As the Senators prepare to wrap up their 28th season in modern day history, not mathematically eliminated mind you, it is easy to lose track of the some of the key people who have come and gone over the years.
There have been 3 owners, 8 general managers, 11 head coaches, 2 home arenas (working on a 3rd) and the existing arena has had 4 names.
However, those members of the organization who are not always in the public eye often play critical roles and leave legacies beyond the game that tend to get overlooked. One such person would be former President and CEO, Roy Mlakar. Today’s piece examines briefly what he did, more importantly what he left behind and finally what he has done since leaving the Senators in 2009.
After serving 7 seasons as executive VP (5) and President (2) with the Los Angeles Kings and 2 seasons as Chief Operating Officer of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mlakar joined the Senators in June of 1996. In addition to running the day to day of an NHL franchise that was preparing to move into a new arena, Mlakar also took on a huge role in the community. He directed several charities such as the Sens Foundation, the Candlelighters, the Ottawa Senators 65 Roses Sports Club.
Somehow, he also found time to be the director of the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.
His work in the community did not go unnoticed. He was the recipient of the Brian Kilrea Award in 2005 and the United Way Community Builder Award in 2006. All of this was done with very little fanfare. While the charities listed above were trumpeted at every Senators home game over the public address system, the names behind them were not.
After 13 seasons with the Senators, what did Mlakar leave behind? What will his legacy with the team and city be? Before answering that, it is worth noting that his wife, Tamera (Tammy), came with him to Ottawa and operated as a First Lady for the Senators so to speak. She was never on the payroll but did plenty of work to support her husband and team.
The Community Builder Award received in 2006 was tied to the opening of Roger Neilson House or Roger’s House as it is commonly known. This was a 2 year project that was finalized and opened in 2006 and operates to this day. Its mission can be found here but suffice it to say, they make the lives of families and kids a whole lot less painful.
Closer examination of Roger’s House and its inception would show that Tammy Mlakar ran point on the operation and was instrumental in seeing it through to completion. 'Behind every great man...' I believe is how it goes.
Mlakar never forgot others who helped him along the way either. Though his NHL Executive career started with the Los Angeles Kings, it was with their farm team, the New Haven Nighthawks, where Mlakar’s first President and General Manager role happened in 1976-77. It was there that he was hired by former Kings General Manager, George Maguire. Mlakar openly spoke of Maguire as being a mentor, who was instrumental in the career he forged. He even spoke eloquently to that effect at Maguire’s funeral in August 2005 where he also acted as a pallbearer along with General Manager, at that time, Dave Taylor.
Despite 13 seasons of faithful service, no one works for Eugene Melnyk forever and, in 2009, Mlakar was replaced as President by Cyril Leeder. His transition from the team was as dignified as his service. No words of anger were spoken nor laundry aired in the press. Like so many who come and go in professional sports, the name Roy Mlakar drifted into Ottawa Sports memory.
After leaving the Senators, Mlakar was absent from the sports community until returning as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations of the Erie Otters in 2015. It seems that a hockey phenom named Connor McDavid had just left town and ownership felt that a face was needed in the front office to grow the business. This was/is Mlakar’s specialty. All the way back to his days in the American Hockey League in 1973 as Assistant GM in Providence working for former Senators GM, John Muckler, Mlakar always knew how to grow a business, attract sponsorship and make money.
Much like his previous stints, Mlakar did not fail to deliver the goods. Over the next 3 seasons, he led the team to record growth in revenue and in 2017, the team won an OHL Championship.
Though Mlakar never ran the on-ice product of the sports teams he worked for, it is hard to believe that the success the teams enjoyed on the ice was not somehow related to the face in the front office. He did not draft the players but hired those that did. Other names you may have forgotten such as Marshall Johnston, Rick Dudley and John Muckler, whom he had previously worked for, all came at Mlakar’s behest.
The Senators' hey day was with Mlakar at the helm and he arrived at a time when futility was all the franchise had ever known.
At the age of 67, after the 2017-18 season, Mlakar resigned from the Erie Otters for health reasons. It is unclear if Mlakar’s health will allow him to return in any capacity to the sports executive community. He turns 71 in September and, whatever the decision, he can look back on his legacy and know that he left a permanent mark on the places he worked, Ottawa most of all. He still maintains a LinkedIn account and he can be seen expressing his views on the sports in his home state of Ohio on his Twitter handle @roymlakar.
You can take the man out of professional sports but you cannot take the professional sports out of the man.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey