For many hockey players in the 1970s, they may not have had success in the NHL, but they became stars in the WHA. This was the case for Don McLeod, a goalie from Trail, British Columbia born on Aug. 24, 1946.
Being born in Trail, home of the legendary Trail Smoke Eaters, earned Don the nickname Smokey on his future teams, although some say it came from his love of unfiltered cigarettes.
From the beginning, he worked hard to pursue his dream of playing professional hockey. He was born with a deformed right foot that was eventually corrected with surgery, helping him along his path. His father worked at the Trail smelter and would built his son a metal shoe so he could play baseball. Due to his deformed foot, he would wear a size 10 skate on his left foot and size 7 skate on his right foot. In addition, his right leg was two inches smaller than his left.
He would make his debut with the Smoke Eaters at 17, recording zero wins and seven losses.
After playing hockey throughout his youth, he would join the Edmonton Oil Kings in 1965-66, remaining with the team until 1967, playing the Memorial Cup and recording 15 wins in the tournament. His stellar play helped the Oil Kings defeat the Oshawa Generals in six games. It should be noted that the Oshawa team had a player by the name of Bobby Orr on it.
He would then join the Fort Worth Wings recording five wins and seven losses.
For the next four seasons, he would play in the AHL with the Quebec Aces, Springfield Kings and Baltimore Clippers.
He would make his way to the NHL for the 1970-71 season, playing for the Detroit Red Wings. During the 14 games with the team, he registered three wins and seven losses with a .853 save percentage and 5.16 GAA. He gave up his first goal 101 seconds into his first game in net, to a rookie player on his way to the Hall of Fame named Darryl Sittler.
The Detroit team of that year was extremely bad, and didn’t give McLeod much of a chance to perform to his level. This was shown in the fact that while playing with the Fort Worth Wings that same year, he won the Terry Sawchuk Award for allowing the fewest goals against.
For the next two seasons, he would play in the CHL and ANHL for the Forth Worth Wings, Providence Reds and Richmond Robins.
This was followed by a brief stint with the Philadelphia Flyers for the 1971-72 season. During his four games with the team, he recorded no wins and three losses.
When the WHA formed, McLeod jumped over and joined the Houston Aeros where he played two seasons. His 1973-74 season would be his best year, winning the Ben Hatskins trophy as the top goalie in the league and earning a place on the First All-Star team. That same year, the Aeros would win the Avco Cup. During that season, he played in 49 games, recorded 33 wins and 13 losses, and a GAA of 2.56.
The play of McLeod was so good in the WHA that he was selected to represent Canada in the 1974 Summit Series against the Soviets. He joined Hall-of-Farmer Gerry Cheevers and Gilles Grattan as one of the three goalies from the WHA on the team. In the one game he appeared in, he was scored on eight times by the Soviets. One interesting story about McLeod from that tournament was that while players could bring one guest, most brought their wives or girlfriends. McLeod chose to bring his mother, rather than his wife.
It was also around this time that he was offered a new contract. The team offered him $99,999, but he wanted a six-figure contract, literally one cent more, and decided to turn down the deal. This would lead him to the Vancouver Blazers where he appeared in a record 72 games, recording 32 wins and 35 losses. Going with the franchise to Calgary, he played as the main goalie for the Calgary Cowboys for the next two seasons before the team folded.
Drafted from the remnants of that team by the Quebec Nordiques, he would play seven games before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers, where he would end his career that year. As for why he was traded, McLeod asked for one due to the hard adjustment to life in Quebec City for his wife and their children, none of whom spoke French.
McLeod was one of the top goaltenders in the history of the WHA, setting several career, season and playoff records. Over the course of his WHA career, he would appear in 329 games, registering 155 wins, 123 losses and a GAA of 3.34. In his career, he also recorded 43 assists, including 13 in 1975-76, which was a professional record at the time.
Following his hockey career, he would work as a travelling salesman for the Hershey Canada Company between Calgary and Cranbrook.
He would pass away on March 11, 2015 at the age of 68 of a heart attack.
Information for this article comes from Wikipedia, HockeyDB, Legends Of Hockey, the Globe and Mail