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Draft has grown in pomp and pageantry

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Pete Mahovlich was the second overall player taken in the the NHL's inaugural draft held on June 5, 1963 in Montreal. (Photo by Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Fla. – Pomp and pageantry was definitely not part of the NHL’s inaugural draft when six general managers sat around a hotel room in Montreal to divvy up 21 player prospects.

There were no calls to the podium. They weren’t greeted on stage by the league commissioner. Nobody slipped on a team jersey and cap while smiling uncontrollably as countless cameras and smart phones chronicled the moment of a lifetime.

Peter Mahovlich was part of the league’s first draft in 1963, though he didn’t know about it until the next day when a Red Wings scout called the house.

It was June 5, 1963 inside the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where the Red Wings, with the second overall pick, behind the Montreal Canadiens, selected a 16-year-old Mahovlich, who was finishing his sophomore year at St. Michael’s in Toronto.

“I was playing Junior B hockey at the time and we didn’t ever know there was going to be a draft,” said Mahovlich, now a pro scout for the Florida Panthers. “I found out the next that I was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings.

“I was teammates with Garry Monahan at St. Mike’s and he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. There was no hoopla to it. It was just one of those things that they drafted players that hadn’t signed C forms to play for Junior A teams at that time. So those were the only players available in the draft for the first couple of years.”

Now the annual draft is spread out over two days with 30 teams pick 211 players.

“It’s unbelievable now. Just fabulous,” Mahovlich said. “The work that the amateur scouts have to do to prepare themselves for this is unbelievable. I was talking to one scout, who has been doing it for 32 years, and he said the first year he did it he saw something like 80 games, this past year he so 260 games. That’s the work load that you have to do.”

After discussing his options with his dad, Mahovlich left school in Toronto when he found out that the Red Wings would cover his tuition at a Catholic high school in Hamilton.

“Don Graham, who was their head scout, called my dad and said ‘We’ve drafted your son and we’d like him to go to the Hamilton Red Wings and play Junior A hockey,’ ” Mahovlich recalled. “I was at St. Mike’s where my brother had gone to school, so my dad said we’d talk about it. They found out that there was a Catholic school in Hamilton, Cathedral High, and they said they would pay for my education there, but they wanted me to play in their system so I would understand their system.

“That was the draft. There was none of this hoopla. I think there might have been 16 or 18 players drafted in that whole draft. It was kind of funny because I was just talking to Scotty Bowman about that today. He had mentioned it because he had been working with the Canadiens at that time and they drafted Garry. They went to visit Garry and he was upset because he had to leave St. Mike’s to go to Peterborough to play Junior A hockey there rather than staying at the school.”

The younger brother of Hockey Hall of famer, Frank, who is nearly nine years older, Pete Mahovlich played for three different NHL teams, began and ended his 16-season career with the Red Wings.

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