Don MacLeod was a hockey pioneer. He foresaw the explosion of women’s hockey on the sports scene when he became the head coach at Northeastern University in 1981.
He fought for the advancement of the women’s game, won 210 games and two ECAC titles, coached Team USA in the first-ever world championships – and then resigned from Northeastern in protest when the school cut back on scholarships in the women’s hockey program he built.
Now 76 years old and a 13-year resident of Winthrop, MacLeod is realizing the fruits of his labor and love of the sport. MacLeod was inducted in to the Women’s Beanpot Hall of Fame during the annual tournament in February that brings together the teams from Northeastern, Harvard, Boston College, and Boston University.
He was the first coach from a Beanpot school to be inducted in to the Hall of Fame.
“I was honored to be an inductee and the first coach selected to the Hall of Fame,” said MacLeod. “I don’t know how to say it, but this was one of the few things I did well.”
MacLeod’s love of hockey began in high school and it was a natural step to get into coaching. His hockey coaching career began in the Georgetown High program and had stops at Wakefield and Saugus where he became the boys varsity head coach.
In 1981, he applied for the Northeastern University head women’s hockey coaching position and was hired. There were 15 Division 1 varsity programs at the time. Harvard had a strong varsity team while BC and BU fielded club teams at that time.
He would remain at the helm of Northeastern women’s hockey for 11 years, leading the school to eight consecutive Beanpot titles and two ECAC titles, which, in essence, were national titles because the sport was limited to the eastern United States.
MacLeod knew women’s [and girls] hockey was destined for growth and that’s why he fought so hard to retain scholarships for women’s hockey players at Northeastern.
“At the end of my career I had six scholarships for my program at Northeastern and all of sudden they took them away as a cost-saving measure,” recalled MacLeod. “Our operating budget was $25,000 and my coaching salary was $9,000. I was driving a tractor-trailer for Federal Express to make ends meet. I was coaching the Northeastern team for pride. I loved it and we did well.”
Two years prior to his unexpected exit from the college coaching ranks, MacLeod, widely considered as the best coach in the sport, was named the head coach of the 1990 United States team that competed in the first world championship women’s hockey tournament in Ottawa.
“I was honored to coach the USA team,” said MacLeod. “Bob Johnson, head of USA hockey and whose son, Mark, played on the 1980 team with Mike Eruzione and now coaches at Wisconsin, conducted the interviews and selected me. I think he respected the fact that we had won two ECAC titles at Northeastern. I received a letter from President George Bush and Barbara Bush wishing us well in the first world tournament.”
MacLeod’s USA women’s team beat Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden before losing to Team Canada, 5-2, in the gold medal game. MacLeod received a silver medal that he still has proudly in his possession.
But his coaching career would come to a thunderous halt just two years later when he resigned from Northeastern.
“I was working all kinds of hours and so proud of my Northeastern program and the work I was doing. I actually said to myself, ‘I’m pretty good at something.’ “But I resigned at the end of the 1992 season in protest of the cutbacks.”
His legacy as a hockey mentor lives on today. Ten of his former Northeastern players, including the captain [Tina Cardinale Beauchemin] of his undefeated 1988 Huskies’ team (26-0-1), are coaching at the high school or collegiate levels.
MacLeod said he still follows the game and is impressed by the job that Anthony Martucci has done as the head coach of the Winthrop High School girls hockey team.
“Winthrop has an excellent program and he [Martucci] does a nice job,” said MacLeod. “His players respect him. I’ve had the opportunity to watch him coach in games. He uses a lot of positive reinforcement for the players and that’s needed. I was impressed. He wants to sit down and talk hockey and I’ll be glad to do it because I live in Winthrop now, so it’s my hometown.”