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McDonald savors Flames playoff memories during trip to Masters

1989 Cup winner with Calgary keeping tabs on former team's first-round series from Augusta

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

CALGARY -- Lanny McDonald wasn't at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday for the Calgary Flames' 4-0 victory against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round. But strolling around Amen Corner at Augusta National probably wasn't a bad place to be either.

McDonald, one of the most popular players in Flames history, was at Augusta National with three friends attending The Masters. It's the trip of a lifetime, and after years in planning, his dream of attending the historic golf tournament was finally realized.

But sure enough, the 66-year-old from Hanna, Alberta, found a way to connect hockey to his beloved sport of golf, tying the Stanley Cup Playoffs to Canadian golfer Corey Conners, who won the Valero Texas Open on April 7 to earn the final available slot in The Masters. He finished in a tie for 46th.

"It was great to see Corey find a way to win in Texas and get himself into it," McDonald said from Phoenix last week, having participated in the Arizona Coyotes' alumni golf tournament before heading to Augusta. "Like the NHL playoffs, you've got to find a way to get in and then who knows what will happen?

McDonald saw history made Sunday when Tiger Woods won the tournament for the fifth time in his career and but the first since 2005.

"It was unfricken' believable!" he said after Woods' victory.

Simply getting a chance to attend the tournament was the realization of a dream

"I've wanted to go to The Masters forever," he said earlier in the week. "I was a huge fan of Mike Weir when he won in 2003 and I'm a Ricky Fowler and Phil Mickelson fan. This will be a lot of fun."

Video: 1989 Cup Final, Gm6: McDonald leads Flames to Cup win

McDonald certainly would have enjoyed being at the Saddledome for Games 1 and 2 of the Flames-Avalanche series. "If the Flames had opened on the road, it would have worked out perfectly," he said. "But I'll be there for Game 5 (on Friday) and I also think, 'What's wrong with the second round?'"

McDonald has great memories of his Flames career that overwhelm the bitterness of a Stanley Cup Final defeat at home in 1986, when Calgary lost the championship to the Montreal Canadiens.

Though that defeat stung, McDonald, his legendary moustache and the revenge-seeking Flames were at the Montreal Forum on May 25, 1989, leading 3-2 in the best-of-7 series with a chance to win their first Stanley Cup title.

"When I say we were trying to get even with Montreal, we really were," McDonald said with a laugh.

"They took it to us pretty good in 1986. This guy by the name of Patrick Roy (then a rookie goalie with the Canadiens) really stole the show in 1986. In 1989, at the Forum for Game 6, we vowed that we couldn't go back home for Game 7 because Roy could to this to us again. We had to find a way to win it on Forum ice. Thank goodness we did."

McDonald, wearing the captain's "C" that alternated among himself, Tim Hunter and Jim Peplinski, played an inspirational role in the victory, the Flames' only Stanley Cup championship to date. Reinserted in the lineup by coach Terry Crisp after being a healthy scratch for Games 3, 4 and 5, he scored Calgary's second goal in what would be a 4-2 victory, jumping into a rush straight from the box after having served a holding penalty.

It ended McDonald's 13-game Stanley Cup Playoff goal drought and was the last of 44 postseason goals he would score in his 16-season career. He scored 500 in 1,111 regular-season games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Rockies and Flames.

McDonald admitted in the glow of victory that "it was the longest afternoon of my life. I couldn't sleep. I must have eaten three packs of Rolaids. Then (assistant) Doug Risebrough came up to me and said I was playing. But he told me not to do it all in one shift. …

"I was ecstatic when I was told I was playing. But I didn't want to just be there. I wanted to do something. I did, and it feels wonderful."

A couple of months earlier, McDonald had reached separate NHL milestones of 1,000 points and 500 goals. And now, celebrating in the Flames' dressing room at the Forum, he knew there could be no better way for him to hang up his skates.

"I always remember (Canadiens captain) Jean Beliveau, when Montreal won the Cup in 1971," McDonald said this week. "Jean retired, when he could have played forever. I always thought, 'What a great way that would be to go out -- win it in your last game, say thank you and walk away.' It couldn't have worked out better."

Thirty years ago, next month, the Flames became the first and only team to defeat the Canadiens for the Stanley Cup on Forum ice. McDonald, a fiercely proud Flames alumnus who since 2015 has been chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame, cherishes memories of that night and the season leading to it.

"For me to score the second goal and for Dougie Gilmour to score the third and fourth, it was an unbelievable team effort, as it had been all season and through the playoffs. So many things to be thankful for," McDonald said.

The Flames won the Presidents' Trophy that season, finishing with two more points than the Canadiens. Calgary needed 16 playoff games to advance to the championship rematch, defeating the Vancouver Canucks 4-3, sweeping the Los Angeles Kings 4-0 and beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1.

"Everyone talks about how excited I must have been for us to win the Cup," McDonald said. "But you know, it was the most peaceful feeling in the world. I knew my career was coming to an end. You win the Cup on Forum ice, and that's forever, since there's no longer a Forum. I remember how great the Montreal fans were. The majority of them stayed."

McDonald laughed again.

"Maybe they were in shock, never having witnessed a team other than their own hoist the Cup on Forum ice, but it was pretty cool to have them stay," he said. "It was surreal, like a fog. But Montreal fans had nothing to complain about, especially with the number of Cups they had won (23 of their 24 by then)."

The Flames' championship also was a perfect bookend for the career of McDonald, who scored his first NHL goal at the Forum for the Maple Leafs on Oct. 17, 1973. That was the game-winner in a 5-3 Toronto victory, coming at 17:43 of the third period against Canadiens goalie Michel Larocque, details McDonald recalls with uncanny accuracy 4 1/2 decades later.

"I tell people I went top shelf. But I think it went bottom corner, even though I was trying to go top shelf," he said, laughing once more.

For now, McDonald's dream would be for the Flames and Maple Leafs to meet in the Cup Final, having played 492 games for Calgary from 1981-89 and 477 for Toronto from 1973-79.

"Because I live in Calgary and won a Cup there, I'd obviously lean toward the Flames," he said of his allegiance. "But that would be the coolest thing in the world, to have those two against each other.

"I have a tattoo on each cheek from those teams," he said in jest, "so I might as well bare my soul and show it all."

Photos: Hockey Hall of Fame; Getty Images

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