Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Matt Pavelich
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One on One with Matt Pavelich

29 JANUARY 2010
Matt Pavelich (Hockey Hall of Fame)
Matt Pavelich (Hockey Hall of Fame)
When gold was discovered in Wawa, Ontario in the dying gasps of the 19th century, a number of small communities emerged to house and sustain the population of men and their families who moved there to eke out a living below the earth's surface. The Pavelich family was one of those, moving from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Parkhill so that the family's patriarch could work in that town's goldmine. And it was there on March 12, 1934 that Matt Pavelich was born.

Almost as soon as the goldmines had been established, many began to be phased out. The Parkhill school closed at the end of 1938, before Matt had even begun his education. While most of the community relocated to Wawa, the Paveliches returned to Sault Ste. Marie.

Matt's brother Marty was already establishing himself as a fine hockey player. Six years older, Marty joined the Detroit Red Wings in 1948, the same year Matt began officiating minor hockey games in the Sault. By the time he was 20, Matt was the referee-in-chief of a northern Michigan intermediate league. His ascension through the officiating ranks continued at a rapid pace. Matt was elevated to the American Hockey League for the 1955-56 season and then, on October 11, 1956, he debuted as a linesman in the National Hockey League.

During the 1956-57 season, Matt was often called upon to work games played by the Detroit Red Wings, where his brother was concluding his NHL career. It marked the first time in NHL history that there had been an official/player brother combination, although ironically, also during that season, Art Skov joined the NHL as a referee, and his brother, Glen, a former teammate of Marty Pavelich's in Detroit, was playing with the Chicago Black Hawks.

Matt Pavelich took the ice in over 1,700 NHL regular season games. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
During playoff series in Detroit beginning in 1952, fans believed they were bringing their Red Wings good luck by tossing octopi on the ice. In the spring of 1957, Matt encountered a firsthand look at this curious good luck ritual. When the octopus hit the ice at the Olympia in Detroit, his fellow officials simply glanced at Matt, the junior of the three. It was then his duty to rid the ice surface of the odd hockey talisman, a job he performed with outright disgust, much to the amusement of the officials, players on both teams and the Detroit fans.

Matt Pavelich earned his reputation as a fair and honest official. In his autobiography, 'Between the Lines,' Ray Scapinello commented, "I learned a lot from Matt Pavelich." Scapinello recalled a game he worked with Pavelich in Detroit in the early-1970s where Matt missed an offside call by several feet. "I was back at the red line wondering what the hell was going on," Scapinello recalled. "No one ever said a word or questioned him on it. Matt Pavelich had unbelievable respect."

In 1976, the NHL played a series of games against Soviet teams. In the final contest of the match-ups, the Philadelphia Flyers were pitted against Central Red Army. During the game, Matt Pavelich assessed a misconduct to one of the Soviet players, who protested vehemently. What the player soon discovered, much to his embarrassment, was that when he called Pavelich derogatory names in his native tongue, Matt understood every word being aimed in his direction.

Matt Pavelich's career spanned over three decades.
Matt Pavelich's career spanned over three decades.
(Hockey Hall of Fame)
Matt Pavelich performed his duties admirably, and he retired from the NHL in 1979, having been involved in 1,727 regular season games. At the time, Pavelich's career total was second in league history, behind only Neil Armstrong. In addition, Matt officiated 245 playoff contests, the second highest total at that time, this time, behind John D'Amico. On his retirement, Matt was named the NHL's supervisor of officials under referee-in-chief, Scotty Morrison.

In 1991, the Colonial Hockey League was created, changing its name to the United Hockey League in 1997. Pavelich served as the league's supervisor of officials.

When asked to name the toughest player he had seen, Matt Pavelich told the Toronto Star, "My number one man would have to be Orland Kurtenbach of Vancouver. I never saw him lose a fight. He's well balanced on his skates, he ducks and weaves just like a prizefighter. He's beat them all – Magnuson, Baun – all the tough guys."

In 1987, Matt Pavelich was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Referee/Linesman category.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Matt Pavelich took the ice in 245 NHL playoff games.
Matt Pavelich took the ice in 245 NHL playoff games. (Portnoy/Hockey Hall of Fame)