One of the earliest stars in Penguin history returned to the Mellon Arena on Friday as Lowell MacDonald, one-third of the famed “Century Line” with Jean Pronovost and Syl Apps, paid a visit during practice. MacDonald was in town to visit his son, Lowell MacDonald, Jr., who produces Penguin telecasts for FSN.
MacDonald was thrilled to take in the atmosphere at what was called the Civic Arena when he played, for perhaps the final time prior to the Penguins moving to the Consol Energy Center for the 2010-11 season.
“This building, when you say how old it is, you kind of shake your head,” MacDonald said. “I have great memories here. Coming back and justifying (coach) Red (Kelley’s) faith was the highlight. I keep meaning to call him and tell him thank you again because I don’t think anyone would have stuck with me the way Red did.”
Kelley convinced MacDonald to continue playing in 1972-73 despite six knee operations that limited him to 10 games over the 1970-71 and ’71-72 seasons. MacDonald would justify Kelley’s faith by winning the Masterton Trophy in 1973 after recording 75 points (34G-41A) playing with Apps and Al McDonough.
The following season Pronovost replaced McDonough, and the unit became the first in team history to combine for over 100 goals, as their total of 107 was second-best in the National Hockey League that year.
“It was a situation that really gelled. That is the only thing I really regret, to get hurt and not be able to finish those last years the way we had been going. We were a pretty darned good line. Some people said we were as good as any line they had here. Our numbers might now show it, but it was a different era.”
As they posted historic numbers together, the “Century Line” did have some early kinks to work out. Both MacDonald and Pronovost were right wingers, so one, which ended up being MacDonald, had to play his off-wing on the left side, causing some early confusion between the two on the ice.
“We had some great times and some great collisions because unfortunately, Prony and I, Syl used to tell us ‘would you please stay on your own sides so I can feel safe. It’s safer playing against the Flyers than it is playing against you two guys.’ Prony was pretty versatile, too. He would come over to my side and I would just go over to his.”
MacDonald retired after the 1977-78 season due to the pain in his knees.
These days MacDonald enjoys retirement in his native province of Nova Scotia where he lives with his wife, Joyce. The two remain avid Penguin fans, especially with Lowell, Jr. working most of the games as producer for FSN.
The elder MacDonald is pleased his son, who was born in Pittsburgh, was able to return to the city where his father enjoyed his most success as professional.
“We are so glad Lowell is back in Pittsburgh. He loves being back. It is an amazing coincidence after all these years.”
Lowell, Sr., however, has not been able to watch many of his son’s telecasts live because of a superstition developed towards the end of last season. As the team struggled during a tough midseason stretch, MacDonald said he stopped watching the games and instead watched other teams on his NHL satellite package.
“All of a sudden they kept winning – I don’t know if it was the coach or my television-viewing that turned the team around.
“My wife thinks I’ve gone off the deep end, but every time I watched the whole game they would lose. I have become one of those superstitious hockey players. I don’t know if I was when I played, but I am now.”
Instead MacDonald watches the score update on the ticker at the bottom of the screen as his wife watches the Penguins in their bedroom. He says that he often overhears what the announcers are saying as he flips the channel through the other games from the living room.
MacDonald’s face lit up when he was told the Penguins would be wearing their blue ‘third jerseys’ when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
“In all honesty, as much as I loved the Pirates’ and Steelers’ black and gold, I still like that power blue. You can say what you like, but it is a nice jersey. It’s great they brought it back.
“It is amazing to see when they pan the crowd how many light-colored jerseys are in the crowd. It’s amazing to me how popular they are.”
The power-blue jerseys have become popular for Penguin fans, much like Lowell MacDonald was as he was scoring 140 goals for the Penguins during seven great seasons with the team from 1970-78.