KENORA, Ont. — Everywhere Lanny McDonald goes, hockey fans follow.
In addition to being a regular on the Hometown Hockey tour, the NHL legend also attends Hockey Day in Canada every year, telling his best hockey stories and sharing advice for those who dream of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup.
We sat down with McDonald during this year’s event in Kenora, Ont. to talk Hockey Day, shinny, NHL rookies and, of course, that legendary Lanny moustache.
Sportsnet: The Hockey Day festivities are underway here in Kenora. What has stood out to you so far?
Lanny McDonald: The school visit today was absolutely unbelievable. Beaver Brae [Secondary School], about 600 kids all in their jerseys. Loved it.
SN: One of the themes of this year’s event is tradition. Do you have a favourite Hockey Day tradition?
LM: I love the school visits, but the alumni game that started last year in Kamloops was so cool because it brings the whole community together. When you can do that in a small town like this, that’s so cool.
SN: There are so many awesome rookies in the NHL right now. Is there one rookie in particular that you’re keeping an eye on this season?
LM: I was at the [Winnipeg Jets] game the other night. Patrik Laine … the way he can shoot the puck is ridiculous. He made a play on the winning goal the other night, lifting the guy’s stick, getting the puck, and getting rid of it in, like, 0.2 seconds and scores the winning goal.
All three of those guys, how could you go wrong?
SN: Have you met them?
LM: I met Mitch and Auston at the [Centennial Classic]. We all dressed in the same dressing room, so we got to visit with them.
To see how well they’re playing, especially young guys like that, it’s unbelievable how they can step right out of where they were playing before and into the NHL. The under-17, under-18 world juniors really prepares them to just take off.
SN: Looking back to your rookie year, was there a lesson you learned or a “welcome to the NHL” moment?
LM: I think it was probably the first time in Philadelphia. Ronny Ellis was a mentor for me, he was a right-winger at time with the Leafs. He kind of taught me what it would take to be a good pro, all the way through those first couple of years.
He said, “You need to fight every so often so you get more room later in your career.’” And I ended up fighting [Dave] Schultz.
I’d lost the fight, and came back to the bench and [Ellis] said, “What were you thinking?” And I said, “You were the guy who told me to drop the gloves and fight.”
He said, “Not that guy!”
SN: You’ve got to choose your battles.
LM: Yeah. [Laughs]
SN: We’re seeing some pretty great facial hair in the NHL right now. Who do you think can rival the legendary Lanny facial hair?
LM: I think if you look at Patrick Eaves in Dallas—underrated beard. Out of control. If he shaved off the rest of the beard, I think the moustache might be… he might be the guy.
SN: I think you’re on to something. We should get in touch with him.
LM: There you go.
SN: Got any maintenance or upkeep advice?
LM: You know what? Mine is more el natural. There’s a special [product] I have, you just spray it on every day and it just kind of takes all the, let’s say tangles, out of it. But I don’t put any moustache cream or anything on it. I just make sure it’s nice and… well, it’s out there—let’s put it that way.
SN: There’s going to be a pond hockey tournament on Saturday here in Kenora—the Kroppy Cup. When was the last time you played a little shinny?
LM: We did a four-on-four pond hockey in Montana, the third week of January. We were in the over-35 division, and I had a couple of old buddies, Colin Patterson, Steve Bozek, play on our team, and we ended up winning it. So that was about three weeks ago. We had a blast. An absolute blast.
SN: If you could put together a shinny team of current NHLers, who do you most want to play a game of shinny with right now?
LM: Two guys in Chicago: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Connor McDavid, with his speed, is absolutely sick. I love to watch him play. Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary. So if I could play with those four guys—yeah, OK, I know I’m getting selfish—but that’d be pretty cool.
SN: The Stanley Cup Playoffs are on the horizon. Who is your favourite to win the Cup this year?
LM: You know, there is no one team running away with it right now. You look in the West, and Chicago and San Jose look like they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, although any team that finds a way to get in can win it.
And then the Metropolitan division, with New York, Columbus, Pittsburgh—Pittsburgh is right there—and Washington. So any of those four teams. And the sad part is, two of those are going to get knocked off in the first two rounds.
And don’t count Montreal out with their new coach. I think that’s going to give them a spark.