Wilfred Kennedy McDonald was born in Fergus, Ontario on October 31, 1911. He earned the nickname ‘Bucko’ as a boy in Fergus. ‘Bucko’ is thought to be an Irish term for a fighter or one who is athletically inclined, and in this case, it fits.
Prior to hockey, Bucko was known for Canada’s “other” official national sport: Lacrosse. He was considered a bulldozer on the field who was surprisingly fast on his feet and known for his uncanny flow between ball and stick Bucko went on to win the Mann Cup in 1931 with the Brampton Excelsiors, and over the years would continue to play, coach and referee box lacrosse. Forty years later, he would be inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and to this day the Bucko McDonald Award is awarded annually to the leading scorer for Major Series Lacrosse in Ontario
By 1932, at the age of 21, Bucko was playing with the newly formed International Professional Lacrosse League, having given up a trip to the Olympics as a member of the Excelsior Canadian lacrosse champions to play in the professional box game with the Toronto Maple Leafs, owned by hockey club owner Conn Smythe and operating out of Maple Leaf Gardens. But with the untimely demise of professional lacrosse that same year, Bucko found himself out of a job, and the plan was to keep playing lacrosse as an amateur while continuing to work at a nearby flower farm in Brampton. But in a surprising twist, Bucko found himself barred from the sport he loved for three long years because he had dared to accept a paycheque as a professional.
Conn Smythe, on a whim and a long-shot hope, invited Bucko to attend the Maple Leafs training camp in 1933.
Despite his severe lack of experience with organized hockey and skating in general, Bucko went on to impress the Leafs’ brass with his bull-shouldered, barrel-chested hits, his size, strength and athletic ability… but not enough to earn him a spot with the Leafs. Instead, he was sent down to the Buffalo Bisons of the International-American Hockey League.
During the Christmas season in 1934, Bucko’s contract was purchased by Detroit’s minor league affiliate, the Olympics, where he would be called up to play the final 15 games of the 1934-35 NHL season with the Red Wings 1930’s.
And thus continued an NHL career that stretched the better part of eleven seasons, including three Stanley Cups along the way, two with Detroit in 1936 and ‘37 and again in 1942 with Toronto. Bucko was regarded as a gentleman, both on and off the ice.
Following his retirement from professional hockey, Bucko returned to Sundridge where he first met his mentor Willard Lang. Bucko had fallen in love with the community and with Willard’s oldest daughter, Lottie, and the two were married on December 21, 1936. Fast-forward to 1945: Willard Lang was seeking the local federal Liberal nomination and Bucko tagged along to lend his support. But by night’s end, the meeting ended up in a deadlock without a candidate, and Willard and the rest of those assembled turned to their local hockey celebrity and asked him to carry the Liberal torch. Of course, trying something he’d never really done before seemed to come naturally to Bucko McDonald. And despite his own admission at the meeting that he was “not a politician”, he nevertheless accepted the nomination and subsequently won the election. Bucko went on to serve as the Member of Parliament in Ottawa for the riding of Parry Sound, holding the seat for three terms and retiring undefeated in 1957. During this time, Bucko was playing coach for the Sundridge Beavers and led them to two Ontario Intermediate ‘B’ championships.
Leaving politics, Bucko had a brief stint as a coach for pro clubs in Rochester NY and Sault Ste. Marie, but he was happiest coaching youngsters around home, as well as in Bracebridge and Parry Sound. In 1960, he would be awarded the OHA Gold Stick for his contributions to amateur hockey. Following his return from Rochester, Bucko was approached about mentoring a team of young players in Parry Sound, to which he said yes. And as players and parents would soon discover, Bucko’s coaching style was unique, and in many ways ahead of its time; it was a style he later attributed to having learned the game as an adult. He analyzed and studied both the game and the players. Many former players attributed their success to his coaching style and conditioning methods. He gave players room to develop their own unique styles and abilities and taught them about having the right attitude both on and off the ice. It was an attitude he himself modelled: he rarely raised his voice during practices or games, and if a player made a mistake, he was pulled aside and corrected.
Bucko’s way of coaching and treating his players certainly made an impression on a young, extraordinary player from Parry Sound named Bobby Orr. Perhaps the greatest contribution Bucko made to the shaping of Bobby Orr’s legendary career was a bold and unprecedented move: taking a kid who played forward and turning him into a defenceman.
Like so many other young players, Bucko gave Bobby permission to play the game his own way; he allowed him the freedom and creativity to rush the puck and leave his position, lead the team’s offence, skate deep into the opposing zone, and then hurry back to cover his position.
Bucko once stated that, “the satisfaction you get out of something comes about by what you put into it.” These were the words that Wilfred Kennedy ‘Bucko’ McDonald endeavored to live by, as a player, coach, husband, father, grandfather, politician and community leader. He was a friend to all, an encourager, a storyteller, and a faithful ambassador of hockey at all levels.
Bucko passed peacefully into the presence of the Lord on July 21, 1991 at the age of 79. Yet as we see today, he leaves behind a rich legacy of love, community involvement, and his contributions to the sport of hockey and those who play… stories and memories that will be cherished by all who knew him and those who hear about him in the days to come.