Marty McSorley needed to make a quick impression and he had a pretty good idea how to do it.
More than 70 players were suited up at the Bulls’ first training camp before their inaugural season in 1981 and McSorley -a free agent invitee – would have to give GM/coach Larry Mavety a good reason to keep him around.
McSorley made an impression all right.
He scored and then got in a fight in his first exhibition game, a 9-4 loss to the Kingston Canadians.
McSorley, who grew up on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario, had a solid season with the Hamilton Kilty Jr. B’s and was invited to the Bulls’ camp by team scout John Mowat.
Mavety had a board in his office that had a card with each player’s name on it. He used the board to figure out who was going to play and who was going home.
After one of the training camp sessions, Mavety was looking at the board and knew that someone was missing. He realized that it was McSorley. The other observers with the team had already dismissed McSorley as a candidate for the team and had trashed his card.
“Unfortunately, I coach the hockey club, not you,” Mavety told the others. “I say he stays and he stayed.”
Mowat had a heart-to-heart with McSorley during training camp that gave the young player some insight into what he needed to do to make the team.
“They needed to know that there are some guys that could protect the other guys,” McSorley reflected.
“Being a farm boy, he didn’t have to tell me twice. I went out there and got into quite a few scraps in that training camp. It opened the door for me to continue on. I really wanted to make the team.”
Mavety liked what he saw in McSorley – he probably reminded Mavety of himself nearly 20 years earlier.
“He was proving to everyone that he belonged.”
“Let’s face it, he was tough,” Mavety said. “But he worked. He was proving to everyone that he belonged.”
McSorley made the Bulls’ opening game lineup, but was a healthy scratch for several games early in his first season. He missed more time with a back injury midway through the year, but worked hard to develop into a solid contributor by the end of the season.
He spent his mornings on the ice at the Sports Centre.
“I really think that Mav knew that I was going to keep working on trying to get there,” McSorley said. “The guys in the rink were so great to me. I know there were people that called to rent the ice and those guys who worked in the rink would say ‘sorry it’s booked’ because they knew that I was going on the ice in the morning.
“For me, coming from the farm, going out on the ice was fun.”
“I’d get my skates and just go and skate. When the ice was booked I’d go and skate on the outside rink. For me, coming from the farm, going out on the ice was fun.”
The next summer, the Penguins were looking for an extra defenceman for their training camp. Mavety suggested that they bring in McSorley. He made enough of an impression that the Penguins signed him to a pro contract.
McSorleydeveloped with the Bulls and became a force in his second season. He had six goals and 43 points through February and was selected to play in the all-star game on home ice in Belleville.
He was one of the club’s most dependable blueliners and finished the year with 10 goals and 51 points to go along with 183 penalty minutes.
McSorley was a key ingredient that helped the Bulls make the playoffs in their second season. He and Dan Quinn were the only Bulls to play in all 70 regular season games that year, but McSorley suffered an ankle injury in the first game of their playoff series against Oshawa.
He wasn’t 100% for the series finale, but refused to end his OHL career watching the game from the seats.
After two seasons, McSorley had made his mark on the Belleville Bulls.
He became an inspiration to other players who were never drafted, but made the most of their opportunity.
He spent most of the next 17 years playing in the National Hockey League. McSorley won the Stanley Cup twice.
Not bad for a walk-on.
Excerpt from 25 Years with the Belleville Bulls (Bell, Aaron 2005)
Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County