Ross Mahoney: From Prairies diamonds to scouting rinks worldwide

Ross Mahoney, second from right, poses with former Caps’ GM George McPhee, Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and Mats Weiderstal.

Ross Mahoney, second from right, poses with former Caps’ GM George McPhee, Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and Mats Weiderstal.

By: Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

That old expression, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’’ sure held true for Ross Mahoney in 1973.

Not only did Mahoney join the Melville Elks for the Canadian midget baseball championship in Barrhead, Alta. but he helped the team win the tournament.

“From a team standpoint, we won the national championship and on a personal level, I won the batting title with a .636 average and I was the all-star right-fielder,’’ Mahoney recalled the other day.

When I got out a calculator to figure out what Mahoney did in the Barrhead tournament, I worked out a number of combinations to find out that he hit safely 14 times in 22 at-bats against some of the best pitching the country offered.

Mahoney and his Regina team had always lost out to tiny Melville in the provincial playdowns so it was a thrill for him when the Elks asked him to join them for the Barrhead tournament.

“I was so sick and tired of losing to them every year,’’ Mahoney said. “We always had a tough time with them. I was really happy when they asked me because they had a good team. They were so closely knit from a small community so it made sense that they were always successful plus they had a good coach in Bob Stewart. I was picked up because of my hitting. They treated me great.’’

One of Mahoney’s teammates on that Melville team was Terry Puhl, who would later play 14 seasons in the majors, 13 with the Houston Astros. He was signed several weeks after the Barrhead tournament by Astros scout Wayne Morgan.

“I don’t know if Wayne remembers it but he worked me out one time the next year when I was playing as a midget for Swift Current in the Saskatchewan senior league,’’ Mahoney said. “Wayne suggested I go play at a school in Merced, California but that was after I had hurt my left knee on a knee-on-knee hit playing hockey. I had an offer before that from Iowa Western Community College.’’

Because of the injury and resulting surgery, Mahoney decided against going to the Iowa school in Council Bluffs and returned to play ball in Swift Current for two years and then another eight with the Regina Red Sox. Along the way, Mahoney won another Canadian championship with a combined Red Sox-Saskatoon Patrick Liners team at the 1980 senior tournament held in Trois-Rivieres, Que. Lucky guy.

“Statistically, I did OK in that tournament,’’ Mahoney said. “I hit some home runs and had a bunch of RBI. Everything went right for us.’’

Mahoney would later teach and coach baseball at Dr. Martin LeBoldus high school in Regina when he wasn’t coaching the juvenile Red Sox or umpiring. During the winter months, he would play hockey or do some coaching for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats and the University of Regina where he had received a degree in education.

Mahoney took his U of R Cougars to two national finals but he didn’t win but he did capture a Canadian title in 1995 when he piloted the Team Western under-17 squad to the championship at the Canada Winter Games played in Grand Prairie, Alta.

“Based on population, it was thought that other provinces like Ontario, Quebec and B.C. would be better than us but we did pretty good,’’ Mahoney said. “Patrick Marleau, a 15-year-old who went on to play for the San Jose Sharks, was our best player. Also on that team was Cory Sarich, who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay.’’

Mahoney, 59, got his NHL break when he started scouting part-time for the Vancouver Canucks in the 1990s and at one point, he ended up full-time with the Buffalo Sabres around the time the California Angels called him to see if he would scout for them.

“The offer from the Angels was not something I was going to run by my wife. She gave me that look,’’ Mahoney said, laughing.

From the Sabres, he branched out to become the director of amateur scouting for the Capitals, a job he held for 16 years before the team promoted him to be assistant general manager. This is a guy clearly admired by the Capitals’ brain-trust.

“I go to Washington on occasion but I work mostly in the field so there is no need to be there,’’ Mahoney said. “My responsibilities are amateur hockey. I’m responsible for player development and I help out at the entry draft.’’

Mahoney’s main home is still in Regina but he has other residences: Hotel Room, Canada and Hotel Room, U.S.A. He goes to Europe about half a dozen times per year, works at development camps and helps out at the trade deadline.  When the Capitals won their recent series against the Flyers in Philadelphia, Mahoney wasn’t there. He was in Grand Forks, N.D., scouting the world under-18 tournament.

When the Memorial Cup takes place May 19-29, do you want to know where Mahoney will be? He will be there in Red Deer, Alta., scouting prospects. Just the other day when I made contact with Mahoney about some follow-up questions, he had just landed after three flights in Fort Myers, Fla. where he was attending three days of team meetings. He had left Regina that morning, flew to Minneapolis and boarded a flight to Atlanta. This guy knows his way around an airport.

“I’m on the road 10 months a year in a hotel room,’’ he said. “My wife Traci is awesome, putting up with the all the travelling. She’s a great gal. We’ve been married for 38 years.’’

The Mahoneys have two children, Caitlin and Michael, an exceptional athlete himself. Papa says Michael was a much better baseball player than him. The son was talented enough to make the Team Saskatchewan roster as a catcher and played at the Canada Summer Games in London against the likes offuture major leaguers in Jeff Francis and Adam Loewen.

Michael had baseball offers to play south of the border but found his niche in football and played in the CFL as a linebacker for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Calgary Stampeders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers after playing at McGill University in Montreal.

As for the elder Mahoney, he wistfully thinks of what might have been if he had been able to pursue baseball as a career.

“It would have been interesting to see how I would have done in baseball,’’ he said. “I was torn between baseball and hockey. I was getting my knee fixed up so I didn’t want to stay down at the Iowa college. I went home.’’

Mahoney has fared out pretty darn good in hockey and has helped assemble some great Washington rosters so he is asked about any favourites under his watch.

“Alex Ovechkin would be one. My Golden Retriever could have found him,’’ Mahoney said, chuckling. “There’s Niklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, quite a few others.  There are 11 players on our roster now. It’s a satisfying feeling. We draft them so young out of high school or first-year university and then they become mature adults with families. It’s interesting to watch that progression.’’

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Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com