Archive for May, 2014

Ab McDonald - 1964-65 Topps Tall BoysLooking at the smile on Ab McDonald’s face, it’s hard not to like him. It’s also hard not to feel for him a bit because 1964-65 was going to prove to be a lousy season and the next two were arguably worse.  Better things were to come, but they would take some time.

Ab was a new Bruin.  He’d spent the last four seasons holding down the left wing on the extremely-potent Pony Line in Chicago.  With Stan Mikita at centre and Kenny Wharram on the right, ab brought solid two-way play and scored as many as 61 points.  Chicago won a Stanley Cup during his first season there (1960-61) and were just coming off a .600 season and second-place finish.  That said, they had exited the playoffs in the first round two years running and some changes were afoot.

Boston, on the other hand, had been last four seasons in a row and was about to make it five.  They couldn’t score and were worse at defending. Ab was seen as a guy who could help with both.  He and Reggie Fleming arrived in Boston in exchange for long-time Bruin defender Doug Mohns.

Mohns, upon arrival in Chicago, switched from defense to Left Wing, took McDonald’s place on the Pony Line and looked like he’d been a forward all his life.  Ab McDonald’s 1964-65 Boston number, conversely, look like he spent the spent the season on the blue line.  He fell from 46 points to 18 and from 14 goals (which itself was a bit low for a guy like Ab) to just 9.

Usually, when a forward’s production falls off that badly, it points to either an injury or a significant change in usage (meaning ice time, linemates, assignments or a combination of all of the above).  Looking at Boston’s lineup, they had Johnny Bucyk, Reggie Fleming (who had a really good ’64-65) and Dean Prentice (who missed half the season) on the left side.  Ab, based on his numbers, probably saw third-line duty at best.  He basically lost his job to Fleming.

McDonald had actually been in this kind of spot early in his career.  He broke in with the Habs in 1958 and was expected to fill the shoes of Bert Olmstead, the great winger who had been moved to Toronto.  It was a tall order for a 22-year-old and it didn’t work out that well.  He played mainly a checking role and was more than happy to go to Chicago in 1960.  He got a new role and new linemates and blossomed.

1965-66 seemed to offer that same kind of opportunity. Ab was sent to Detroit and in the early going, his touch seemed to return.  A thigh injury then hampered him and he spent part of the season in the minors trying to work through it.  He’d spend most of 1966-67 there, as well.

Like so many others, expansion saved what might have been the balance of his career being spent outside the NHL.  Ab was claimed by the new team in Pittsburgh.  He’d score 22 goals for them, then move on to St. Louis and score 21 and then 25.  After an injury-shortened 1970-71 and an up-and-down 1971-72 (spent with Detroit), Ab would become a charter member of the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets, retiring for good after the 1973-74 season.

Between the NHL and WHA, Ab McDonald scored 211 goals and 500 points in 909 games.  He won three Stanley Cups – two in Montreal and one in Chicago.

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