McDonald Was TV Voice Of New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup Dynasty; Also First Voice Of Kings And Flames
The first broadcast voice of the Los Angeles Kings. The voice of the New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup glory years. Winner of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. And soon to be the guest voice of the USPHL’s Florida Jr. Blades!
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Jiggs McDonald.
McDonald, who got his nickname as a child from a newspaper comic strip, has called NHL games in every decade since the 1960s. Nowadays a resident of Fort Myers, Fla., he is working with the Jr. Blades’ co-owners Ron Kinnear and Kevin Miller to call a select number of Jr. Blades home games and potentially showcase games at the USPHL Florida Showcase in December, as well.
“I’ve often referred to my work both in L.A. and Atlanta as missionary work for the sport of hockey.”
“I expect I’ll be calling home games only. Once the schedule is available, we will sit down and see what works for me. It could be half a dozen or it could be more,” said McDonald, now 83 years young. “We haven’t discussed the showcase yet, but it sounds like it could fit in perfectly.”
McDonald hasn’t had a chance to see USPHL hockey as of yet, as he is still fresh off NHL broadcasts for the New York Islanders as recently as this past March, but he is very excited for being able to be a part of young athletes’ hockey journey towards college hockey.
“I know that a lot of young talent from this [Fort Myers/Gulf Coast] area, as well as the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area have gone on to college hockey, and even pro, careers,” said McDonald. “Here is an opportunity to play this great game and get an education while doing so.”
A Voice Fit For Kings
Born in Galt, Ont., just outside of the Kitchener-Waterloo area, McDonald got his start in radio and began his play-by-play career with local senior hockey teams. Along with many others, he simply applied for the open Kings play-by-play position when the job was announced shortly after the world-shaping Feb. 9, 1966 announcement of the “Second Six” NHL franchises in L.A., St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Oakland, Calif.
“Once expansion was announced and becoming reality, I sent an audition tape from a senior hockey league team in the community that I was working in,” said McDonald. “In February 1967, I was still a candidate, and I was asked to meet [inaugural Kings owner] Jack Kent Cooke when he was in Toronto for soccer league meetings. He pointed out a few things he’d like me to incorporate into a broadcast. I cut another tape with those points incorporated, and I guess he liked what he heard. In March 1967, I got the job.”
McDonald likened his first pro broadcasting job to being, in part, a teacher of the game. Los Angeles had a minor pro team called the Blades, but overall one of the United States’ largest markets was new to the game of hockey. He was also marketing personalities that no one really knew.
“In our case with the Kings, we had [Hall of Fame goalie] Terry Sawchuk and who else?” said McDonald. “It was a matter of selling the individuals, and Cooke demanded first and last names, height and weight, and a little bit of their background. When Cooke purchased the Springfield [Mass.] AHL team, that helped to make the Kings a better team, adding Dale Rolfe, Bill White, Brian Smith and Brian Kilrea. It was all a matter of selling NHL hockey to the people.”
He was also getting an education himself, working in the same market as broadcasting legends Vin Scully (L.A. Dodgers), Chick Hearn (L.A. Lakers) and local resident Keith Jackson (Monday Night Football).
The Flames’ ‘Boom Boom’ Era
In 1972, McDonald moved to Atlanta to be the first-ever announcer for another new franchise, the Atlanta Flames – still in operation today, known since 1980 as the Calgary Flames. McDonald called games right up to the final season in Atlanta, 1979-80. Once again, he had to put on multiple hats as broadcaster and teacher.
“I’ve often referred to my work both in L.A. and Atlanta as missionary work for the sport of hockey,” he said. “When I got to Atlanta, the city had one ice surface, and one industrial beer league, and maybe one youth hockey league with two teams. It was absolute grassroots, teaching the game from the ground up. You had to learn not to talk down, or up, to an audience, but you were always cognizant of the fact you were teaching.”
Once again, he was alongside a legend in Atlanta. Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, known in some corners as the “inventor” of the slapshot, was fresh off a 16-year Hall of Fame NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens when named the first Head Coach of the Flames. On and off over eight years, Geoffrion would find himself in the broadcast booth alongside McDonald after his stint as coach.
“It was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a more knowledgeable individual with great expressions,” said McDonald. “The listening and viewing audience – we simulcast the broadcasts between TV and radio – loved him, and he loved them in return. You couldn’t help but learn from his experiences. I learned how to better appreciate fine wine from him.”
He also remembers Geoffrion standing out in front of the former Omni Coliseum when the Flames were announced as joining the NHL in the 1972-73 season.
“It was a burning hot day, but he stood out in front of the Omni and dressed piece-by-piece in full equipment to teach Atlantans what hockey players wear, just right over his street clothes,” said McDonald. “And of course, he pulled an Atlanta Flames jersey over it all.”
