Left-winger Don Blackburn was a solid two-way forward who played spent parts of six years in the NHL during the 1960s and '70s. He was a fine passer and checker as well as a positive influence in the dressing room. Blackburn went down in history as the head coach of the Hartford Whalers when they joined the NHL in 1979.
Blackburn was a key member of the OHA's Hamilton Tiger Cubs for two years before turning pro with the Victoria Cougars of the Western League. After two strong years in the EPHL with the Kingston Frontenacs, Blackburn recorded five assists in six games for the Boston Bruins in 1962-63. The Bruins relegated Blackburn to the Quebec Aces and Rochester Americans of the AHL where he was a productive goal scorer.
Blackburn's big break came when he was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1967 Expansion Draft. He played an important two-way role on the young club for two seasons before he was acquired by the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts' depth at forward left Blackburn in the AHL once again where he enjoyed much individual success. He led the league in scoring with 99 points in 1971-72 and was selected to the first all-star team once and second all-star unit on two occasions.
The veteran winger joined his second expansion team in 1972 when he was claimed by the New York Islanders in the Intra-League Draft. He was one of the struggling club's most consistent players before being traded to the Minnesota North Stars late in the year. Blackburn joined the WHA's New England Whalers in 1973-74 and was an important playmaker and checker for the club.
Blackburn retired in 1975 and was named the club's interim coach. After he was replaced by Harry Neale in March 1976, the loyal employee remained with the organization as an assistant coach. Prior to the 1978-79 season, Blackburn was appointed New England's head scout. In April he took over as coach and lit a fire under the team as it took the Edmonton Oilers to a seventh game in the Avco Cup semi-finals.
Director of Hockey Operations Jack Kelley decided to give him a chance at leading the club into its inaugural NHL season as the Hartford Whalers. The new club boasted young stars Mark Howe and Mike Rogers as well as legends Gordie Howe and Dave Keon. Blackburn guided them to the playoffs that first year but was replaced by Larry Pleau early in 1980-81.