Lanny McDonald is hockey’s top prank caller.
Whenever McDonald, who is the Hockey Hall of Fame’s chair of board, needs to inform a person involved in hockey that the Hall of Fame has selected him or her for induction, the person often thinks it’s a joke.
“Sergei Fedorov thought it was one of his buddies calling from the next room because it was that time of year,” McDonald jokes. “It’s absolutely been a great experience. I was on the selection committee for nine years before I took over as chairman of the Hall. There’s 18 people on the selection committee. They all take their jobs extremely seriously. They’re great discussions from start to finish and we’re very proud of our record and who has gone into the Hall in the past and looking forward to whatever next year brings.”
McDonald needs to have some of the thickest skin in hockey as every year the choices from his committee get picked apart and parsed. But ultimately McDonald doesn’t second guess after he helps choose the latest Hockey Hall of Fame inductees.
He sticks to his beliefs and makes sure the process stays consistent through strict confidentiality. The secrecy of the whole situation can be difficult for those who want transparency, but ultimately McDonald sees it as vital to the interests of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s imperative,” McDonald said of the confidentiality. “We believe we have the best system, much to the chagrin of some of the other people. But there is always huge speculation that the NFL and MLB, to name a couple, they do it much differently. They throw all the names out there that have been nominated and there’s great disappointment that comes with that. We like our system. We’re not about to change it and we’re very proud of when we’re able to make that call to a person to say ‘hey look, it may have been three years, it may have been 27 years’ but when that call comes it’s extremely exciting and satisfying to know those people have been not only nominated but elected.”
Because there’s no public vote or nomination system, the Hockey Hall of Fame selections can produce some surprises. This season, McDonald and the committee announced that goaltender Rogie Vachon, who played his last season in 1981-82 would be inducted this season.
Vachon was the best player with the Los Angeles Kings from 1971-72 through 1977-78 and was vital in the success of the Southern California franchise. McDonald said the call to Vachon was one of the most gratifying he has made in his tenure.
“The call to Rogie was so special because it meant so much to him and he thought his time had passed and it wouldn’t come back,” McDonald said. “Rogie really was one of the mainstays with the LA Kings in making sure that hockey got a great foothold in the LA area even before Wayne Gretzky got there and the Triple-Crown line was all of a sudden taking off after Rogie kind of held the fort after all those years. And to make that call and first of all, I think Rogie thought I was joking to start with and then he was speechless and then he said unfortunately his wife had passed away a year ago but he said how proud she would have been to know he had been selected for the Hall. For him the emotions were all across the board, but the bottom line was he was so thankful and so overcome that he had finally entered the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
The Hall of Fame inductions – which take places on Nov. 14 this year – are part of a busy fall for McDonald. The Hall just saw an influx of visitors who were in Toronto for the World Cup of Hockey and McDonald was recently in Edmonton as part of ceremonies before they opened their new building.
McDonald was also part of ‘Hockey Dreams’ – a campaign by Scotiabank in support of World Cup of Hockey that perfectly recreated the sport’s most iconic goals with children in video format.
One of the goals involved is McDonald’s goal in Game 6 of the 1989 Stanley Cup Final that helped the Calgary Flames to their only Stanley Cup win.
“I think it’s one of the coolest things ever,” McDonald said.
The commercial struck a nerve with McDonald’s family. After it aired, his 12-year-old grandson texted him and said, “grandpa, coolest commercial ever. Best one I’ve ever seen and you’re a part of it.”
McDonald saw the whole campaign as uniquely Canadian and an important way to keep the history of hockey alive. The latter has turned into an important cause at this stage of his life.
“It is what hockey is all about,” McDonald said. “Every kid’s dream coming true at the end. And when you play street hockey you’re always talking and telling each other who you were, who you are, this is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and you always get the wining goal. It might have been exaggerated when you’re a kid growing up but the commercial does it great justice.”
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