It was early in the 1981-82 season and Ontario League commissioner David Branch was waiting around for Belleville Bulls coach Larry Mavety in the bowels of the Quinte Sports Centre on an off day. Branch remembers seeing Mavety come down the hall with “this big, gangly kid,” whom Branch didn’t know or recognize.
“He said, ‘Dave, I want you to meet this guy,’ ” Branch told TheHockeyNews.com. “ ‘Nobody drafted him, but I guarantee you he’s going to become a player.’ ”
That young man was Marty McSorley and he was one of more than 50 NHL players who once played for Mavety in junior hockey. And he was undoubtedly one of many people in the hockey world who was mourning Mavety’s death on Friday at the age of 78. Mavety was a fixture in the OHL from the time he began coaching the expansion Belleville Bulls in 1981, a time when things were a lot less complicated and people were a product of their times. He was essentially a hockey lifer, coaching and/or managing the Bulls and the Kingston Frontenacs for 30 years. After stepping down as GM of the Frontenacs in 2011, he became a senior advisor with the team and was its alternate governor and active at league meetings right up until the pandemic hit. The man everyone who knew him called ‘Mav’ was also one of the hockey world’s all-time great story tellers.
But Mavety was also a longtime player who literally slugged it out in the minors and the World Hockey Association, playing for 14 different teams and amassing more than 1,700 penalty minutes. In fact, in the last season of his pro career, playing for the Broome County Dusters of the North American League, Mavety had a five-second appearance in Slap Shot and his roommate, Rod Bloomfield, was Paul Newman’s double for the on-ice scenes. For the longest time, Mavety kept the check stub from the studio in his wallet. “I got more money for five seconds in the movie than I did playing in Binghamton for a whole week,” Mavety once said. “And they fed you on top of that.”
Anyone who came across Mavety the coach or the player would acknowledge that he lived up to his public reputation as a gruff and old-school, but beneath that exterior was a man who cared deeply about his players and stood by his word. He was known in hockey circles as ‘Trader Mav’ for his propensity for making deals. In fact, former OHL scouting director and close friend Jack Ferguson swears he recalls a deal Mavety made that was eight players for seven. Often they were made over a couple of adult beverages late in the night and not once did Mavety have buyer’s remorse. This was a day, of course, when a GM could make a deal without clearing it first with five different levels of ownership. “If you made a deal with ‘Mav’, you knew a deal was a deal and he would live by his word,” said longtime Ottawa 67’s GM-coach Brian Kilrea. “He was one of a kind. He was scared of nobody and his players loved him because he was honest.”
Kilrea acknowledged that honesty was on full display at OHL meetings. While a lot of executives would carp behind the scenes, Kilrea said Mavety never hesitated to speak his mind on league matters. And Branch recalled one time when Mavety wasn’t afraid to let his honesty work against him. Branch said he was investigating a bench-clearing brawl that led to a number of suspensions, but it was in the days before teams were required to video tape each game. With no tape to corroborate, Branch found Mavety’s candor perhaps a little too honest in the hearing. “At one point, I stopped him and I said, ‘Mav, we don’t have video, you don’t have to give me all this information,’ but he was brutally honest,” Branch said. “He said to me, ‘You’re goddam right I sent my bench out.’ ” On another occasion, Branch recalled a strike by workers with the City of Kingston that would have closed the Kingston Memorial Centre for a game. But Branch received a call from Mavety the day before the game saying the union workers would allow the arena doors to open. “He just said, ‘I know these guys. We sat down and had a beer and talked about it,’ ” Branch said.
It seems everyone involved in the OHL has a story about Mav. Former scouting director Ferguson recalled a time when there was a tournament in Ottawa and Mavety's hotel room was next to his, with former Cornwall Royals GM and all-round bon vivant Gord Wood in the next room. Mavety stuck his head out of his room just as Ferguson's wife was coming down the hall. "He says to my wife, 'Who are you?' and she says, 'I'm Jack's wife,' " Ferguson said. "And he said, 'Well, you're not the one who's been here all week!' "
When former Peterborough Petes GM Jeff Twohey learned of Mavety’s death, he posted a newspaper photograph on Twitter from his early days in Peterborough as the team’s trainer. It shows Mavety and Twohey ready to go at each other between the teams’ benches in Belleville. “I was pretty young and I was pretty yappy in games,” Twohey recalled. “He’s trying to kill me in that picture. But I got to know ‘Mav’ over the years and he was one of the best people that I met.” Twohey also recalled a time when local fans in Peterborough were calling for his firing and said Mavety called him during the trying time to see how he was doing. And when the Petes won the league championship in 2006, the first congratulatory text he received after the game was from Mavety.
“He said, ‘The fans won’t be yelling at you now,’ ” Twohey said. “That just tells you that he cared about people.”