The passing last week of Parker MacDonald removed one of the historic figures in the New Haven hockey world.
In 1972, MacDonald was named the original coach and general manager of a new American Hockey League club, the New Haven Nighthawks, whose president was a local businessman, John McColl. A few weeks earlier the team played in the first event at the lamented (by some) New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which was closed in 2002 and demolished in 2007.
That inaugural game was between the Nighthawks and its parent club, the National Hockey League’s Minnesota North Stars, and they played to a 2-2 tie in a comparatively friendly match.
June 14, 1933 – August 17, 2017
Parker McDonald was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia (Canada). After retiring from the game he returned to Connecticut and settled first in Guilford, then moved to Northford, where he remained until his death at the age of 84.
Before taking up the coaching reigns in New Haven he played in the National Hockey League for the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Minnesota North Stars and Detroit Red Wings during a 17-year pro career. He was in four Stanley Cup finals and in the 1962-63 season he finished 5th in goals scored with 33.
As an expansion team, the Nighthawks never met with much won-lost success. But Parker’s contribution was not developing winning teams but winning players. He worked with many youngsters, gave them valuable lessons and experiences, and molded them for careers in the NHL.
Among those whom MacDonald took under his wing, several later became well-known to hockey fans. They included Gary Hewitt, Kevin Morrison, Bob Nystrom, Dave Pulkkinen, Glenn Resch and Yvan Rolanado. He also fit in the veteran Willie O’Ree, who was in the twilight of a career during which he was the first Black to play in the NHL.
New Haven against the Russians
Of all the MacDonald coached Nighthawks’ games I saw, I have the most vivid memories of an exhibition contest against the Russian All-Stars on January 4, 1973. There was an attendance 8,250, which was the largest crowd ever to attend a hockey game in Connecticut up to that time. It exceeded the 8,114 who saw the Nighthawks and the parent club, the NHL Minnesota North Stars, play to a 2-2 tie in the event that opened the Coliseum.
But on the occasion, when the red uniformed Soviets were in New Haven, it was a rough and tumble game easily won by the visitors 9-4. The Russians featured Vladislav Tretiak, then acknowledged by most experts as the best goalie in the world. They also had veterans of the bitter series with Team Canada the year before, and even some from the “Miracle on Ice” game that the U.S. won in the Lake Placid Winter Olympics.
Several fights broke out this night and there was a lot of antagonism expressed by the fans, who reluctantly finally seemed to accept the superiority of the opposition., After the game, McDonald dismissed any hard feelings in speaking to George Wadley of the old New Haven Journal Courier . He said that “most every one of our boys told me that they thought it was a great honor to play this game. And besides, how often do you get to play against a team like that? How often do you get to look at a hockey team that does the things that the Russians do?”
Professional hockey in New Haven is a thing of the past and will probably never return. That’s one reason why Parker MacDonald should be remembered. He was a class act.