Sault Ste. Marie’s hockey circle has lost an exemplary member. Don Gagnon passed away recently following health complications.
Born in 1953 and a Sault Ste. Marie person through and through, Gagnon spent a virtual lifetime in the game that he was truly passionate about.
An outstanding player during his younger days, Gagnon later turned to coaching and spent more than 35 years as a mentor to minor hockey and junior aged players.
Among many proud moments as a coach, Don cherished the 2019-2020 season when he and his then 37-year old son Michael formed the coaching tandem for the AA minor midget level Root River Rangers of the Sault Major Hockey Association.
Michael was the head coach and Don was the assistant coach and prior to the start of that 2019-2020 campaign, the younger Gagnon told me that “getting to be the head coach of this team gives me a chance to give my dad a chance to coach for his 35th season and he and I are very excited to work with this group of kids and help develop them and have a fun and enjoyable game. It is an amazing feeling for me to be able to give to them for the love of the game. It has been a lifetime dream for me to share the bench with my dad and the knowledge he has for the game.”
To be sure, the elder Gagnon spent the majority of his life in and around the game of hockey.
A high-scoring forward, he starred for the venerable Algoma Contractors midgets, was later part of the Soo Greyhounds debut Ontario Hockey League season in 1972-1973 and also skated at the college level for the Lake Superior State Lakers before starring in the minor pro, International Hockey League and United States Hockey League.
And as a coach, “Donny Gags” — as he is known to many in the game — put in more than 35 years behind the bench of teams in Sault Major, the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association. He also scouted for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.
I have known Don for about 60 years.
I grew on Maple Street in the Sault’s downtown area, not far from where Don lived with his parents on Railroad Avenue. As a kid, I played sandlot baseball with and against him during the summer months on the fields of Wilcox Park.
Condolences are extended to Don’s family including his wife Helen — who I worked with for decades at the Sault This Week — his kids Nicole and the aforementioned Michael, and his grand kids.
Rest in peace, Donny.