November 04, 2009

Don McLeod

If doctors and specialists who treated Don McLeod as a youngster would have been told that Don was going to play professional hockey later on in his career, they most assuredly wouldn't have believed it. The reason is that Don was born with a club foot. When Don was an infant, doctors told his parents that he would never walk. His right foot was bent like a fist and he got a brace for it that was almost like a walking cane.

He gradually learned to use the foot and after two years the brace was removed. His parents kept pushing him and told him to try playing ice hockey - and he did. As a junior he played for the Edmonton Oil Kings (WCJHL). Don became so proficient that he was chosen by the Texas team in the CHL, Forth Worth as a 20 year old in 1967.

He got his first call up to the NHL in 1971 and played 14 games for Detroit. That same season Don had the lowest goals against average in the CHL. Shortly thereafter he was picked by Philadelphia in the Reverse draft. Don only played four games for Philadelphia and spend most of the 1971-72 season playing in the AHL. In 1972 he was selected by Houston in the WHA general player draft.

"Smokey" as his nickname was because of his ever-present cigarette off the ice became one of the best goalies in the WHA. He played a total of 332 WHA games, including a league high 72 games in 1974-75 and 67 in 1976-77. He also led the league in wins twice. (1973-74 & 74-75). Don's trademark was his great stickhandling ability. He used one of the most curved goalie hockey sticks ever seen. He made many high flip passes with his curved stick. He even almost scored a goal on a couple of occasions. He had 13 assists in 1975-76, 9 assists in 1976-77 and 10 assists in 1977-78. Don picked up a total of 35 assists in his WHA career.

He played for Houston, Vancouver, Calgary, Quebec and Edmonton in the WHA. Don was a 1st team WHA All-Star in 1974 and named the top goalie. Don played so well that he was selected to the Canadian WHA team for the 1974 summit series where he played one game.

His on ice accomplishments were truly amazing considering the obstacles that he had to overcome. Don admitted that his right foot ached sometimes when he played. After all, it was two inches smaller than his left foot. And his whole right leg was two inches shorter than his left leg.

Don however never talked about it and one of his Houston Aeros teammates said: "Smokey never talks about it, of course, and even a few of the guys on the Aeros really would be surprised to hear of his disability."

Don earned every minute of his hockey career.


Ravenswing said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention his coaching career at Northeastern University after retirement!

Cremation Man said...

Smokey Mcleod was my hero when I lived and followed the cowboys all those years ago. Loved them coming onto the ice to Rhinestone Cowboy.

Johnny Canucklehead said...

How about the fact he stopped two penalty shots in a single game not just once but twice!?