The Metro Jr. A League was only in existence for two seasons, but the impact from the league still remains today. At the monthly hockey sessions I hold as the Ultimate Leafs Fan, the league was the topic of discussion this past week with guest speakers, Jim McKenny, Muni Hoffman, Ken Broderick and Doug Kelcher. They all spoke highly of the league and some of the great memories from those couple years.
St. Michael’s College, the highly acclaimed boys’ Catholic high school, was not only noted for its esteemed academic standards but athletic accomplishments as well, particularly on the ice. The school in the late 1950’s was becoming concerned about the amount of travel that the demanding schedule of the Majors was taking on the player’s absence from their studies. Father David Bauer sent a letter stating just that to the Toronto Maple Leafs alerting them St. Mike’s might discontinue its hockey program and drop out of the OHA loop.
The Toronto Maple Leafs association with the Toronto Marlboros and St. Mike’s goes back to Conn Smythe’s purchase of the club in 1927, as feeder teams to supply the Leafs with upcoming talent. It speaks volumes once again to the foresight and genius of Smythe at the time looking for ways to discover new talent to stay competitive in the NHL. Now with the threat of one of his main bloodlines being taken away that had produced players such as, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Tim Horton, Joe Primeau and Tod Sloan the thought was unbearable. Remember that in an era of the six-team league, territorial rights were king and Leafs had a monopoly on the local talent, so it was imperative they find a quick solution to this budding problem. Therefore, after a meeting with Stafford Smythe who was in charge of running the junior program for the Leafs and Jim Gregory representing St. Mikes, they formed the Metro Junior A league. There would be no travel because the league was in the Toronto vicinity and the formation of the new loop consisted of St. Mikes, the Marlboros, the Brampton 7-Ups, the Unionville Seaforths and the Whitby Mohawks. St. Mike’s fresh off winning the 1961 Memorial Cup were flush with talent and along with the Marlboros agreed to provide players to the other three teams that were basically Jr. B quality. The Marlboros and St. Mike’s had a stranglehold on the local talent so the skeptics were of the opinion this was just a practice league for the two powerhouses. The winner of the Metro league would play the OHA champion with the winner advancing to the Memorial Cup. St. Mikes won the inaugural season in 1961-62 but was defeated by the OHA’s Hamilton Red Wings.
Even though the league was local and most of the games played at Maple Leaf Gardens, St. Mike’s abandoned its hockey program before the start of the 1962-63 season. Neil McNeil, a boys catholic high school in the Toronto Beaches, took the St. Mikes roster and along with the Marlboros, the Brampton 7-ups, Knob Hill Farms (formerly the Unionville Seaforths and sponsored by future Leaf owner Steve Stavros), the Whitby Dunlops (Mohawks the year before) and the Oshawa Generals (an entry from the Boston Bruins), made up the league in the second year. Even though the teams were to be comprised of Toronto organizational players, the Bruins Wren Blair convinced the league to allow them entry, citing fewer players the Leafs would have to supply to the other teams, stronger competition and financial stability.
The league still struggled severely in the 1962-63 season with poor play and financial difficulties. The Neil McNeil Maroons would defeat the Marlboros for the league championship but lose to Niagara Falls of the OHA and failed to advance to the Memorial Cup.
Stafford Smythe pleaded with the OHA to allow not only the Marlboros back into the league but a new team in London that would have players supplied by the other Metro teams and after a six year absence, Oshawa. Smythe was trying to protect as many players as possible but the OHA wouldn’t bite, so only the Marlboros and Oshawa were allowed entry for the 1962-63 season.
Jim Gregory would coach the Marlboro team and with the combination of players from the Neil McNeil Maroons built what today is still regarded the strongest junior team ever assembled. They easily won the 1963-64 Memorial Cup with players such as Ron Ellis, Jim McKenny, Mike Walton, Rod Seiling and Peter Stemkoski who would all go on to long NHL careers.
Ken Broderick who played for the Brampton 7-ups represented Canada at the 1964-1968 Olympics, along with playing in the NHL and WHA. Father David Bauer formulated what would become our national program with some government assistance funding and use of graduating junior players to get the program under way.
Doug Kelcher was a decent player but had visions of playing in the majors as a ball player but did play for the Orillia Terriers in the Senior A league post baseball.
Muni Hoffman played for the Marlboros, but was probably more known as the brother of famous sister, Olympian Abby Hoffman who as a nine-year old cut her hair and played in a boy’s hockey league. When discovered and not allowed to play, her case was taken to the Ontario Supreme Court and made international news. She would represent Canada at four Olympic Games competing in track and would be Canada’s flag-bearer at the 1976 Games in Montreal.
Jim McKenny played on the 1964 Toronto Marlboro, Memorial Cup championship team and then play over 600-games in the NHL mostly with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bobby Orr made his Metro Jr. A debut in October, 1963 as a 14-year old with Oshawa and go on to make the second-All-star team the same season.
Wayne Carleton played for Unionville as a 14-year old and was destined for the Marlboros but they had a rule of players reaching the age of 15 before they could play with the team. He would join the Marlboros in the second season and also play a big role in the 1964 championship team, before embarking on an 11-year professional career in the NHL and WHA.
Andy Brown the last goaltender to play without a mask in the NHL, played for the Brampton 7-ups in 1962-63.
The Metro Jr. A had a short stint in actual play but in its few years developed a shift in power with the loss of St. Mikes, the newly formed Canadian National program received a boost, Bobby Orr got his start and numerous players got a chance to play because the Leafs had such a hold on all the best players they would never had a chance to otherwise. It truly was a historic moment in hockey history and deserves more recognition.