By Shi Davidi
When it came down to a choice between education and hockey, St. Michael’s Collegiate chose education.
Now 26 years later, the St. Mike’s Majors have been resurrected and a legacy of glory is set to return.
On June 6, 1961, St. Mike’s principal Father Matthew Sheed withdrew the Memorial Cup champion Majors from junior hockey.
“The junior A hockey program as it is now constituted, with its long and demanding schedule, with its lengthy and drawn out playoff arrangements, militates against effective schoolwork,” announced Sheed.
The Majors’ withdrawal came after months of threats and rumours. At the time, many of the Ontario Hockey Association (now the OHL) owners were looking to expand the season from 48 games to 0, while also lengthening the playoffs.
St. Mike’s wanted no part of an extended schedule. The Fathers of the Catholic school feared the extra games would compromise their goal of educating the whole person.
“At Saint Michael’s, hockey is means to an end and the end is to develop character and to show our society something, at least, of Catholics in action,” Father William O’Brien wrote in St. Michael’s College School; Hockey Yearbook 1961.
When the delicate balance between athletics and education began to totter alarm bells sounded. The increasing professionalism in amateur sports was a concern. And the desire of fellow owners to extend profits without considering the welfare of their players forced St. Mike’s to choose between hockey and education.
St. Mike’s chose education.
The Majors withdrew as the defending Memorial Cup champions, leaving behind a glorious legacy. They totalled four Memorial Cup victories and were finalists two other times between 1906 and 1961.
St. Mike’s has sent 147 hockey players to the National Hockey League, more than any other education institution in North American. Among the 147 players, eight are Hall of Famers,a including former Toronto Maple Leafs Tim Horton, Red Kelly, Peter Mahovlich, Joe Primeau and Dave Keon.
The Catholic Fathers are ready to bring major junior hockey back to St. Mike’s. Father Thomas Mohan, current principal, realizes be cannot let such a prestigious history die. Nor can he pass on the money hockey will generate for the school.
The pursuit of an OHL franchise began in 1996 and was a long and arduous process. Proposals were made and rejected but the door always remained open. Finally on August 15, ’96, the St. Mike’s Majors were reborn.
The Majors will play in their 2,000 seat arena at St. Clair and Bathurst for two years until more suitable arrangements can be made.
“This is a huge step for our league and the team beings such a rich tradition,” OHL Commissioner David Branch told The Hockey News.
But St. Mike’s will still find it hard to balance education and hockey. For players with a shot at making the NHL, there is more at stake now than in the ‘60s. The money some players will be able to earn may make it difficult for the Basilian Fathers to instil the value of education.
Welcome back St. Mike’s — welcome back to the world you once knew and hopefully, a return to the glory you bravely left.