By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

Larry Gordon, who rescued the Muskegon Mohawks hockey team and took them to the upper tier of the International Hockey League in the 1980s, died Tuesday.

Gordon was 74.

Reportedly, Gordon died at a hospital in Rochester, N.Y. after recent surgery for vascular problems.

“He worked large and he lived large,” said Tony Lisman, who broke into Muskegon hockey working for Gordon. “He was all business when it came to work and he was all fun when it came to fun.

“He was notorious for his parties,” said Lisman, who recalls times when Gordon would break out his old Irish songs as the night wore on. “He would always break out the songs once the night got sauced up a bit. He was always singing.”

He came into Muskegon in 1984 and purchased the financially troubled Mohawk franchise for $1. He ran a “Name the Team Contest” which drew thousands of entries. After careful deliberation, the name Lumberjacks was chosen.

Immediately, Gordon took the franchise and, in their first year under Gordon’s leadership, advanced to the Turner Cup finals, where they lost in a seven-game series to the Peoria Rivermen. His clubs annually won its division and made strong runs at the playoff championship. The team won the Turner Cup title in 1986 and 1989 and lost in the finals 1985, 1987, 1990 and 1992.

In the Jacks’ final game in the IHL, Muskegon lost to the Kansas City Blades in the Turner Cup finals. That series was a four-game sweep and spelled the end of a highly successful eight years of Muskegon hockey under Gordon.

When the league grew too large for Muskegon, Gordon pulled up his roots in Muskegon and took the club to Cleveland in 1992. In 2000, he sold the team and retired. A year later, the IHL folded.

When the Lumberjacks headed for Cleveland, Lisman remained in Muskegon and created the Fury, which competed in the Colonial Hockey League.

“A lot of the credit for that success went to Larry,” Lisman said. “He laid the groundwork and he set the bar high. He certainly instilled in me the work ethic and the desire to win. That carried over to the Fury years and he deserves a lot of credit for it.”

Gordon, known throughout the hockey world as  a tough negotiator, was also quite a character away from his business ventures.

“There is no question, he was a shrewd negotiator,” Lisman said. “If you look at his history, he signed Wayne Gretzky to the World Hockey Association contact and that was huge at the time.

“And,  he wasn’t afraid to stand up to anybody,” Lisman said. “Players, political people … he wasn’t afraid of anybody. He was a tough bugger.”

Gordon was raised near Rochester, N.Y. and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester.

Survivors include his wife, Joan, and his children: Lawrence, David, James R. and Victoria; four grandchildren and two brothers.

His service is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Assumption Catholic Church in Fairport, N.Y.

 Coming Saturday: Ron Rop, who worked closely with Larry Gordon as a newspaper reporter during the Lumberjack days, will take a closer look at the man who rescued hockey in Muskegon.