Don McLeod stood out as a character even by the standards of the eccentric fraternity of hockey goaltenders.
Mr. McLeod once insisted on a six-figure contract. When his team offered only $99,999.99, one penny less than he desired, he skated away from the deal.
He later signed a lucrative contract with the Quebec Nordiques only to discover the Quebec capital to be a place where French was de rigueur. The unilingual player had a hard time finding a home for his family and schooling for his children. He was traded after just seven games.
He was among the first goalies to use a goalie stick with a curved blade, which he used on more than one occasion to rifle the puck back at an opponent.
When selected to play for Team Canada in a series against the Soviet Union in 1974, he was told he could bring a guest for the European leg of the exhibition tournament. Most players brought along a wife or girlfriend. Mr. McLeod invited his mother.
Then there was his nickname. Known throughout hockey as Smokey, some thought it a reference to his birthplace of Trail, B.C., over which towers the smokestacks of a smelter and whose famous hockey team is known as the Smoke Eaters. Instead, he got the nickname for his unfiltered passion for cigarettes.
Mr. McLeod, who has died at 68, forged an 11-season career during which he became a fan favourite in Calgary.
That he became a professional athlete was all the more remarkable for the circumstances of his birth.
Donald Martin McLeod was born on Aug. 24, 1946, with a deformed right foot. Surgery eventually made it possible for the boy to stand on his own unaided. His father, Gordon McLeod, a smelter worker, built a metal shoe so his son could play baseball. Young Don became a goalie in hockey because of his limited ability to skate. By the time he turned pro, shortly after his 21st birthday, Mr. McLeod wore a size 10 skate on his left foot and size 7 skate on his right foot. As well, his right leg was two inches shorter than his left.
The goaltender was just 17 when he made his debut with the hometown Smoke Eaters of the Western International Hockey League. His record: 0 wins, 7 losses. He left home the following season to play junior hockey with the Edmonton Oil Kings. The teenaged goalie led the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup junior championship, defeating in six games the Oshawa Generals, an Ontario team whose lineup included several future NHL players, including superstar defenceman Bobby Orr.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound goaltender spent four seasons in the minor leagues with the Quebec Aces, Springfield Kings, Baltimore Clippers and Fort Worth Wings. He made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings in a game against Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov. 28, 1970. With Toronto leading 6-1, Mr. McLeod was called on by coach Ned Harkness to replace Roy Edwards in goal for the third period. The rookie lasted 101 seconds before surrendering his first goal on the first shot he faced. The scorer was Maple Leafs rookie Darryl Sittler, the first of what would be 484 goals in a hall-of-fame career. Mr. McLeod gave up two more goals in his debut, as Detroit lost, 9-3.
The rookie goalie got his first start the following night at the Olympia in Detroit, defeating the Montreal Canadiens by 5-3.
It was a grim season to be a Red Wings goalie. Mr. McLeod saw action in parts of 14 games, including a 13-0 drubbing by the Maple Leafs, the worst loss in franchise history. The rookie ended his first NHL campaign with an inflated 5.16 goals-against average. He was claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers the following season, but only played in four games, spending most of it in the minors with the Richmond Robins and Providence Reds.
His major pro career was salvaged by the appearance of the World Hockey Association, a free-spending rival to the NHL. The Houston Aeros signed him and by 1973-74 he was the best goalie in the league, backstopping the Aeros to the Avco Cup championship.
When the Aeros refused to give him a six-figure contract, Mr. McLeod jumped to the Vancouver Blazers, staying with the franchise when it moved in 1975 to Calgary, where the team was called the Cowboys. A brief stint with the Nordiques ended with a trade to the Edmonton Oilers.
In six WHA seasons, Mr. McLeod was credited with 43 assists, including 13 in the 1975-76 season, a major pro record at the time for a goaltender. He retired as a player in 1978.
One of the highlights of his career turned out to be a low light. Mr. McLeod was selected with Gerry Cheevers to represent Team Canada in a series of exhibition games pitting WHA players against the Soviet Union in 1974. In what would be his only start, Mr. McLeod surrendered eight goals in an 8-5 loss in Winnipeg.
After leaving hockey, Mr. McLeod worked as a travelling salesman for Hershey Canada, working a territory between Calgary and Cranbrook, B.C. He was a resident of the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam when he died on March 11 of a heart attack. He leaves two daughters, three grandchildren and three sisters.
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