Writing a hockey story about the legendary announcer Foster Hewitt led to a comment mentioning the magnificent Maple Leaf immortal, Frank Mahovlich, reminding me of a story I once read about him.
Frank Mahovlich was an All-Star left winger, with a graceful skating style and – as Montreal hockey announcer Danny Gallivan would have called it – “a cannonading shot.”
By merely touching the puck, Mahovlich could bring the characteristically quiet Maple Leaf Gardens spectators immediately to life. “The Big M” as media called him, corralled the puck and started “up ice”, and, as if on cue, fifteen thousand seemingly sedated Leaf fans suddenly erupted into “The Sound.”
“The Sound” is not describable in words, at least not by me. You had to hear it. It gave you chills.
With his long, elegant strides, Mahovlich, the puck cradled comfortably on his stick, built an increasing head of steam. And as he did, anyone listening on the radio or watching on TV could detect the gathering roar generated by the suddenly energized fans. It was like,
withe each "W" rising in intensity to an ear-ringing din, exploding into a celebratory “YAAAAAAH!”, when, at precisely the right moment, Mahovlich pulled the trigger, and Foster Hewitt confirmed the result:
“He shoots…. He scores!!!”
Frank Mahovlich once scored forty-eight goals in a single season, which, at the time he did it, was a lot. The following season, however, Mahovlich only netted eighteen goals, generating cross-claims that either Leaf coach “Punch” Imlach was riding him too hard, or that the iconic Leaf superstar was a congenital “head case.”
This story is not meant as confirmation. It’s just a story I read in a book entitled The Days Canada Stood Still, chronicling the first time – in 1972 – that the professionals of the National Hockey League faced the (ostensibly amateur, but who are we kidding?) national hockey team of Russia. This was a monumental event in my home country’s history. It takes a lot to make Canada stand still.
The showdown was arranged as an eight-game series, the first four to be played in Canada, the latter four, in the Soviet Union. It’s important to remember that this encounter took place during the middle of the Cold War, a period when suspicions between East and West ran dangerously high.
Arriving in Moscow, the Canadian team is billeted at a local hotel. Their minds buzzing with stories of Soviet espionage, the players are vigilantly on the lookout for signs of KGB hanky-panky, secret listening devices that might provide their Russian opponents with advantage-gaining hockey tips.
Mahovlich is reportedly, a little more suspicious than the others. Settled in his room, ”Mahov” pulls back the carpeting, discovering – “Aha!” – a suspicious-looking metal plate, fastened to the floor. Has “Mahov” found evidence of a “bug”? Or is he just overly jumpy, an insular Canadian, a long way home.
No need to take chances, eh?
Procuring a device suitable for the purpose, Mahovlich got down on his knees, and, as meticulously as he prepared for a hockey game, patiently went at the worrisome metal plate, till he loosened its screws and finally worked the plate free.
And immediately, the chandelier in the room beneath his fell crashing to the floor.