History books remind us of the Campbells against the MacDonalds. Or, if you’re on the other side, the MacDonalds versus the Campbells. Either way, it was the great feud, the great bitterness, that lasted far too long in the highlands of Scotland.
Fortunately, the feuding didn’t spread to Pictou County when Scottish settlers arrived in Pictou Harbour on the Hector almost two and a half centuries ago. Instead, MacDonalds and Campbells have lived side by side and played a big part in the county’s development.
I’m certainly not going to turn back the pages of time that far. But I am going to write about one of our best-known MacDonalds – a MacDonald I’ve written about many, many times before. I’m sure no Campbells will take issue.
This MacDonald wasn’t born in the middle of a feud. Rather, he was born and raised in a friendly little community just outside New Glasgow that was once known for its coal mining.
His father, a big man with a big heart, was a policeman for the railroad and, in his spare time, operated what would be called a corner store these days. It was there, above the store, that a little fellow quickly became a big fellow, a talented hockey player.
Any sports fan can identify him. I first became aware of Lowell MacDonald when he was 10 years old – in the spanking new rink known as New Glasgow Stadium. Minor hockey was just getting its baptism on the indoor ice.
John (Brother) MacDonald – yes, another MacDonald – was directing the town’s minor hockey program in the building that someday would be named after him.
Because of what transpired that afternoon in 1951, I used to tell people I was Lowell’s first coach.
I went to the rink after school that afternoon and Brother, the town’s new athletic director, asked me if I could go on one of the benches for a novice game that was about to start.
Brother smiled when he called it a coaching assignment. It was more accurately a gate-opening assignment. Whatever, I climbed into the bench of one of the teams and started putting the novices onto the ice, line by line.
I’m not sure, but I believe that day the MacDonald kid from Thorburn was playing his first organized game. So were the other youngsters. Little did any of us realize that Lowell would go on to a 13-year career in the National Hockey League, the best player Pictou County has sent to the top of the sport to this day.
That novice game involving Lowell – and a few other MacDonalds to boot — was a long time ago.
A very long time ago.
For an example, it’s now been 38 years since the Thorburn native played his last game in an NHL uniform.
It’s been 43 years since he won the Bill Masterton Trophy as the player best exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
It’s been 54 years – more than half a century – since he enjoyed a 46-goal season to help the Hamilton Red Wings win the Memorial Cup.
Enough of that. It’s making me feel very, very old.
And that’s the crux to this whole scenario. You see, the subject I’ve been talking about – Lowell MacDonald – is celebrating another birthday today. It was on the last day of August in 1941 that he was born.
So quick math confirms he’s 75.
This isn’t the first time I’ve underlined Lowell’s age. That kind of thing happens when you’re the best student in the class, the best kid on the ice, the best hockey player the county has ever developed.
There are things I haven’t mentioned. Like the Nova Scotia high school championship team that Lowell played on at East Pictou Rural High in 1958-59.
Talk about MacDonalds!
Lowell’s linemates were Frankie MacDonald and Clarence (Cuddy) MacDonald. Other teammates included Allister MacDonald, Gerard MacDonald, Irving MacDonald and
Barry MacDonald. Oh yes, the coach was John Harris MacDonald.
When I was scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I often wondered what might have been had I held that part-time position a few years sooner. Maybe Lowell could have played for the Leafs instead of the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
But regardless of where he played, Lowell had every sports fan in the county cheering him on. Anyone who watched him play in the NHL, knows how good he was when he was healthy.
Years ago, I was accused more than once of writing too much about him. But I couldn’t help it. After watching Lowell grow up, watching him on the ice from the time he was a novice, following his career every step of the way. I never felt I used too much newsprint on him.
He played only 46 games with Detroit, the team that originally owned him. Los Angeles claimed him in the 1967 expansion draft and he had two years on the West Coast. Not a happy situation for someone who hated flying.
Then he was claimed by Pittsburgh. Avoiding the injuries that plagued his career until then, he had a 34-goal season, a career-high 43-goal campaign, a 27-goal year and a 30-goal performance. That was 134 goals in just four seasons, an average of 33.5 per year.
Unfortunately, the good times ended as quickly as they began.
With more injuries, his four big campaigns were followed by just 22 games in the next two seasons. In 1977-78, he played his last game. He was 36 years old.
In his time away from Pictou County – his junior, minor pro and NHL years combined – Lowell was author of 393 goals, 418 assists and 811 points. Imagine how much bigger those numbers would have been if he hadn’t had so much lost time on injured lists.
So a great big happy 75th to a great guy.