If Pete’n’Frank could only be a little more like Jean’n’Guy

If Pete’n’Frank could only be a little more like Jean’n’Guy

John Robertson February 9 1976
If Pete’n’Frank could only be a little more like Jean’n’Guy

If Pete’n’Frank could only be a little more like Jean’n’Guy

John Robertson February 9 1976

If Pete’n’Frank could only be a little more like Jean’n’Guy

John Robertson

Le Club de Hockey Canadien (French must take precedence in Quebec under Bill 22) used to be big on slogans. Such stuff as “With failing hands we pass the torch”—since appropriated by the Montreal Olympic Committee. On those rare nights when they lose, it’s so quiet in their dressing room you can hear an electric hair dryer drop. But the Flying Frenchmen era is on the wane. A plunging francophone birthrate. Dr. Henry Morgentaler, and NHL expansion have all taken their toll. I’ll bet you didn’t know the Canadiens led the league in Croatians when the brothers Mahovlich—Frank and Peter—toiled in twin harness.

Curiously, despite the fact that big Frank led Montreal to the Stanley Cup in 1970-71 with a record tying 14 goals and 13 assists in 20 play-off games, and averaged 37 goals in his next three seasons in Montreal, and despite the fact that little Peter—six-foot-five and still growing— has averaged 32 goals annually in his past four seasons and set a club record for assists (82) last year, Canadien fans have not exactly smothered them with affection. I once asked a French-Canadian sportswriter whether he thought Frank or Pete was the better player. You know what he said? “Neither.”

The rap against the Mahovlich brothers seems to be that defeat rests as heavily on their shoulders as dandruff. They don’t hang their heads after a loss as good Canadiens should. Once Les Habs were clobbered 2-1 by an expansion team on Forum ice. It was a four-towel job in the dressing room, but the Croats weren’t participating. The team was headed on a western road trip, with a two-day stop in Squaw Valley. When I walked into the room, I could hear big Frank calling me, over coach Scotty Bowman’s sobs.

“Robertson,” he shouted, “I’ve got an important question to ask you. You’ve been to Squaw Valley, right?”

“Right,” I said.

“Should I take my overshoes?”

“I dunno,” I said, my demonic mind recalling Bowman clutching his head in the adjoining office. “Why don’t you ask Scotty?”

“Good idea,” he said, heading toward Bowman’s mortuary. “Hey, Scotty???”

Admittedly Frank does march to a different drum—even after the band stops playing. Peter? Well, his incisive analytical mind would prod him to cut a hole in the drum to see what made the boom. Frank is as a black-thatched swan. He could always skate circles around his peers in the NHL The problem was that they became ever-increasing circles. On nights these circles took him in the same direction as the puck, he scored big. On other nights . . . well at least his tracings in compulsory figures were more accurate than Karen Magnussen’s. He scored 533 goals in the NHL without working up a sweat. But if he’d only sweated and scored a mere 100, he’d have been as popular in Montreal as, well, Jimmy Roberts.

Peter, by comparison, galumphs about the ice like a St. Bernard; the keg around his neck is optional. He used to skate two full strides faster than he could think, but then bad knees slowed him down a bit and everything was in sync. Now, he is the best hockey player on the hottest team in the NHL. But try and tell the fans that. Last year, surpassing Jean Be'liveau’s assist record, he was ridiculed for being a puck hog, and had the A (for assistant captain) ripped off his sweater because he was leading the players into places that had diving boards strapped on the martinis. This season Peter’s challenging for the scoring lead and was chosen MVP in the league’s all-star game. Yet he’ll be measured for goat horns if anyone but Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.