When Lowell MacDonald finally caught on in the NHL, you couldn't help but feel good for him. His story was one ups and downs. Everyone cheered for him when formed an excellent line with Syl Apps Jr. and Jean Pronovost with the Penguins in the 1970s.
MacDonald, a good scorer but the most complete two way player of the three, had bounced around a lot in his career. The New Glasgow, Nova Scotia resident was Memorial Cup scoring hero in Hamilton while being groomed in the Red Wings system. He later broke into the big leagues with Detroit in the 1960s.
For three seasons he was a bit of a yo-yo, up and down between Detroit and the farm team ironically located in Pittsburgh. These were still the days of the Original Six when NHL jobs were hard to get. He soon found himself as part of a blockbuster trade with Toronto. The Maple Leafs got him, Marcel Pronovost, Eddie Joyal, Larry Jeffrey and Aut Erickson for Andy Bathgate, Billy Harris and Gary Jarrett on May 20th 1965. While the Leafs would win another Stanley Cup in 1967, MacDonald spent a couple more seasons with Tulsa in the minors, his days in the NHL seemingly fading away fast.
NHL expansion in 1967 rekindled MacDonald's NHL dream. He was picked up by the Los Angeles Kings and scored 21 goals for them in their inaugural season. But in season two his numbers slipped a bit, and the Kings even had the gall to send him back to the minor leagues, even if it was for only 9 games.
Still the move irked MacDonald, who openly talked about his love of hockey but his dislike of the business.
"I've been booted around a bit more than is right. It's not satisfying when you are being traded from team to team, sent all around two countries. You begin to feel unsettled. And it is a difficult life for a family. I'm a family sort of guy. I want to be with my wife. I want to see my kids grow up and I want to be there to help them when I'm needed. I don't want to keep moving them around and I also don't want them to sit in one place when I'm traded so I'll be apart from them."
MacDonald, who was known as a studious and literate fellow interested in pursuing post-secondary education, went on to talk about how expansion saved his hockey career.
"Expansion came just in time for me. It was overdue, really. Limiting a major league to six teams and around 120 or so players was unrealistic. Expansion opened up a reasonable number of jobs at the top for players capable of playing at the top. I was on the verge of retiring. And if I can't make it in the majors, I will retire. You simply can't make a satisfactory living in the minors. I have other interests beside hockey. There are other things I can do."
MacDonald would make it in the big leagues, but first he faced a huge test of his love of the game. From 1970 through 1972 he played just 24 games in 3 seasons - 10 in the NHL and 14 in the minors - thanks to a horrific knee injury. He had six operations before the knee was finally fixed.
Somehow MacDonald persevered through that 3 year long ordeal and kept his dream alive. He returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1972-73, switched from right wing to left wing, and exploded for 34 goals and 75 points. He was rewarded for all his years of obstacles by winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy that season.
MacDonald, who also had to overcome a fear of flying with the help of a psychiatrist, proved it was no fluke in subsequent seasons. Playing along centre Syl Apps Jr. and firstly Al McDonough and then Jean Pronovost on right wing, MacDonald seasons of 43 goals (82 points), 27 goals (60 points) and 30 goals (73 points). Coach Ken Schinkel called him the Penguins best all-around player.
Disaster struck MacDonald in 1976 however. MacDonald would miss the vast majority of the next two seasons thanks to a shoulder injury that eventually forced him into retirement.
Lowell MacDonald played in 506 NHL regular season games. He scored 180 goals, 210 assists and 390 points. He added another 11 goals and 22 points in 30 playoff games.
Lowell MacDonald is also the father of Lane MacDonald, the 1989 Hobey Baker winner with Harvard University and 1988 US Olympian. His hockey career came to a crashing halt before he even had a chance to play in the NHL thanks to concussions.