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It all comes back to Winnipeg for Ab McDonald

"As a kid growing up on Logan Avenue, that's all you heard about was Ab McDonald. You continue to hear it now."

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

No matter who is telling the story, every recollection of Ab McDonald seems to start in Winnipeg.

For Winnipeg Jets alumni Perry Miller, a Winnipegger just like McDonald, his story begins very early.

He grew up and bragged about growing up on Alexander (Avenue) and Quelch (Street). I grew up on Quelch and Logan (Avenue). Logan and Alexander are one block apart and I was two houses from Quelch," said Miller. "As a kid growing up on Logan Avenue, that's all you heard about was Ab McDonald. You continue to hear it now."

Miller never played with McDonald. Miller came to Winnipeg the season after McDonald retired. But that didn't mean he never saw McDonald hanging around the dressing room.

He always came down and was always welcome in the room," Miller recalled. "He was always the Jets number one captain."

In many ways, it's the perfect story - a hometown product comes home and becomes the first captain of a new franchise.

That's the way it was for McDonald, but he wasn't just given the 'C' to complete a fairy tale. He earned that honour.

Prior to coming to the World Hockey Association's newly formed Winnipeg Jets in 1972, McDonald played 14 seasons in the National Hockey League.

He amassed 430 points in 762 career games with the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the St. Louis Blues.

But the left-winger also performed in the postseason, winning three consecutive Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens between 1958 and 1960, before winning one more with the Blackhawks in 1961.

Video: A Tribute to Ab McDonald

He was very competitive, very skilled. Probably a better player than given credit for. You don't play on the Montreal Canadiens in the 50s and 60s, you don't play on the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961 unless you're a pretty talented player," said Joe Daley, who played with McDonald during his final two seasons in Winnipeg. "He played on the top line in Chicago and throughout his career was a 200-foot hockey player."

As a goaltender, Daley appreciated that type of game from McDonald.

I have a picture that I'm fortunate to have of him and Billy Sutherland back checking in 1972 in our first season in the playoffs against New England," said Daley. "Two guys in front of my net in our end of the rink, and those are the two guys that are there. He gave it all he had every night. He never took a night off. He wasn't a robust player but didn't have to back down from anybody given the stature he was."

As competitive as he was on the ice, McDonald was just as gracious off the ice.

Whether it was golf tournaments, alumni events, or just meeting people on the street, McDonald was there.

I don't think Ab knew the word 'no.' That wasn't in his vocabulary. He was always a 'yes' man. If he was asked to be here or be there, do anything, it was always 'I can make it,'" said Daley. "When they say 'how do you want to be remembered?' Follow Ab, and you'll be remembered."

Jordy Douglas never played with McDonald but watched him as a player and has spent the last 30 years as a fellow Winnipeg Jets Alumni member.

After McDonald passed away on Sept. 5, 2018 at the age of 82, Douglas gave the eulogy at McDonald's funeral.

I said in the eulogy that I always respected Jean Beliveau. He was royalty, hockey royalty, in Montreal and Quebec. Everywhere he went people would want to be around him, want to shake his hand, want to say 'hi' to him," Douglas said. "Our hockey royalty in Manitoba is Ab McDonald. When Ab walked into a room, unlike us, people would get up and go say 'hi' to Ab. Where we walk in a room and we'd have to go around and say 'hi' to everybody. Ab had that much respect and admiration."

That respect and admiration was felt throughout the city, province, and country.

He finished his two seasons as Jets captain with 29 goals and 70 points in 147 games. But he'll always be known far more as a teammate, and a complete player, than any individual statistic.

Just ask long-time NHL coach Scotty Bowman, who coached McDonald from 1968-1971.

(McDonald's) nephew had run into Scotty Bowman a number of years ago," said Douglas. "He asked him in a roundabout way if he had a comment about Ab McDonald. Scotty Bowman basically said, 'Ab McDonald is a man without an ego.'"

He may be without an ego, but he will have a banner as the newest inductee into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame.

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