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Marty Pavelich – Hockey Player

The Orchid Series

A collection of conversations featuring inspiring humans over 75 years young. Curious, engaged, active, interesting. The sort of person I want to be when I grow up!  

How did I know, when I said hello to Marty Pavelich at a Colorado workout center, this almost 95-year-old dynamo would turn out to be one of my favorite people stories? With his wisdom, crinkly smile, and gift for storytelling, Marty makes anything in life seem possible. From now on, whenever I plop my coffee or water bottle into my car’s cup holder, I’ll think of Marty…

In 1929, Marty watched as his father and uncle hopped on a freight train bound 200 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. They said goodbye to their families and headed off in search of better wages in the gold and coal mines. The two men built a log cabin—complete with outdoor plumbing and a well—and their families joined them the following year.

“In Canada,” says Marty, “kids are born with skates on.” Marty played hockey wherever he could—juvenile leagues, public school, junior leagues as he got older. An Orange Crush salesman and part-time National Hockey League scout heard about the determined young kid with the quick stick. He invited Marty to a Southern Ontario junior training camp.

Marty Pavelich

Against his mom’s wishes, Marty left home toting a cardboard box with a few pairs of pants and socks. “I didn’t have much,” he says. Determined to succeed—and not return home to the mines—he trained and played “with everything he had.” 

One day after practice, the equipment manager approached Marty. “What size skates do you wear?” he asked. “You’re moving up.” Marty set off for Indianapolis, the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings farm club. 

On to the Big Leagues

“What in the world am I doing here?” Marty thought as he skated alongside the best young players throughout the U.S. and Canada. All vied to move up one final notch—to the “big leagues.” And—after three weeks—Marty got the call. The Detroit Red Wings needed him for the playoffs. 

“I broke into the Red Wings—and the NHL—as a 19-year-old kid,” says Marty. In 1947, he signed a contract for $6,000. “I’d never seen so much money,” he says. He bought a new, $1500 Pontiac.

Marty Pavelich Detroit Red Wings

Photo courtesy of Marty Pavelich

In his ten seasons with the team, the Detroit Red Wings won four Stanley Cup Championships. Marty will never call himself a legend, but a Red Wings manager once referred to Marty as “one of the four key men around whom we build our hockey club.” 

“I love to win,” says Marty. “Life can be wonderful, and anyone can be successful, but good fortune will not just drop in your lap. You’ve got to work for it.”

He Always Set Goals

Marty stresses that, throughout his life, he set goals. “I always wanted to build something and work for myself,” he says. When he retired from his storied career at age 30, Marty took a job as a manufacturer’s sales rep. With only an eighth-grade education, he knew he lacked skills. But he was confident, professional, and a hard worker. 

Marty Pavelich Detroit Red Wings

Photo courtesy of Marty Pavelich

After acquiring business experience, he and a former teammate eventually founded a plastics manufacturing plant that supplied parts to the auto industry. “We knew the Chrysler and Ford executives from our playing days,” he says. Their successful business turned out sun visor hooks, accelerator pedals, trim metals, and hundreds of other parts for auto companies. 

The Cup Holder

Marty smiles when he recalls the morning Lee Iacocca phoned. “Hey Marty, I want something to hold my coffee cup while I’m driving,” the Chrysler CEO said. “Can you come up with some sort of gadget?” In 1984, Chrysler minivans rolled off assembly lines outfitted with cup holders. “People loved them,” laughs Marty.

His current goal? He wants to ski when he’s 100. Marty credits aging well to his positive attitude and consistent workout routine. Several mornings a week, he rides a stationary bike and works with weight machines. “And then I stretch for 45 minutes,” says Marty. 

Companionship is essential too. Marty’s lost two wives. After his second passed away several years ago, Marty hated the quiet, empty house. “I’m pretty tough, but loneliness was horrible for me,” he says.

About five years ago, he rekindled a friendship with a woman who also lost two spouses. They’d known each other fifty years ago in Michigan but hadn’t seen each other in three decades. Shuttling back and forth between Big Sky, Montana and Aspen, Colorado, they now golf, ski, and fly fish together.

Marty and friend

Photo courtesy of Marty Pavelich

“We have more fun than a barrel of monkeys,” says Marty. 

Of course, like everyone else, he’s experienced sad times along the way. He lost his dad in a mining accident, and his mom only saw him play one game. But “I’ve really enjoyed my life. Who knows how many more years I have left? I wanted to be the best that I could be, and I did my best with the skills I had. I love life!”

PS—adaptive snow sports, a New Yorker cartoonist, and a neuroscientist talks Alzheimer’s

9 Discussions on
“Marty Pavelich – Hockey Player”
  • Wow what a fascinating man! I’m inspired by his fitness and his optimism. Thanks for this!

  • I am very proud to say that Marty is my uncle. He’s been an inspiration to our whole family with his optimism, hard work and success.
    I definitely remember that Pontiac especially because the centre of the back seat was monogrammed – MPN – P for Pavelich, M for Marty and N for Nicholas. As a kid I was mighty impressed.
    I didn’t know about the cup holder in the Chrysler mini van. I’m impressed all over again.
    My son found this article as he prepares his annual Stanley Cup lecture for his Anatomy and Physiology students at Gonzaga. Needless to say, Uncle Marty features prominently.

    • I love the monogramming on his car – he didn’t mention that! What a treasure your uncle must be to you. Certainly an inspiring man. I’m so glad you discovered this article, and I thank you for reaching out.

  • Marty worked for me as ourSsales Rep after we bought L&P Plastics from him and Ted in the 1980’s. Everything you see and he said are true. Marty was always the ultimate professional and always a gentleman with good things to say about everyone and Ted was tough as nails on the outside, but a kind and generous man on the inside. I miss them both. Glad to hear Marty is still skiing, gives me something to shoot for!

  • Marty and Ted worked for me as Sales Reps after we bought L&P from them in the 1980’s until he retired and moved to Montana. Marty was a class act, a true professional with always a good word to say, no matter what was going on. I’m glad to see that he still skis, it gives me something to shoot for! Ted was tough as nails on the outside and a kind and generous soul on the inside, I spent many Wings games sitting next to him getting and getting lessons you could never get watching YouTube. They don’t make many like Ted and Marty anymore and I miss them both.

  • When I was around 20 (1990 ish) my friend and I had the chance to ski with Marty at Boyne mountain in Michigan. He was an awesome skier. We thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to get to know him. He was an incredibly humble person considering all of his accomplishments. He hasn’t changed much in 30 years!

  • Great reading about Marty. It was actually “Mr. Pavelich” to me. I lived down the street in Detroit in the 50″s and 60’s and mowed lawns to earn a few dollars in high school. He always had me cross cut his lawn so it was groomed like a putting green. He was always kind and when i went off to college i worked the mid-night shift a few summers at his plastics factory. Working that shift helped motivate me to graduate :). Anyway it was good to read and get caught up on him and be reminded of his kindness.