHL debut, McDonald’s was praising a junior defenseman who is now part of everyone’s discussion of the greatest hockey player of all time.

“Every time he has the puck, he becomes the center of everyone’s attention,” McDonald said. Very few players have this asset, only Frank Mahovlich, Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe. Bobby is always in the right place at the right time, and because of that, the puck always seems to stick to him. He seems to have this sixth sense. »

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