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Ab McDonald, first Jets captain, dies at age 82

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The Winnipeger will be remembered for his life-long contributions to the Winnipeg hockey community.

Pilots from the 48th Fighter Wing perform a flyover in the missing man formation at the conclusion of the Veterans Day Ceremony held at the Cambridge American Cemetery Nov. 12, 2008, Cambridge, England. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Fleshman)

Ab McDonald, the first ever captain of the Winnipeg Jets and a lifelong Winnipegger, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 82.

Alvin Brian “Ab” McDonald was born February 18, 1936 in Winnipeg, and made the jump to the NHL in 1958.

Following a 15 year stint in the NHL, McDonald captained the Winnipeg Jets WHA team from 1972 until his retirement in 1974. During his career, he won four straight Stanley Cups as a member of the Montreal Canadiens (1958-60) and the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring the game winning goal in the fifth and deciding game (1961).

In 762 NHL games, McDonald accumulated 182 goals and 248 assists, to go with 29 goals and 41 assists in 147 WHA games. He was an NHL All-Star five times. McDonald was also the first ever captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in 1967.

After his playing career came to an end, McDonald returned to Manitoba to coach the Portage Terriers for two seasons.

McDonald continued to contribute to hockey long after his professional playing and coaching days came to an end. McDonald was a regular guest and contributor to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (which he was inducted into in 1996), frequently supporting amateur hockey and attending events.

I had the privilege of meeting McDonald on two separate occasions, and in my experience he was a very polite, humble and kind man. I first met him at the unveiling of the 100 Manitoba Hockey Moments exhibit at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in December 2014. While all too happy to attend the event, he did not seek out attention and instead soon blended in with the crowd to look at all the different things to see.

As he was going through, a young boy around seven or eight-years-old came to a stop in front of a display of a McDonald #14 jersey from McDonald’s Jets days.

“Dad,” said the boy, turning to his father. “Who’s Ab McDonald?”

“That would be me,” said McDonald, who happened to be standing next to the boy. The boy turned and gaped up at the 6’2” former left winger, immediately star struck. The boy’s father immediately engaged in conversation, as McDonald shared stories of playing with some of the greatest names the game has ever seen. That was just the way McDonald was: super approachable.

The second and final time I met McDonald was at the May 2017 unveiling of a Canada Post stamp commemorating Team Canada of the 1972 Summit Series. The event was held at 17 Wing Winnipeg (where I was working, and helping organize this event), with numerous members of the team in attendance, including Bobby Clarke, Pete Mahovlich and Yvan Cournoyer. McDonald was not a member of the team, but when Canada Post asked which local figures should be invited, I made sure to mention McDonald’s name, citing his being the captain of the Jets in 1972 and being a local. Canada Post was more than happy to invite him, and he arrived to the event with his wife, where he laughed and caught up with the men with whom he shared the ice. It was really neat to see these men recounting stories from 50 years ago. McDonald may not have been part of the team, but he was certainly not an outsider in this bunch.

McDonald was truly a key part of the fabric of the hockey community in Winnipeg, and his presence will be missed.