October 28, 2008

St. Michael's College by Kevin Shea

What do Ted Lindsay, Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, Red Kelly, Gerry Cheevers, Joe Primeau, Bobby Bauer, Tim Horton and Dick Duff all have in common?

Besides being Hall of Fame hockey players, all are alumni of St. Michael's College school and hockey program. St. Mikes was one the top development programs in hockey history, while also providing high education. Nearly 190 players have graduated to the NHL, 13 of them to the Hall of Fame.

Here's a quick little rundown on the history of St. Michael's.

The private, all boys, Roman Catholic school was founded way back in 1852. Soon thereafter the Basilian Fathers took control of the school's administration.

The hockey program started back in 1906. The students competed in the OHA junior circuit, and also in senior hockey leagues. St. Michael's won the amateur championship of Canada - the Allan Cup - in 1910.

In the late 1920s, the Toronto Maple Leafs, under the great vision of owner Conn Smythe, sponsored the St. Mike's hockey program, essentially making the school's hockey team a feeder system for the NHL team. Many of the Leafs greatest players are St. Mike's alumnus.

By 1933 the school sported two junior teams, the major junior St. Michael's Majors and the junior B St. Michael's Buzzers.

The Majors were a strong forced, capturing the Memorial Cup in 1934 after an undefeated regular season. Nick Metz, Art Jackson, Pep Kelly and Bobby Bauer led the way.

The Majors went to three consecutive Memorial Cup finals in the 1940s, winning in 1945 and 1947. Red Kelly, Ed Sandford, Gus Mortson, Tod Sloan and Fleming Mackell were among the stars of this junior hockey dynasty.

The team would win one more Memorial Cup title in 1961, thanks in large part to the goaltending of Gerry Cheevers.

That 1961 team was coached by Father David Bauer, one of the all time great friends of hockey. But it was actually Father Bauer who ended the St. Mike's hockey affiliation with major junior hockey, as he felt the grueling schedule and increasingly rough play conflicted with the school's ideals and the player's studies.

It was not until 1997 that the Majors returned to major junior hockey. Ironically the team is now owned by school alumnus Eugene Melnyk. Although there is no affiliation to the NHL, Melnyk is also owner of the Ottawa Senators, the chief rivals of the Toronto Maple Leafs in recent years.

You would need a full text book to truly study the impact and history of the St. Michael's hockey team, as well as all the famous alumni. Which is exactly what author Kevin Shea has done. With help from co-writers Larry Colle and Paul Patskou, and with the publishing powerhouse HB Fenn, Shea has literally written what could pass as text book in a history classroom at the private school.

The book is called St. Michael's College: A Hundred Years of Pucks and Prayers, and it features a foreword from one of the school's most famous former students in Hockey Hall of Famer and Canadian Senator Frank Mahovlich.

Buy The Book: Amazon.ca - Chapters - Amazon.com

Everything about the book immediately reminds the reader of a text book. From the use of margins, the tiny text, the side tables and photographs, all of the inserts and appendices, and even the table of contents, it is an obvious first impression. The only thing missing is essay questions at the end of each chapter.

Anyone familiar with Kevin Shea's work knows this book will be as thorough as can be. He has written Over the Boards: The Ron Ellis Story, Barilko Without A Trace, and Lord Stanley: The Man Behind the Cup, all critically acclaimed titles. So the content is guaranteed to be encyclopedic as well.

What I really like about his St. Michael's offering is he gives a lot of space to not only the history of the team and the school, but to the long list of hockey players who used this school as their launching point.

For me history is really about people. Without a whole lot of connection with to St. Michael's personally I found myself immediately drawn to the many interesting stories about the players and a few coaches.

Once I flipped through and read all the inserts and the chapters dedicated to the players, I found myself with a great respect and curiosity for the school and the team, and doubled back and read up more on the school, the administrators and the great legacy left, both on and off the ice.

So do not overlook this book just because it is about a private school that you may not have ever heard of. With the great selection of stories and a great alumni to work with, this book really surprised me. This book will appeal to far more than just proud St. Michael's graduates.

As the publisher's promotion team accurately suggests "This book will appeal to anyone that has ever dreamed of someday playing in the NHL or anyone that enjoys following the sport."

This book is for junior hockey enthusiasts, especially those seeking good history. Even junior hockey fans outside of southern Ontario or the OHL should seriously consider this title for it's historical information.

This book is for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, especially if you're looking for material on the glory years. Fans from all around the NHL, especially the other Original Six teams, should relish this book as a great chance to learn how some of the top players in southern Ontario did not fall under Maple Leafs rule.

Between all of the interested parties above and the undoubted cases and cases of books St. Michael's College will order for it's own classrooms and libraries, Kevin Shea, Larry Colle and Paul Patskou should have a "major" seller on their hands with St. Michael's College: A Hundred Years of Pucks and Prayers.


Anonymous,  October 29, 2008 at 1:28 PM  

Heh, as someone who just went to my first game at St. Mike's last Friday night!...it is quite something. Literally an old barn - the arena walls are made of wood.
The Majors have decamped to Mississauga, of course, but the Jr. A Buzzers remain - and even today, the school itself is still turning out a stream of NHL'ers. A genuine piece of active hockey history in motion.

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