Saturday

Pete Mahovlich

When Pete Mahovlich joined the National Hockey League, he was instantly labeled as Frank Mahovlich's little brother. Little is about the last word that should be used to describe Pete Mahovlich.

Frank Mahovlich was a 10 year veteran by the time Pete broke into the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings in 1966. Frank had already established himself as not only one of the top scorers in league history, but one of the bigger players as well. Standing 6 feet tall and weighing 205 pounds, Frank was one of the largest players of his day, earning him the nickname "The Big M."

While Pete Mahovlich never really had a nickname that stuck quite like that, little brother Pete should have been known as "The Bigger M." Pete Mahovlich towered not only over brother Frank, but everyone else in the NHL. He stood at 6'5" and weighed 215 pounds. A player of that size is becoming more and more common today's NHL, but someone of that size playing hockey was almost unheard of back in the 1960 and 1970s.

As today's fans know, players of such huge size are often tagged as slow skaters and having poor hands. Oddly enough, Mahovlich excelled as a stickhandler, playmaker and penalty killer, and considering his awkward size was a good skater. What he lacked in speed and agility, he made up for with a crafty and industrious approach to the game that rarely left him out of the action.

Mahovlich broke into the league with the Detroit Red Wings, but it took a good 5 seasons before he finally established himself as a bonafide NHLer. In 4 seasons with Detroit, he played sparingly in only 82 games before being traded to Montreal with Bart Crashley for Garry Monahan and Doug Piper.

His first season with Montreal was nothing to remember. Hampered by injuries he only played in 36 games. But the 1970-71 season saw Peter Mahovlich break out. He would score 35 goals and 61 points while playing with more aggression. Coincidentally, this same season saw the Habs acquire the wily veteran Frank Mahovlich.

Pete Mahovlich would continue to be a very solid supporting cast role player for the next 4 seasons. He contributed solid scoring totals while establishing himself as one of the league's most outstanding checkers and penalty killers.

His checking abilities doubled with his size and hockey sense earned hockey's giant a spot on Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series showdown with Soviet's Red Army. Pete Mahovlich scored what was perhaps the most spectacular goal in a spectacular series. With Canada two men short, "Pete Mahov" picked up a Phil Esposito clearing attempt just inside the centerline. Faking his patented slap shot, Mahovlich deked a Soviet defender and drives in alone on Tretiak. He faked a forehand shot, went to his backhand, and while falling on top of Tretiak managed to slip the puck into the net. What a goal!

In 1973-74 Mahovlich finally had a chance to shine. One of hockey's most underrated players, Mahovlich spent much of the season distributing pucks to line mates Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt. He also had plenty of power play time. Mahovlich scored 35 goals and 82 assists for 117 points. The 117 points is a Habs record for points by a center, while his 82 assists remains a Canadiens team record for assists in a single season.

The following season Pete duplicated his fine efforts, this time dipping slightly to 34 goals and 71 assists and 105 points. The next season saw him slip badly as his prime ice time was taken away. While he continued to excel as a two way center and penalty killer, he was aging and was never one of coach Scotty Bowman's favorites - mostly due to his happy-go-lucky attitude off the ice. He, much like Brett Hull, was labeled as a clown and as lazy, something which bothered him greatly, as it wasn't true.

At 30 years of age Montreal moved him to Pittsburgh where he played for 2 seasons before returning to Detroit for 2 more seasons. However those seasons were largely forgettable. He actually finished his career in the minor leagues.

Pete Mahovlich, hockey's first true giant, retired in 1981 with 288 goals and 485 assists for 773 points in 884 games. He also scored 72 points in 88 playoff contests, and was a member of 4 Stanley Cup championships, all in Montreal.

5 comments:

Robert L 1:02 AM  

The biggest rap on the "Little M" in Montreal was that he never hit.

Testimony to his happy-go-lucky nature - after the Stanley Cup parade in 1977, he entered Montreal Mayor, Jean Drapeau's office and proceeded to lay his feet up on the Mayor's desk - his bare feet!

Anonymous,  8:13 PM  

Great story about the bare feet! Pete and Yvan Cournoyer were my favourite players as kids.

Pete always had a huge smile on his face, nobody in the NHL ever got more happiness out of the game than him.

Sure, he drove me crazy the odd time with mad dash 1 on 3 rushes, but all that practice paid off with definitely the most creative goal of the 72 series.

