He was flawed, certainly – in some aspects born that way – but Donnie Mcleod, who passed away last week, was a brilliant athlete, as good at almost everything he tried, barring golf, as just about anybody from the Home of Champions ever was.
When he put his mind to it, being born with a club foot did not get in the way of his excelling at sports. His main highlights were all achieved in hockey, but he was an outstanding ball player, maybe good enough had he not been committed to hockey to have gone far in that sport.
I remember him, outside Trail’s two main games, as a sometimes brilliant pool player and the possessor of the best basketball shot I ever had to defend against. Such was his hand-eye co-ordination he would become the first goalie to use an outlandishly curved stick and still be a great puck handler. Despite a bent foot and a right leg shorter than his left, he ran well and was powerful and agile both on the ice and in the field.
The nickname, “Smokie,” was attached in adulthood. As a kid he was just Donnie. That nickname, like the name of his home-town team, was about tobacco use, which most of us born in the 40s and 50s around here took up.
Part of the golden age of goaltending in the Home of Champions, which produced NHL keepers Seth Martin, Cesare Maniago and McLeod (it doesn’t fit with the 3-M meme, but I usually put Reno Zanier into that great keeper mix), Donnie had a long pro career – after preventing the Bobby Orr-led Oshawa Generals from winning a Memorial Cup while in junior in Edmonton – which took him from Alberta to Texas and Vancouver and many places in between.
The WHA folded long ago, so the records he holds from his years there will live forever.
Along the way he won a WHA championship (and was named top goalie) with a Houston Aero team that featured Gordie (MVP), Mark (Rookie of the Year) and (now Dr.) Marty Howe. He led a life full of athletic achievement and we should be proud of that, and the first class local medical care that allowed him the opportunity to achieve it.
Donnie McLeod can serve as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale for youngsters in sports. He overcame being told he would probably have trouble walking and became an outstanding athlete – something to strongly admire – but succumbed to lifestyle choices that prevented even more excellence along the way.
For those who knew him better, he was just Donnie, someone we could be proud of and annoyed at – even at the same time – but a friend. The, “disability,” seldom came up, and he had many teammates along the way who were doubtless unaware of it.
He will, of course, be remembered mostly for the way he made us proud to know him.