Larry Mavety: A True Original

There are lots of great ‘Mav’ stories and many have been retold since Larry Mavety, a junior hockey icon, died in Kingston at age 78 last week. He was an original, one of hockey’s true characters and a legend in junior hockey.

My favorite Mav story happened in 1988, on the night he officially jumped from the rival Belleville Bulls to become the new Coach and GM of the Kingston Raiders. It was truly stunning news at the time.

We were at a downtown Kingston hotel following the announcement with Mav and owner Lou Kazowski that went late into the night. Mav and Kazowski had played together in the minors, so, to stir things up I asked Mav what kind of player was Lou? To paraphrase, Mav said, “Lou was dirty and never finished anything he started. I had to do it for him.”  From there the conversation heated up and eventually a frustrated Kazowski told Mavety he was ‘fired’, just hours after being hired. Things calmed down, a few laughs followed, but it was shades of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin.

Kazowski renamed the team the Raiders with the tagline, ‘Real Hockey is Back in Town‘. It lasted one uneventful season, and at the end of the year he threatened to pull the team out of Kingston. That’s when Wren Blair and Bob Attersley bought the club, Mav stayed one more season, quit and went back to Belleville. Eight years later he would return to Kingston when the team was sold to the Springer family marking the beginning of a long relationship.

Mav’s cramped office at the Memorial Centre always had a well stocked fridge and a steady stream of visitors. A ‘Who’s Who’ of hockey, everyone knew Mav and they all loved him. Brian Kilrea, Bert Templeton, former players, NHL scouts were all regulars in Mav’s office for a beer to talk hockey.

Mavety, originally from Woodstock, ON, coached the Bulls when they were a Jr A team in the late 1970s. He recruited an undersized defenseman, 15-year-old Doug Gilmour, who was cut loose by the Kingston Voyageurs. Mav turned Gilmour into a forward and the rest as they say, is history. Gilmour became a scoring star in Cornwall and had a 20-year NHL career that landed him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Mav’s former players were very loyal, in 2008 Gilmour came full circle when he joined the Frontenacs as coach. Eventually Gilmour became GM, as Mav stepped aside from the day-to-day operations to become an advisor.

My relationship with Mav soured when he went back behind the bench in 2007 after Bruce Cassidy was fired (that worked out okay for Cassidy, who was recently named NHL Coach of the Year). I was hosting the games on CogecoTV and I would interview Mav on the post game show. While he had many media friends, Mav never really enjoyed being interviewed, especially on TV. He would bristle as I fired questions at him every week after another tough loss. Eventually he stopped doing the post game show and we stopped talking, which is how these things go. It wasn’t long before they moved downtown into the new rink and Gilmour was hired, then eventually Mav and I got back on good terms. Looking back on it, I don’t think Mav really wanted to coach again when Cassidy was fired, but did it out of loyalty to the owners.

It couldn’t have been easy being on both sides of the Kingston-Belleville rivalry, especially when Mav had two stints in both cities. He was a favourite target of vocal fans in both rinks and with no glass behind the benches in those days he was never shy about giving it back. He liked to tell the story how one night in Belleville while coaching the Bulls, a vocal fan sitting across the rink was giving it to him all night. At the end of the second period, he tore off his tie and jacket and started running across the big ice surface where he was going to go into the stands after the guy. As he recalled, luckily he never got there before being restrained. Mav had a short fuse, broadcasting the games we always knew Mav was ‘hot’ when the door of the players bench was open and sometimes he had one foot on the ice yelling at an official.

As a coach, Mav was tough on his players but honest to a fault, and most of his players loved him. Former players like Marty McSorley became lifelong friends. In a statement, OHL Commissioner Dave Branch remembered Mav this way, There are many things that he contributed to our game, but most importantly what stands out in my mind is how he took care of his players.”

Mav was gruff with that gravelly voice and his coaching style would intimidate players. It was tough love. I recall one game in Kingston, Mav coaching the Bulls and after an uninspiring shift he sent three forwards coming off the ice directly to the dressing room. I’d never seen that before, or since. They did return the next period. He didn’t win championships, but his teams were always big, tough and physical and it was never an easy two points for the visitors going into Belleville. In the 1980s when the Bulls played Kingston, in both rinks, the seats would be almost full during warmups, anticipating that things could boil over even before puck drop was an indicator it was that intense. These two rivals also played the longest game in OHL and CHL history, a six-hour plus marathon in the 1990 playoffs in Belleville. It went four overtime periods before Ken Rowbotham ended it, Mavety on the losing Kingston side.   

Quietly Mav helped many get a break in hockey. Online posts from people like long time OHL photographer, Aaron Bell, and former play by play caller, Kevin Dean, thanked Mav and spoke glowingly about how he helped them. Dean remembers the fun times on the road, in Barrie they stayed right across from the harness racing track and one night Dean and his broadcast partner, former goalie Steve Rexe, took their 10 dollar meal money and went to the track. Rexey hits a trifecta and instantly turns it into $300. They go back and tell Mav, who immediately wants a piece of the action. So, they head back with Rexey feeding Mav his picks, quickly Mav is down 50 bucks and not happy. According to Dean, on the bus ride all the way home all you could hear was Mavety chewing at Rexey about his terrible pony picks.

Mav helped out the Original Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 when we were attempting to move downtown into the S & R building. Mav had Dave Branch’s ear and the OHL Commissioner was very interested in partnering with the hall to create an OHL Hall of Fame. Branch invited me to Toronto to pitch the idea to the Board of Governors, Mav was there working the room to generate support, but the proposed deal fell apart when Kingston City Council voted down our funding proposal.

Mav had a great love of country music, especially the old classics. He loved wearing his cowboy boots and we spent a few nights going till ‘plenty after twelve’ at the Rodeo Roadhouse bar. Last call for us was a lot later than for most, and quite often we would hang out with the bands after the show and it meant for some very late, memorable nights.

Kevin Abrams, the long time Commissioner of the Central Junior Hockey League, was given an OHL opportunity by Mav as a scout and assistant coach. Kevin shares this great Mav story from a game at the Quinte Sports Centre, “There was a stoppage in play and I was sorting out a defensive pair matching and Mav gave me a look and beckoned to me with a ‘come here’ finger wag. So I ventured down the bench sure I’d messed up a match or put the wrong guys on. Brooks and Dunn is blasting over the PA during the stoppage, Mav says to me,  “F—k, I love this song” and to this day I think of this moment when I hear Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”

No friendship in hockey was stronger than Mavety’s with Brian Kilrea. Their word was their bond and they completed many deals over a beer that helped both men. They’d been friends since they played for Eddie Shore in Springfield, and coached against each other for decades. Kilrea told the Canadian Press, “Honour and integrity were cornerstones of Mavety’s personality. His players loved him because he was honest with them.”   

As a player Mav was old school, tough as nails. He battled for years through several minor pro leagues and eventually the World Hockey Association, putting up pretty good offensive numbers while taking care of business in his own end. He even famously had a bit part in the iconic hockey movie, ‘Slap Shot’ with Paul Newman. Mav was also a catcher and a very good baseball player, winning Ontario championships for Belleville teams in both junior and senior ball.

His 681 wins and 1,500 games coached put him near the top of the all-time list in the CHL. Its’ too bad we didn’t get that OHL Hall of Fame in Kingston, because Mavety would be in it. He was inducted into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.  Condolences to his wife, Brenda, and family on the loss of a true original.

Mark Potter is a long time Kingston broadcaster, Past President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame, covered OHL hockey for thirty years and was inducted into the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.