The Island of Champions
When the Atlanta Flames were sold and relocated to Calgary ahead of the 1980-81 season, McDonald was hired instead by the New York Islanders, an organization that – like the Flames – had joined in 1972-73 and had just won their first Stanley Cup in 1980. It was not to be their last.
“It was amazing just seeing firsthand how up close and personal that team was, and including Al Arbour and Bill Torrey, just how they geared everything towards where they were mentally and physically the first week of April,” said McDonald, who called games throughout the next three years of Islanders Stanley Cup Championships from 1981 through 1983. “They had a set of standards for strength and conditioning that I had not seen before. The Islanders of the early 1980s could let their opponents set the style of play, whether it was a track meet or a physical game, and they’d beat anyone at both. They were just so deep at every position, so well-coached and so well-managed.”
These memories came with quite a bit of sadness. Just in 2022 alone, the world has bid farewell to Hall of Famers Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, as well as Randy Boyd and Jean Potvin, all former Islanders. A member of the Islanders’ inaugural team, Potvin retired after the 1981 Cup run and joined McDonald in the Nassau Coliseum broadcast booth, albeit on the radio side.
“It’s been a tough year for the organization,” said McDonald.
Although he has not called a full Islanders season since 1994-95, he has continued to come in and help from time to time, including most recently in March of this year when he called the action for two Islanders games in 2021-22. Along with work with Toronto and Florida in the 2000s, and fill-in work for the Islanders in the 2010s, that gave him seven decades of work calling games in the NHL.
“I’m just blown away with the technology now. Back in 1967, we got league statistics once a week,” said McDonald. “Now you have instant stats on a monitor. You can tell the speed of a shot a guy just took. Your head is more on a swivel now because you’re calling the play and then looking at this monitor with information to deepen the broadcast experience. High Definition viewing has also made a huge difference in how the game is presented.”
McDonald also has been tapped for special events such as calling the 1989 NHL All-Star Game, just one year before he received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame, enveloping him in the fabric of the game’s history for all time. He was also on hockey broadcasts in the 1988, 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics.
“Working with Joe Micheletti and Bill Clement on those broadcasts were fun times and in Calgary I had Mike Eruzione as my color commentator partner, and also Ken Dryden for one or two games,” McDonald said. “Norway [site of the 1994 Olympics] was something else – the ice arena was built into the side of a mountain.”
Ready For The Call Yet Again
McDonald said that his relationship with the Jr. Blades comes via a mutual connection between himself and Jr. Blades (and P.A.L. Jr. Islanders) co-owner Ron Kinnear – an “old adversary” from his youth and later close friend named Bernard “Buzz” Deschamps.
“Buzzy has played and then coached all over Long Island. I saw him in Canada growing up as a baseball player in summer and hockey player in winter. We detested one another,” said McDonald. “He was an intense athlete and I thought he bordered on being overly physical, ‘crossing the line’ as they might say today. After I had left Atlanta and moved to Long Island, we became very close, found a lot of common ground and had a lot of laughs about old times. With our wives, we have traveled together on vacations since then. He got in touch with Ron Kinnear and let Ron know that I was living in Fort Myers now, and that I would love to work with the young broadcasters here and do whatever I can do.”
Why not just enjoy all Florida has to offer in retirement – why come back to call junior hockey games? What has kept Jiggs McDonald calling hockey games for seven decades? Simple.
“The love of the game,” said McDonald. “I grew up with the game, grew up listening first and then watching. In any argument, you can say it’s the best team sport in the world. Yes, you have your individuals who dominate, but they can’t do it without their teammate.”
Hockey became McDonald’s life and livelihood well before he began calling games, as he was a member of the Board of Directors for the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, a time during which he recalls seeing the rise of a young star named Bobby Orr.
“I was involved with selecting refs for playoff games and I had to know the rulebook inside and out,” he said. “How many kilometers away a player lived from the team he was on – you had to know all these regulations. Hockey became my life at that point, and I’ve had no desire to branch out and make football or baseball my thing.”
He equates the mission of the USPHL, to develop and advance players to college hockey, with the work done at the time he was first joining the Kings.
“It takes me full circle to a man named Art Guiney who put together a California All-Star team that would raise funds and take kids east to play in front of the college coaches, and it was called ‘Operation East,’” said McDonald. “Several good players from the L.A. area got scholarships and other college hockey opportunities. Operation East has a direct tie to the opportunities that this league is providing to its young players.”
The USPHL is proud and honored to welcome Hockey Hall of Famer Jiggs McDonald to its fantastic roster of broadcasters from coast to coast.