Frank Mahovlich was a better reader than brother Pete, comic books first, then later storybooks. Frank did pretty well in school as a boy; Pete, well, he needed a push. Sorry, Peter. “Peter was smart, but he just didn’t want to do it.”
That from the boys’ mother, Cecilia, in 1971, when a weekend magazine got her talking about what her wingers were like as children. They were both skating for Montreal at the time. Frank was 33, Pete 24; both, by then, had long since given up the violin. Once, said Mrs. M, they really had loved to play. “In fact, they would give me hell if I forgot to tell them it was time to practice.”
Frank liked to play with guns, while Pete was more of a trucks man. “They were good boys,” testified their mother, “and did everything they were supposed to do.” Although:
Peter watched too much television, and drank too much pop, and chewed gum. Frank was better about that. He ate a lot of apples and oranges.
Frank was never much of a help to young Peter — he just told him to protect himself.
The Bigger M made his debut for Toronto back in the 1956-57 season. It was almost ten years before M the Littler followed him into the league, with Detroit. It was the fall of 1966 when they first played against one another as NHLers. First there was an exhibition, in Kitchener, where Pete prevailed — well, he scored a goal, at least, while Frank cracked his ribs. At the end of October, at Maple Leaf Gardens, the two met again in a regular season game.
“Brand X” was what 20-year-old Pete was calling himself that year. His brother was, at 28, an established star, three times a Stanley Cup-winner, with a Calder Trophy and a couple of First All-Star selections to his name. At Toronto’s Daily Star, Milt Dunnell profiled Pete the day after the Leafs beat the Wings 3-2:
The younger Mahovlich is as different from brother Frank as the ace of hearts is from the ace of diamonds. Where Frank is shy and reserved, Pete is an extrovert and a package of personality.
Also, he could eat. So Red Wings’ defenceman Gary Bergman told Dunnell: “That Pete Mahovlich eats doubles of everything. What an eater — world champion and only 20.”
The Leafs’ season would end that years with another Stanley Cup, but at this point it was only three games old, and the win was their first of the campaign. They were leading 2-0 after two periods on goals by John Brenneman and Kent Douglas. Then in the intermission goaltender Terry Sawchuk got a message to call home to Detroit, where his mother-in-law was seriously ill, and while he wasn’t looking for excuses, he did say later that he had a bad feeling heading into the third, wherein Paul Henderson scored within the first minute and then again a little, though Eddie Shack scored, too, for the Leafs, so not to worry.
“The big thing is we won,” said Sawchuk, the game’s first star, “and the news from home wasn’t as bad as I expected.”
Johnny Bower had played the first two games of the Leafs against the New York Rangers, a tie and a loss. Sawchuk’s summer had included back surgery in June and though he was feeling good when he arrived at Toronto’s Peterborough training camp in September, that didn’t last.
“Physical and mental fatigue set in,” he said. “I hated the sight of pads, skates and the ice: wanted to chuck the whole thing. I walked in on Imlach one Saturday and told him I’d had the course.”
Punch Imlach, the Leafs’ coach and GM. He talked to Sawchuk, calmed him, told him he could set his own schedule. Sawchuk: “You have to stick and stay for a guy like that. Punch may trade me tomorrow but I’ll still say he was great for me.”
He felt like a rookie, to the start the night. “I had the jitters when I skated out before that crowd. But after the first few shots I was okay. I know my back will stand the gaff.”
Mrs. Mahovlich was in that crowd, along with her husband, Peter, Sr. That’s them, above. “They would root for the Big M when he had the puck,” The Daily Star reported, “and go through the same routine when young Pete stepped out.” Neither of the younger Mahovliches made any impression on the score sheet. Frank had missed the first two games of the season, too, suspended by the team in contract dispute. Before that, he’d been out rehabilitating those cracked ribs. So Imlach excused his muted showing. (Adding to Frank’s woes: he fell on an elbow, needed five stitches to close the cut.)
He said he didn’t notice Pete too much. Pete said, sure, yes, he was a little self-conscious, playing against his big brother. Of their dad, Frank said, “He wasn’t rooting, just hoping for both of us. And that’s the way it should be.”
The brothers did end up winning two Stanley Cups together, as Canadiens, in 1971 and ’73. It was in the opening game of the latter championship series that both Frank and Pete scored in an 8-3 win over the Chicago Black Hawks. Ted Blackman of Montreal’s Gazette told of Peter Sr. arriving in the Habs’ jubilant dressing room after the game:
Pete spotted him in the midst of reporters and hollered something in Croatian, then translated for the benefit of the bystanders. “Cut the gab, Dad, and get up some sugar for the brothers,” he whooped.
Mr. Mahovlich stuck a paw in his pants and pulled out a wad of U.S. dollars. He peeled off one for Peter and gave him another fro brother Frank. Twenty years out of short pants and these $100,000 athletes are still taking allowance from an old miner?
“I pay my boys one dollar for each goal I see,” Pete Sr. explained. “Not for games I don’t go to, only those where I’m there. See, my boys must get me tickets or they don’t get a dollar.”