September 05, 2018
Remembering Ab McDonald
This 15-year NHL veteran was mostly known as one of the members on the famous "Scooter Line" in Chicago. Together with his linemates Stan Mikita and Ken Wharram they formed one of the best two-way lines during the 1960's.
Ab recalled the time in Chicago very fondly.
" I guess we got our nickname because we moved the puck around so well and that we were all over the ice when we played. We just seemed to hit it off just right when we were put together. It was the highlight of my career playing with these two guys. We scored a lot of points during the time we were together," Ab recalled. " We were a good two-way line. Not only could we score, but we could check as well. And that was something I had learned during my days at Montreal. Since I didn't score many goals with the Canadiens when I played with them. I had to do something else in order to survive. So i became a checker, a two-way player. That was something Montreal couldn't take away from me. I just took it with me to Chicago and used it to my advantage."
Ab started his NHL career in Montreal after a junior career playing for the St. Boniface Canadians and St. Catherine Teepes. He also played in the AHL (Rochester Americans) before making his NHL debut for Montreal in the 1958 playoffs. Ab was supposed to replace future Hall of Famer Bert Olmstead who had been traded to Toronto.
" I just wanted to play hockey for the Canadiens," Ab said. " But this is what the fans expected of me. Right from the beginning the comparisons began. I even think the coaches thought I would replace Bert in the lineup. I was just trying to do the best I could. But the fans continued booing me and I just continued doing the best I could. But being a fourth-line player I just didn't see as much ice time as I wanted to prove myself.
The Canadiens had an exceptionally strong team during this period and won five straight Stanley Cup titles between 1956-60. Ab was a part on three of them. When he got traded in a multi-player deal to Chicago on June 7, 1960 it was the best thing that could happen to his career.
" When I was finally traded to Chicago it didn't bother me one bit. I was just glad to go and get another chance with another team."
During Ab's first season with the Blackhawks he won another Stanley Cup title.
" I felt better winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago as a first or second line player than I did winning it three times with Montreal and playing as a fourth line player. I can't take anything away from those Montreal teams. They were good. They had some great talent, some real superstars. But Chicago had an up-and-coming team. And I guess I had a bigger role to play with them and that made me feel better," Ab said.
Ab's best season point wise came in 1962-63 when he collected 61 points (20 goals and 41 assists) in 69 games for Chicago. His four year stint in Chicago came to an end on June 8, 1964 when he was traded to Boston with Reggie Fleming for Doug Mohns. Ab never hit it off with the Bruins and was shipped to Detroit a year later. Detroit's shrewd GM Sid Abel expected Ab to regain his 15-20 goal form. It looked like he was going to be right as Ab scored three goals and ten assists in an eleven game span early on. Then Ab injured his thigh and didn't regain his touch. He was sent down to Memphis (CHL) to play himself back in shape.
Ab's career was saved by the expansion as he was picked by Pittsburgh Penguins in the expansion draft in 1967. He became Pittsburgh's first ever captain and bounced back with a career high 22 goals in 1967-68. Despite his fine season he was traded to St. Louis on June 11, 1968. In St. Louis he had a 42 point season (21 goals and 21assists) in 1968-69. The following season Ab came roaring out of the gates, scoring 19 goals at the halfway mark of the season. Some nagging injuries slowed him down in the second half, but still he finished the season with 55 points and a career high 25 goals. He regained his touch in the playoffs as he led the Blues with 15 points, finishing in 6th place on the scoring list behind five Bruins players (Esposito, Orr, Bucyk, McKenzie and Stanfield). Ab's ice time was then reduced and he only played 20 games for St. Louis in 1970-71 and 15 for Detroit in 1971-72. He then finished his playing career in Winnipeg where he became the first ever captain for the Winnipeg Jets in 1972-73. He hang up his skates following the 1973-74 season.
After his playing career was over he moved back to Manitoba where owned an equipment rental business in St. James, just outside of his native Winnipeg.
Ab was a heady hockey player, a good playmaker whose size made it difficult for opposite defensemen to move him out of the slot. He was a good positional forward who made few mistakes. He was not the fastest player around but his lanky stride got him moving pretty well.
How many players can claim that they were in eight Stanley Cup finals with four different teams, winning the Stanley Cup four times as well as winning the Stanley Cup the first four years in the league? Not many, but Ab can.