I loved after the 3-3 tie with Czechoslovakia in the Canada Cup how he skated straight up to the Czech goalie to trade sweaters, a sign of respect.

Hockey should never forget that it is a game, and Peter could be said to be hockey's ambassador to joy.

RD Bruns,  5:32 PM  

The Mahovlich brothers are very special men and great hockey players. Pete was "so big" and "so good", he did not have to hit or hurt anybody.

This story needs to be told, Brian Sutter and Peter Mahovlich, this is about “the established NHL star” and the “youngster”, now both Hall of Famers. “

This is the way I remember this story, Brian Sutter had just joined the St. Louis Blues and the Blues were playing the MontrĂ©al Canadians. As everyone now knows, Brian was not the biggest hockey player, but had the heart of giant and played that way. Being in his first NHL game, Brian was anxious to prove himself in the NHL, all the while, being “prodded” by the de-facto team leader (and NHL tough guy) Barclay Plager, Barclay insisted that Brian “tell the NHL” the he was not afraid of anyone. Barclay said it was honor to wear the sweater with the blue note – and it was a player’s duty to play as hard as could - every shift/every game.

For whatever reasons in his first shift, Brian dropped his gloves and went after Pete Mahovlich, which everyone could tell surprised Mahovlich, since there did seem to be any real reason to fight him. Pete was the biggest of the Montreal Canadians, so one supposes “pick the biggest guy” if you want to “send a message”. Pete was so much larger than Brian, Pete could have beat Brian into the ice and really hurt him. But this is the way I remember that fight.

Pete, understood what Brian was doing, especially since he was Frank Mahovlich’s little brother and what it mean for Brian to earn the respect of the established NHL stars. With Brian bearing down on him, Pete grabbed Brian, as player does, going into a fight, Brian was throwing punches, but they were not connecting with any impact. Rather than beat the smaller Brian to a bloody pulp, Pete held Brian at arms length and Brian could not effectively reach him.

The size difference between Pete Mahovlich and Brian Sutter was amazing; Pete was huge, extremely strong with very long arms. . Brian was simply a “youngster” in his first NHL start in front of hometown fans – Pete understood all to well what was happening - Brian was going to show the NHL that he was fearless and tough, so Pete did what only an establish star could do - teach the "youngster" a lesson in the Hockey Honor Code.

Brian was “no match” for fighting Pete Mahovlich. Pete being nearly a foot taller; outweighing Brian by 35/40 pounds and several years of NHL experience under his belt could have devastated the younger and smaller Brian.

Here is what happened - as Pete held him, he made Brian look good for the St Louis fans, wrestling with him, making it look like a real fight was happening, but doing no real physical damage. The ref/linesman broke up the “fight” and the St Louis crowd roared with approval and welcomed the “little tough guy” to the team. “David versus Goliath” comes to mind, but this “Goliath” is Pete Mahovlich and is the ultimate gentleman. Pete understood “the code of honor” between “hockey families”, who are the heart and soul of North American hockey – Pete is simply a great man of honor.

Men, like Pete Mahovlich, who is a true gentlemen, is why hockey is the greatest sport for building character and “turning boys into men”. In time, the “youngster” Brian proved to be a St Louis Blues “Super Star”, a leader of true character, an honorable man and one of the truly great NHL coaches – passing along the lessons he learned in his career.

I hope that I did some justice to what happened that night, it was along time ago, and for me, those were the golden days of hockey. – RDB - 02/22/2010

Wolfleadr,  12:35 AM  

A friend and I went down to the old Detroit Olympia Stadium to watch the Wings and Habs play. We were a few minutes late, so the game was under way when we walked in. The first thing I saw was the Canadiens coming down the ice, and carrying the puck was Pete Mahovlich. I can't remember being so awestruck by a single player. These were the days of no helmets, so the players' faces were plain to see. Pete was calm, casual, patient; he looked down at the puck as though he wanted to make sure it was in perfect position on his stick before he fired it at the Wings' goal. It was like watching a ship of war slowly cruise through a harbor, its power and presence under tight control; but you knew what that ship was capable of.

Wolfleadr,  12:39 AM  

Jeez, I forgot: I also loved to watch Pete's patented temper tantrums whenever he was whistled off for an infraction. Ratchet-jaw at the ref, slam the penalty box door, give a disparaging look to the crowd; it was great to watch.

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