Pete Mahovlich was an accurate passer and skilled with the puck, making up for a lack of speed with craftiness and size (for years he was the National Hockey League's biggest player). A humorous character and part of a famous hockey family along with big brother Frank, Pete is perhaps best known for coming off the ice at a crucial moment in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.
Frank, called "the Big M," was already an established star with the Toronto Maple Leafs when Pete began his career in the Detroit Red Wings organization in 1963. After three lackluster junior seasons with the Hamilton Red Wings in the Ontario Hockey Association, he was brought up to the NHL and played for three games before being sent down again. This up and down movement lasted four seasons, and despite the brief happiness of playing with his brother, who joined the Wings in 1968, Mahovlich came close to quitting the game because of his frustration with finding a permanent hockey home. Over those four years with Detroit, he scored only nine goals in 82 games, but his play and his size impressed the Montreal Canadiens and general manager Sam Pollock.
In June 1969, at the age of 23, the Canadiens in a trade acquired him for Garry Monahan and Doug Piper. He spent the next season again splitting time between the American Hockey League and the NHL, scoring nine goals in 36 games with Montreal. At 6'5" and 210 pounds, he was 5" taller than his brother and was jokingly called "the Little M." Mahovlich should have been a force to be reckoned with, but many people felt that the big center was simply too easygoing to throw his weight around and be aggressive. He was a prankster and a little bit odd off the ice, setting fire to newspapers while people were reading them and growing plants in his locker stall. He said he kept things light off the ice to minimize the pressure.
He began to wear knee braces, reducing the number of games he missed with injuries, and, when he joined the Habs, toughened his approach to the game. In 1970-71, Mahovlich had a regular spot on the Canadiens roster, often playing with Henri Richard. He scored 35 goals again the next season and was chosen to play with Team Canada against the Soviet Union in 1972. He scored a key goal in the second game, skating around three Soviets to score shorthanded and secure the only win in Canada for the home team. In the final game in Moscow, he ventured into a crowd of Red Army soldiers to rescue Alan Eagleson, the hockey executive who was causing trouble in the stands. With Canada needing a goal in the dying seconds of the game, Paul Henderson called Mahovlich off the ice.
Mahovlich won three more Stanley Cups with Montreal in the 1970s and was a key part of the league's top scoring line with Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt for two seasons. In 1974-75, he was fifth in the league with 117 points, including 82 assists, and topped 100 points again the next season.
In December 1977 Mahovlich was sent with Peter Lee to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Pierre Larouche. After one injury-shortened season with the Penguins, he was once again on the move, traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Nick Libett in 1979. He was signed to a $1-million, five-year contract by Detroit general manager Ted Lindsay, a tough man just about everywhere except the negotiating room. Mahovlich was now 32 and had obviously slowed a step. In his first season with the Wings he had 65 points in 80 games. The next year he broke his wrist early in the season, and when he returned, Lindsay was gone from behind the bench and the organization. Mahovlich never got along with Lindsay's coaching replacement, Wayne Maxner, and was soon sent down to Detroit's American Hockey League farm team in Adirondack.
After retiring, the Lillte M became an NHL scout and continued his involvement in the game for many years.