My good, old buddy Max

July 31, 2023

As you might imagine, I have met a number of memorable, noteworthy people through hockey in a media career that officially began in 1975 when I first received a pay cheque for being a sports caster and sports writer. Relative to the Ontario Hockey League alone, I have met and had an association with countless colourful individuals. And one of the most engaging and personable people I have ever met is Wayne Maxner.

It was in my first or second year as a CKCY radio sports caster that I first met and interviewed Max. He was coaching the Windsor Spitfires and we immediately hit it off. I liked Max and he liked me and he was never short on coming through with a colourful sound bite for me to use on the radio. 

As good a coach as Max was through a career that led him to become an OHL legend, Max was also a very good general manager. ‘Trader Max’ is what I called him and he engineered way more successful trades than ones that did not pan out.

As the coach and GM in Windsor, Max twice traded a star player to the Oshawa Generals in return for multiple, serviceable forwards and defensemen. Once it was plum defenseman Jim Mellon who Max sent packing to Oshawa in return for four players. Another time it was all-star goalie Roland Melanson. who Max shipped to Oshawa in exchange for four players. Yet another time Max picked up fringe centre Brent Jarrett from the Soo Greyhounds and helped turn the small speedster into a 100 point a season player.

Later, while he was the coach and GM of London Knights, Max flipped the script. He became one of the first GMs to trade high draft picks for a player he coveted. Max did that twice to acquire star goalies, once getting Peter Ing from the Windsor Spitfires and then dealing for John Tanner from the Peterborough Petes.

Max also became the first OHL head coach to utilize a full-time assistant coach. He did so while with London, first bringing in Danny Flynn as a full-time assistant and then doing it a year later with Gary Agnew.

More than being a good coach and a good GM, Max was a good guy in the eyes of many, myself included. More than once, whether he was in Sault Ste. Marie for a road game or when I happened to be in Windsor or London, Max and I had more than a few post-game beverages. We also hung out together with others in Toronto when the OHL would hold its summer congress meetings and annual priority selections draft at the Skyline Hotel on Dixon Road.

Good, old Max passed away not that long ago. He lived a good life, a colourful life that included an undeniable zest and passion for the game of hockey.

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in September of 1942, Max first made his way to Ontario where he became a star for the Niagara Falls Flyers, earning the Eddie Powers Trophy as the OHL’s leading scorer with 94 points (32 goals, 64 assists) in 1962-1963. Playing under legendary head coach Hap Emms, Max also claimed the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player, steering the Flyers to a J. Ross Robertson Cup title before they’d fall short in the Memorial Cup Final against the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League.  Max would go on to play nine professional seasons that included 62 games in the National Hockey League with the Boston Bruins back when the NHL was just a six team league.

Upon retirement in 1973, Max transitioned to life behind the bench in Windsor, coaching the Spitfires throughout the late 1970’s. He guided the underdog Spitfires to the OHL championship final in 1980 before they fell to the Peterborough Petes. Max then made the move up to the pro ranks, coaching the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League in 1980-1981 before getting promoted to the NHL and Detroit. Max coached the Detroit Red Wings for parts of two seasons before returning to the OHL where he was back behind the Spitfires bench in 1983.

Maxner later coached one season in Sudbury, helping the Wolves return to the OHL playoffs in 1986 following five consecutive seasons in which they missed the playoffs. Max then began a run of four years as coach and GM for the London Knights from 1986 to 1990. He led the Knights to within one game of the OHL championship series in 1989, losing to the favoured Niagara Falls Thunder in Game 7 of the Emms Division final.

Once again, Max returned to the Spitfires in 1991, spending two seasons behind the Windsor bench to close out his OHL coaching and managing career that spanned 12 seasons, resulting in an overall record of 341-344-48. 

In addition to winning the Eddie Powers and Red Tilson Trophies as a player, Maxner was voted an OHL third team all-star as coach in 1980, and earned a second team finish in 1990.

Following his time in the OHL, Max had coaching stints with the St. Thomas Wildcats of the Colonial Hockey League, the London Nationals of the Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Woodstock Navy Vets of the Niagara District Jr. C Hockey League as recently as 2008.

Beyond hockey, good old Max, ever the salesman, enjoyed a very successful second career selling cars in London, Woodstock and Goderich, finally settling in the Bayfield area.

To me, Max was one of a kind. He could tell jokes, take a joke, was generous and appreciated generosity. A gifted story teller that combined fact, a bit of fiction and a whole lot of humour, there was rarely a dull moment when in the company of Max.

What you think about “My good, old buddy Max”

  1. Very sad news and I’m sorry you lost such a good friend. I always enjoyed your stories and quotes that you would pass along about Max and others.Those were great times for original comments , not like the cookie-cutter ones we get these days. RIP Max, you made the league colourful and entertaining.

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