Fifty-three years ago, on a March night in 1959, the crowd that packed into New Glasgow Stadium for a high school hockey game easily surpassed the attendance limits that were later established by the fire marshal’s department.
All roads led to the rink that evening as every hockey fan within reach wanted to be there for the action. The start of the game was actually held up for almost an hour to allow all of the fans into the building.
Why such excitement? It was because an outstanding East Pictou Rural High School team was hosting Thompson High of North Sydney in a one-game showdown for the Nova Scotia Headmasters championship. East Pictou sure didn’t let their supporters down, scoring no less than 14 times to crush the Cape Bretoners.
Easily recalled by fans of that era, it was Lowell MacDonald’s final game in Nova Scotia before going on to a Memorial Cup championship in Hamilton, and 13 years in the National Hockey League. Everyone wanted that last opportunity to watch the Thorburn product, and again they got their money’s worth that night.
But let’s not forgot the overall team picture. Yes, Lowell was the major attraction and, yes, a professional career in his future had been obvious for some time.
Lowell, however, wasn’t the only player wearing the East Pictou uniform. He was one-third of an all-MacDonald line, combining with Clarence and Frank, his two mates since their minor hockey days several years earlier. The MacDonald Line was all about talent, all about scoring in eye-opening fashion.
For that championship encounter – the finest night in East Pictou history – the three MacDonalds had banner performances. Lowell had four goals and three assists, the exact production as Clarence, and Frank outpointed them with three goals and five assists. That made it a 22-point effort by the trio.
It was the crowning game for the threesome, as well as their last time playing together. While Lowell went on to the bigtime, Frank stayed in the county and had a great run in senior hockey, climaxed by a season in which he and the New Glasgow Rangers won a Maritime championship.
Clarence – best known as Cuddy – had one year of high school hockey left before ending his career. Instead of continuing to play, he turned to refereeing for many years.
It’s Cuddy we think of right now.
After spending 30 years in Saint John in the insurance business, he came back to Pictou County to live at his summer residence at Melmerby Beach.
It was there, a week and a half ago, that he lost a brief battle with cancer. He had turned 71 two days earlier.
It was only 17 months since Frank passed away at the age of 70.
When the phone rang at my home two Sundays ago, it was Lowell passing on the news that he had lost his other linemate.
Make no mistake, Cuddy in his own right was a very good hockey player, though he always played in Lowell’s shadow.
One Saturday morning, when the MacDonalds were playing in grammar school for East Pictou, I covered a game at the Stadium that they won 14-1. Cuddy had eight assists that day, obviously deserving headline treatment. The only thing was, Lowell had scored all 14 East Pictou goals.
Playing his career alongside Lowell was something I mentioned to Cuddy during the last occasion we spent a little time together.
After all those years, in his same modest way, he insisted he never minded being overshadowed by his high-profile cousin.
“Lowell was so gifted and such a beautiful skater,” he said that day. “Skating was always an effort for me, but I didn’t have the kind of dedication Lowell had. Lowell was somebody who was definitely very unselfish and he probably involved myself in a lot more goals than I normally would have been.”
Cuddy was modest too when he reminisced about the provincial title.
“Winning the championship and sharing it with guys like Lowell and Frank was certainly the highlight of my bit of a hockey career. I was very proud of being a part of that team and the whole thing that happened at East Pictou. We were the first rural school to win a Headmasters title.”
Cuddy got a lot of satisfaction from refereeing, as well. He officiated at several levels of the game and, when his insurance career took him to Saint John in the late 1970s, he continued that part of the sport until an injury ended his participation. While refereeing, his skate caught in a crack in the ice. He lost the kneecap in his left leg, which forced him to put away his whistle.
When Frank died in early 2011, I remembered how much he had always loved the game of hockey. The same can certainly be said of Cuddy.
Maybe that’s why the MacDonald Line was so very, very good, from the time they were pre-teenagers until that final game in 1959. They wanted to succeed, and they did.
“That whole playoff year,” Cuddy said in our last conversation, “was exciting for myself, and for our school, and for the whole community where I came from, Thorburn.”
Not only are two-thirds of that talented trio gone now, but East Pictou Rural High itself is no more. But, for those of us who were lucky to be around to experience that chapter in the county’s hockey history, there were many exciting times to recall.
Clarence (Cuddy) MacDonald may have played in the shadow of Lowell, but he performed to his full potential, the same way he always lived his life.
In every way, he was a champion.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for almost 60 years, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org