Albert (Ab) Cava, who helped build and foster hockey in Thunder Bay for nearly six decades, passed away on Thursday.
He was 79.
Cava’s career as a player, coach and administrator spanned different generations of championship hockey teams at both the amateur and professional level. He made his biggest mark as a player with the 1961-62 Port Arthur Bearcats senior club that represented Canada overseas and then coached the Port Arthur Marrs team that went all the way to the Memorial Cup final.
A beloved figure in business and within his circle of hockey colleagues, Cava is also a two-time inductee into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. He went in as a member of the ’62 Bearcats in 1989 and as a builder in 2017.
“A local legend,” said Superior International Junior Hockey League commissioner Bryan Graham.
Born and raised in the former city of Port Arthur, Cava took up hockey at a young age. He starred as a top defenceman on the Port Arthur Rangers youth team and the Port Arthur North Stars junior club. He captained both the North Stars and Bearcats senior teams. It was the 1962 Cats that represented Canada at the Bunny Aherne Cup in Europe. Port Arthur defeated Sweden’s Djurgaarden in the final.
Cava also played baseball and was a member of several local senior championship squads with the Red Sox.
At just 24, Cava was hired to coach the Marrs juniors in the fall of 1964. Three season later, he led them to the national final where they lost to the Toronto Marlboros in five games.
Cava was known for being at the helm of a large learning tree that produced top quality players such as Ron Busniuk, Bob Kelly, Nelson Pyatt, Dennis Owchar and John Adams. Among Cava’s coaching protégés are George Gwozdecky Jr. and Bill McDonald.
Cava’s son, current Lakehead University Thunderwolves men’s hockey president Rory Cava, and university athletic director Tom Warden have patterned their respective front office careers after their mentor.
The biggest partnership was between Ab Cava and the late Gary Cook. The duo helped build the Thunder Bay Twins Allan Cup powerhouses of the 1980s and the successful minor professional Thunder Hawks/Senators/Thunder Cats in the 1990s.
While winning was what Cava’s teams are remembered for, the man himself was not a fan of tooting his own horn. Cava refused to speak at his 2017 induction into the hall of fame because it was the one forum where he was forced to talk about himself.
“(Ab Cava) had many sayings,” Rory Cava told the audience at the induction ceremony two years ago. “But one of the ones I heard a hundred times that has always stuck with me was, ‘When you win, say little. And when you lose, say less.’”
The bonds Ab Cava made went beyond typical hockey types. Former Chronicle-Journal sports editor Gary Lawless worked with Cava during the pro team’s first years of existence over 20 years ago and remained in touch when Lawless left Thunder Bay.
“He was really important to hockey in Thunder Bay and to Thunder Bay in general,” Lawless said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Cava had spent the last several weeks of his life in hospice as he started to slow down in recent years. However, he did make trip to Las Vegas last winter to spend time with Lawless, who is now a member of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights organization.
“We had a great time, we saw a couple of games,” Lawless recalled. “Last chance for me to see him.”
Cava is survived by his wife Sylvia, daughter Lisa, son Rory and five grandchildren.
Funeral and memorial services are pending.