By Rob Del Mundo
Book review: St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers by Kevin Shea, Larry Colle and Paul Patskou, Fenn Publishing
Visitors to the hockey arena at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College School can be seen at the south end of the rink perusing the several photos depicting the alumni who have gone on to play in the National Hockey League. The players whose pictures adorn those walls and whose banners hang from the arena rafters are all part of a tradition that dates back over a century.
In 1906, Father Henry Carr initiated a hockey program at the storied institution that was established over fifty years earlier by a community of Catholic priests and bishops. Since then, St. Michael’s College has developed the athletic and academic lives of no fewer than 6,000 students. Authors Kevin Shea, Larry Colle and Paul Patskou provide an extensive chronicle of the school’s hockey history in a volume titled St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers.
“I’m a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan, so I took it from a Leafs angle,” explains Shea when recalling his role in contributing to the book. “Larry gave his input as an alumnus of the school, and Paul is one of the premier researchers around and loves the Toronto Maple Leafs as well.” The volume certainly contains no shortage of Leafs-related material as the school, along with the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey Association, served as the chief supplier of young talent for the Maple Leafs hockey club prior to the institution of the NHL Amateur Draft in 1969. Four Hall of Famers who starred with both the Leafs and St. Michael’s Majors grace the book’s cover: Tim Horton, Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, and Red Kelly.
St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers is a 300 page anthology that traces the school’s hockey history, right from the implementation of the hockey program by Father Carr. It did not take long for the school to attain championship success, claiming the Allan Cup senior hockey title in 1910. Under the guidance of Father Carr and later Father David Bauer, the institution evolved into the top breeding ground for junior hockey players in preparation for the National Hockey League. On four occasions between 1934 and 1961, St. Michael’s captured four Memorial Cup titles as the nation’s best team in junior hockey.
Shea takes pride in the biographical accounts of not only the many Hall of Famers who have skated on St. Michael’s ice, but also the players who never became household names yet still provided tales of inspiration as a result of their dedication to the sport. “One of the thrills of my life was being able to run down the list of Hall of Famers that includes Dick Duff, Gerry Cheevers and Ted Lindsay. And, some more obscure guys who never made it to the NHL – or guys who did go to the NHL but didn’t have storied careers – they all had great stories from their days at St. Mike’s.” For every story that involves a name like Keon, Lindsay or Mahovlich, there are about a dozen for players like Gerry Odrowski, a journeyman who bounced between the NHL and WHA, serving as an altar boy when getting his start at St. Mike’s “We used to go Mass every morning”, recalled Odrowski in the book. “(Helping the priests) really stuck with me. It made a better person out me.”
Not long after the Majors won their last Memorial Cup in 1961, the school year concluded with the shocking announcement that St. Michael’s would be withdrawing from OHA competition. The controversial decision was made based on the opinion that hockey was consuming too much time and energy at the expense of the academic curriculum. The team spent one year in the Metro Toronto Junior ‘A’ circuit before being replaced by the Neil McNeil Maroons, whose players included future Maple Leaf player turned CITY-TV broadcaster Jim McKenny. St. Michael’s would not return to the major junior ranks again until 1999-2000, when they re-entered the Ontario Hockey League to play an additional eight years before moving to Mississauga.
Each of the Majors’ years in existence up to the conclusion of the 2007-08 season is captured by the collective effort of Shea, Patskou and Colle, who had no easy task in assembling a century of information. “So little of the 100-year history had been compiled or collected before,” says Shea. “The latter years certainly have been chronicled much better. But those early years especially were a challenge, in having to collect, collate and put the stories in some semblance of order.”
While much of St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers is focused on the Majors, due attention is paid to the Junior ‘B’ Buzzers, whose graduates include current Edmonton Oiler Andrew Cogliano and 2008 World Junior Tournament hero Matt Halischuk, who scored the overtime winner in the gold-medal game against Sweden that year.
The Latin motto of the school translates to English as “Teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge”. For over a century, these values were instilled in the young minds of several students, many of whom would go on to make a living playing Canada’s national winter sport. As Shea puts it, one does not need to be a school alumnus, or even necessarily a Leafs fan, to appreciate the school’s contributions to hockey.
“The St. Michael’s Majors have sent 184 alumni to the NHL and 14 Hall of Famers, which is unprecedented. There’s a great foundation. It’s a great breeding ground for hockey. Whether it was the NHL or whether just it’s the fact that it was great organization that taught skills for later in life, it was a great place to attend school.”
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Top Shelf, a regular column at TMLfans.ca