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February 08, 2016

Gord Donnelly

Gord Donnelly, no relation to former NHLer Mike Donnelly, enjoyed a lengthy career in the NHL and in hockey because of his willingness to play the physical game.

The defenseman/winger wasn't a great skater and did not handle the puck overly well. The few goals he scored (28 career goals in 554 games) were either point shots that found their way through traffic, or banged in rebounds in front of the net.

But Gord was undoubtedly one of the NHL's toughest players. He was incredibly strong, which helped him win battles in the corners and clear the front of the net. He was also an excellent and willing fighter. He was always a popular member of the dressing room, always keeping the guys loose and encouraged.

Donnelly was born in Montreal, and played his junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His aggressive play was enough to convince the St. Louis Blues to draft the defenseman 62nd overall in the 1981 Entry Draft.

However Gord never had a chance to play for St. Louis. He was given to the Quebec Nordiques in the summer of 1983 as a form of compensation for the Blues signing of coach Jacques Demers. Essentially Gord can claim to be one of the few players ever traded for a coach!

Over the next three years, Gord split his playing time between Quebec City and Fredericton, New Brunswick, home of the Nordiques' AHL farm affiliate. By 1986-87 Gord had made the NHL on a full time basis for a long time to come. Injuries did limit him to 38 games, but he played solidly in 13 playoff games.

If they didn't already know his name, in 1987-88 Gord made sure all the NHL, especially the tough guys, knew his name and jersey number. He played 63 games, scoring 4 goals and 7 points. But he also accumulated 301 penalty minutes, many of them earned the hard way.

Although his exuberance was welcomed, the Nordiques went looking for more experience when they traded Gord part way through the 1988-89 season. In a trade with the Winnipeg Jets, the Nordiques acquired veteran Mario Marois.

Winnipeg was a fast skating team with a lot of skill, but needed to bulk up in the wild Smythe Division. Donnelly arrived and instantly gave the Jets that presence which made his teammates play proudly and bravely. It was as if they would play bigger than they normally would when Gord arrived. They could initiate contact without fear, because they knew big Gord would be there to back them up no matter what. In that sense Gord, and players like him, are extremely valuable assets to any NHL team.

Gord's first year in Winnipeg proved to be his best statistically. Including the 4 goals in 16 games he scored in Quebec, Gord registered 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points, as well 274 penalty minutes.

Gord would play three seasons in Winnipeg before an early season trade in 1991-92 would send him to Buffalo in large trade which saw Darrin Shannon, Mike Hartman and Dean Kennedy go to the Jets while Donnelly, Dave McLlwain and a draft pick (used to select Yuri Khmylev) came to Buffalo.

Gord's job in Buffalo was similar as always, but this time he had some help. His 316 minutes in penalties made him one of three Sabres to accumulate 300 or more penalty minutes that year. Rob Ray had 354 while Brad May had 309. The Sabres were a very tough team to play that season, also boasting Brad Miller's 192 PIM in just 42 games.

Gord did a nice job in Buffalo until an early season trade in 1993-94 saw him head to Dallas in exchange for James Black. Injuries limited Gord to just 18 games after the trade. Gord would only play in 16 games during the following season, which featured only a 48 game schedule due to the owners-players labor dispute.

That proved to be Gord's final season in the NHL, but he wasn't done playing hockey yet. He signed on in the IHL until 1997, playing with both the Houston Aeros and Chicago Wolves. The minor leagues are not an easy place for a former NHL tough guy, especially with the stature Gord had earned. Every up-and-comer challenged him while trying to make a name for themselves.

That first season in Houston, 1995-96, saw Gord having to fight a lot, as he accumulated a career high 333 penalty minutes. But his second season, splitting the 1996-97 season between Houston and Chicago, saw Gord fight a lot less. He picked up just 169 minutes in penalties. It was probably a welcomed relief for the weary warrior, as word got around the IHL quickly - don't mess with Gord or his teammates.

Gord headed to Austria in 1997-98. He would play three seasons for VSV Villach, and would play his usual style, although demonstrated his hockey abilities too. The team he played for featured several former NHLers including Marty Murray, Brad Schlegel and Gino Cavallini.

Gord retired from the National Hockey League with 28 goals and 69 points in 554 NHL games. He sat in the penalty box for 2069 minutes in his career as well, an average of 3.7 minutes per game!

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