When Cincinnati native John Malloy accepted a job offer in Northeast Ohio after earning his Master of Education from Miami University in 1981, his dad, Bob Malloy, mailed him a letter with two train tickets to Cleveland.
The younger Malloy had finished up his hockey career at Miami, where he still holds the RedHawks’ records for single-season assists, 52, points in a period, five, assists in a period, five, and assists in a game, six, and spent the 1980-1981 season coaching Miami’s club team while finishing up his postgrad.
He was offered a coaching and teaching position at Cleveland Heights High School for the following year.
“He sent me two train tickets to Cleveland and then a letter saying that he had been traded to Cleveland,” Malloy said of his father. “So, I called him and said, ‘What’s this all about?’ And he said, ‘Well, I was traded to Cleveland, but I never went.’”
The elder Malloy was a right-handed relief pitcher who played in the MLB from 1943 to 1949 for the Cincinnati Reds and one season with the St. Louis Browns. In his five-season pro career, he posted a 4-7 record with a 3.26 ERA and two saves in 48 appearances with 116 innings pitched.
Also a World War II U.S. Army veteran, who died in 2007, the elder Malloy was involved in a two-way trade that involved the Cleveland Indians and a Pacific Coast League program at the end of his playing career.
“The funny part of the story is that, when Cleveland traded for him, he was out of baseball already,” the younger Malloy said. “He had quit about two months earlier, and I think it was Lou Boudreau who was the manager of the Indians, who had head coached him in Indianapolis (in Triple-A).
“So, he had known my dad, and he had traded for him because he wanted a player out of the Pacific Coast League. He told my dad not to say anything, because he said the other team doesn’t know that you quit baseball. So, my dad had just said to me that he had never made it to Cleveland, so see if you can still use these tickets.”
The train tickets were three decades old, but Malloy still found his way to Cleveland and hasn’t left since, coaching the Cleveland Heights varsity hockey team from 1981 to 1996, with a state championship in 1987, before going on to coach at Rocky River from 1996 to 1998 and eventually landing at Gilmour Academy, where he spent six seasons developing the Lancers’ prep team before taking the varsity reins in 2004.
In 33 seasons as a varsity coach, Malloy has compiled a 673-343-38 record, just four wins shy of passing retired Shaker Heights coach Mike Bartley on the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s all-time list.
A staple of high school hockey for nearly four decades in Northeast Ohio, Malloy will be inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame on Sept. 18 at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights.
“It’s pretty cool that I got nominated,” he said. “It’s pretty surprising and nice all in the same moment. And, of course, I was humbled and said yes. It’s a great honor.”
Malloy will join the likes of Bartley, who amassed a 640-346-36 record at Shaker Heights with four state championships from 1976 to 2013, Rob Whidden, who compiled a 507-148-17 record at St. Edward with 10 state championships from 1985 to 2005, and Bill Beard, who led University School to a 344-181-48 record and two state championships from 1998 to 2014, as Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League coaches in the sports hall.
Since Malloy came to Cleveland in the early 1980s, the number of high school programs in Greater Cleveland has more than doubled to 43 varsity teams this past season.
“We’ve gone through a lot of changes in high school hockey, and I’ve been really privileged to be a part of some of those changes, which I hope has helped the sport along,” he said. “And they took that into consideration – the growth of hockey in the area and some of the things that I was a part of to help that.”
Ice availability, whether it was the addition of ice rinks like The Pond in Auburn Township or expansions in Mentor, Strongsville and Gilmour, was a key ingredient to helping the sport grow, Malloy said.
“But I thought one of the big changes we made early was we went away from geographic, or some of the traditional leagues, and moved into formulating the Greater Cleveland High School League by basically ability,” he said. “And, so, that’s where the Red, White and Blue divisions were developed. And what happened, I thought, was it gave a really easy path for a new program to come in and play against teams that were very similar to them so they could be competitive right away.”
The eighth of nine children, Malloy grew up on the ice at Cincinnati Gardens, the city’s indoor arena where his mom worked as a secretary for the Cincinnati Royals, a professional basketball team in the NBA from 1957 to 1972. The venue was also home to the Cincinnati Swords, an affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres.
Malloy spent 11 years figure skating before picking up hockey at age 15.
“There were nine kids, so we didn’t have a lot of money and my mom worked at Cincinnati Gardens,” he said. “So, we’d just go skate. And then when I started playing, that was nice, because that was a big thing. I could go to the rink pretty much any time I wanted to, when it was open, because she worked there. So, that really helped me a lot, because I could work on my game.”
As a coach at Cleveland Heights, Malloy led the Tigers to five state frozen-four appearances with a runner-up finish in 1986 and then a come-from-behind state championship during a 4-3 double-overtime win against St. Edward in 1987.
Malloy also coached Rocky River to a Baron Cup championship and Gilmour Academy to a state runner-up finish in 2008 and a state final-four showing in 2011.
“As I told them when I was nominated (for the sports hall), it’s never been about the win-loss,” Malloy said. “You know, trying to win is just a goal. I think it keeps kids’ attention, gives a reason for trying to be the best you can be, but it shouldn’t be the end all. I’ve never believed in winning at all cost, because I think sometimes, if it’s all just about winning, you might do things that aren’t good for kids in order to win. And I’d rather lose than affect a kid in a negative way.”
Malloy arrived at Gilmour on the heels of a fresh sheet of ice that was built in 1997, before the Lancers added a second rink in 2003.
The new ice definitely attracted Malloy to Gilmour, but he said his main objective was to start and build up a nationally recognized prep hockey program.
“The reason I came was really to run the program and have a program that legitimately could help kids move to college hockey,” he said. “You know, we were excited the other day when John Gilmour, who had been drafted by the (New York) Rangers and playing in their minor league, and he’s had some games up with the Rangers, but, this past year, he signed a contract with Buffalo (Sabres) in the NHL.
“So, that’s kind of neat when you begin to see your kids be able to move onto college and then a few of them are able to go on and play pro hockey as well.”
While Malloy said his 1987 state championship Cleveland Heights team, when the Tigers overcame a 3-1 deficit against St. Edward with less than 10 minutes to play, stands out, so do all the other seasons he’s coached high school hockey.
The previous year, his Cleveland Heights team entered the title game at 30-0, before losing a 6-5 battle against St. Edward.
“A few years later, I also remember a team that was struggling,” Malloy said. “It was really the first time I was dealing with a team that was under .500. I think we were 5-13 at the midpoint, and that team just pulled it together, and we ended up turning it around and coming back, and I remember those guys.”
More recently, Malloy’s Lancers had just three wins during the 2015-16 season and four wins during the 2016-17 season, before rebounding with 26-win and 31-win campaigns these past two years.
“Every year has something,” he said. “We only won three or four games those seasons, but those kids still come back. They worked just as hard as every other team. We just didn’t have as much talent. So, sometimes it’s not about whether you win or lose. If they’re coming, and they’re being good teammates, and they’re being good citizens, and they’re being good student-athletes, can you ask of anything more from kids?”