Parker MacDonald arrived in Detroit courtesy of a forgotten drill bit.
When the Nova Scotia native left the New York Rangers, MacDonald decided to have his chronically sore shoulder examined. Everyone was a little surprised to find a piece of metal embedded in his shoulder. A broken drill bit from a previous operation was the source of MacDonald’s constant pain and he was ready to get back on the ice.
With the left wing feeling healthy again, the Red Wings decided to take a chance by choosing MacDonald in the 1960 intra-league draft. His previous 10 seasons as a pro proved it was a risk worth taking.
MacDonald began his hockey career with the OHL’s Toronto Marlboros in 1951. After making his NHL debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs the following year, he was promoted to the AHL’s Pittsburgh Hornets. MacDonald played in 63 NHL games over the next two seasons before being called up to the Leafs full-time in 1954. But his time in Toronto was short.
The Rangers took MacDonald in the 1956 intra-league draft and he spent the next four seasons bouncing between the Rangers and the team’s minor-league affiliates. When the left wing was back on the market in 1960, the drill bit discovery opened up a door to Detroit.
The Wings took MacDonald in the ’60 intra-league draft, where he found his place alongside two-thirds of the famous “Production Line” with Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio. MacDonald set career records during the 1962-63 season, scoring 33 goals and 61 points, a feat he never thought was possible.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get anywhere near 30 goals,” MacDonald told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix in 1963. “Why am I scoring so well? Because I’m playing with Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio. I can roam right around the goal playing on this line. Howe shoots often, hard and right on target.”
MacDonald followed his 33-goal season with two consecutive 46-point seasons, but his production wasn’t enough to overcome his former team. Toronto beat Detroit in back-to-back Stanley Cup finals in 1963 and ’64, robbing the Wings and MacDonald of the championship.
Detroit was the left wing’s home until he was traded to the Boston Bruins in 1965. The deal sent MacDonald, Albert Langlois, Ron Harris and Bob Dillabough to Boston in exchange for Ab McDonald, Bob McCord and Ken Stephanson. MacDonald couldn’t keep the winged wheel off his chest for long, though. He was traded back to the Wings halfway through his first season in Beantown.
MacDonald stayed one final year in Detroit before being chosen by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1967 expansion draft. He contributed 62 points to the North Stars over the next two years, including nine in the playoffs. They were his last points in the NHL. After 18 years, 323 points and 676 games in the league, MacDonald was ready to call it quits.
Or so he thought.
It’s not easy for a veteran to hang up his skates. MacDonald decided to play one more season as a player-coach for the Iowa Stars of the Central Hockey League. He helped the Stars to a 35-26-11 record in his one and only year, losing in the league’s finals.
By now the coaching bug had bitten MacDonald. He was named the head coach of the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks in 1972, a position he stayed in for one season. Then the NHL came calling. MacDonald returned to Minnesota, but this time behind the bench. He spent one season with the North Stars before returning to the Nighthawks for the next five seasons.
It was a position MacDonald excelled in. He led the Nighthawks to four consecutive winning seasons, reaching the finals two years in a row. After posting his first 46-25 record in 1978-79, MacDonald received the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s best coach.
He was ready to try his hand at the NHL again, though. MacDonald accepted an assistant coaching position for the Los Angeles Kings in 1980 and was given the head coaching position the following season. But midway through his first season in Los Angeles, MacDonald retired.
After 28 years as a player and coach for 17 teams, MacDonald was finally ready to start his post-hockey career. His home province made sure no one would forget his historic career, though. MacDonald was elected to the Cape Breton Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, five years after his final retirement.
It was a career that could’ve been cut short by a drill bit many years earlier. But thanks to a sharp-eyed doctor and the Red Wings, MacDonald was given another chance to prove his worth. There’s no doubt he made the most of it.