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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Grit, determination, talent: This is the Jim Mahon story

- he is still being remembered 50-years after his untimely, tragic passing -

Photo submitted by Wendy Pulleyblank-Cunnigham: Pictured is Jim Mahon’s surviving siblings – John Mahon, Joan Fuerth, Kathy Market, and Dan Mahon – at the memorial service hosted at St. Mary’s Parish last Wednesday.

by Sylene Argent - Photos submitted by John Mahon

In 1971, 19-year-old Jim Mahon of Maidstone had a promising future of professional hockey ahead of him. He was known, even in his early years, as being a topnotch hockey star; one so good, scouts were waiting for him to get old enough to draft into the NHL.

  His skill on the ice, combined with his humble, down-to-earth demeanour, made him a promising superstar, and also a role model and friend to many.

  Mahon’s story is one that is beautiful, but also sad, as his life ended suddenly and tragically in August of 1971.

  His life was so impactful, 50-years after his sudden death, family and friends gathered to celebrate Mahon’s life through hosting a mass in his honour last Wednesday at St. Mary’s Parish.

  Mahon was from a family of six siblings, with his younger brother, John, just two-years younger. John recalled revelling at his brother’s on-ice skill, and his gentle, kind demeanour at home.

  Growing up, John said his older brother was good to his mum and dad, and his siblings.

  The Mahon family grew up on a small farm in Maidstone, while dad also worked at Chrysler.

  “We were a sports family,” John explained, noting his mother and older brother were both athletic.

  “The athleticism in Jim was incredible. I mean, he could do things that people, I think, even wonder if we were stretching the story a little bit, because we tell them stuff about how good he was.”

  The big thing John noticed about his older brother was that he worked extremely hard to become great. “He was extremely mature for his age and he knew to be really good, you had to work at it, too.”

  John and Jim played sports together growing up. When a two-acre parcel of the family property was sold and dug up to create the 401 overpass, the boys used the trenches left as an outdoor skating rink.

  “We were out there from morning to night,” John recalled.

  In addition, there was a fairly deep ditch on the opposite side of the street from their childhood home, where the brothers would skate in the morning before school. “It was all Jim’s idea. “I was just liked going along for the ride. We would put the yard light on and he and I would just go out and skate. He was always just aware of stuff to do and how to get better.”

  Likely the first-year hockey was made available at the former Essex Memorial Arena, John’s parents signed his older brother up to play. “He was really good right from the start. He was just a natural athlete.”

  As a child, John remembers his brother being better than everyone else on the ice. When Mahon got a little older, travel teams – called all star teams then – began to form. Mahon was asked to play, and coaches would come and pick him up if he needed a ride.

  “Right from the start, he was this exceptional, young little player who just excelled.”

  Around the age of around 12, Mahon was playing for three different teams. “That was unbelievable and yet he was the superstar on every team,” John marvelled.

  In those days, the juvenile hockey league games in Essex were on Friday evenings, and it was the place to be, John said.

  Mahon joined the league at 13-years-old, and everyone else who played was around 17 or 18. “He didn’t win the scoring title for that year, but he tied for the scoring title,” John said.

  Years later, John had the opportunity to talk to some of those other players and they marvelled at Mahon’s ability, commenting he could shoot harder than they could, even being four or five years younger.

  “You have a disadvantage at 13-years-old, but Jim was a big, strong farm boy,” John said, adding he spent a lot of time practicing to enhance his natural ability.

  The following year, he won the scoring title by quite a bit. The third-year, he won it by a mile. “That is when his career took off,” John said. At this time, word about Mahon’s ability began to spread.

  “He was so exceptional, scouts would come to watch him play,” he said, adding a scout by the name of Jimmy Skinner, a recruiter for the Detroit Red Wings then, was coming out to watch him play when he was just 15.

  It was then John knew his brother wasn’t just a superstar in his eyes, “But was destined for stardom.”     

  Through his hockey career, John explained his brother climbed to the next level and continued to excel at new challenges.

When he was drafted to play in the Ontario Hockey League, he was too young. So, he could not play. Wanting to keep him in the organization, with his parents’ permission, he was sent to play hockey in Parry Sound. At 16, he played against 20-year-olds and won the scoring title.

  When he was old enough to enter the OHL draft, he was picked-up in the first round by the Peterborough Petes, where he excelled.

  The 6’2’’, 235-pound right winger was a fierce competitor. Not only was he large, he was fast and had a hard, accurate shot that put him miles ahead of other leading goal scorers.

  “He was huge and fast, and nobody could handle him. Nobody was strong enough to handle him,” John said.

  In August of 1971, tragedy struck when Mahon and John were asked to help their uncle with a sub pump that wasn’t working properly. While working on the device, he stepped in water and was electrocuted. John said he tried to save his brother, but he had passed by the time he arrived at the hospital, via ambulance.

  His sudden, tragic death was hard on the whole family.

  “It was so hard on my parents. They basically died that day,” John said. “Anybody who loses a child, it is the worst thing that can happen to you.”

  “It was the worst day of our lives.”

  As someone who worked in sales, many would recognize John’s last name when he passed along a business card and would ask if he knew Jim Mahon. “These people would just start to open up to you and tell you what they remembered and what they knew. It was so beautiful. I was so lucky to hear those stories.”

  That only happens to special people like his brother, John said.  

  “This was always so good when it happened, and I had it happen a lot.

  Ten-years ago, John said 150 people travelled to Peterborough to pay tribute to Mahon. When in Peterborough, John found out stories he never heard about his brother. At the time of his death, he and his family members were too heartbroken to open up and talk to others.

  John, and local lawyer, Joe Byrne who was a close friend to Mahon and wrote the book, “Called Home: Our Inspiration - Jim Mahon” in 2012, talked to many involved with the team. There, a former NHL scout told them, one-year before Mahon was old enough to get drafted into the NHL, every scout had his brother as the first overall pick in the NHL draft.

  “As good as a hockey player he was, he was a far better human being,” John said, adding his death affected the whole community.

  “He was my brother. He was my idol,” John said, adding he never let his ability get to his head.

  Since 1972, the Ontario Hockey League has annually awarded the Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy to the right-winger who scores the most points in the regular season.

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