From Father David Bauer to Frank Mahovlich, program produces NHL talent
Enter St. Michael’s College School arena and you’ll see the walls decked out in photos of NHL players.
They’re scattered about, with the current players in the front entrance, goalies above the heritage artefacts cabinet, and players of days past on spreading the span of the back wall.
The players represented are all former students or players who’ve passed through the ranks.
And it takes an historical figure like Father David Bauer to start a strong tradition of hockey at the school.
Bauer, a 1941-45 player for St. Mike’s, coached greats like Dave Keon and Gerry Cheevers. The Hockey Hall of Fame inductee (1989) also helped to lay the foundation of why and how the school has been a hockey factory since the days of Ted Lindsay.
Current athletic director Chris DePiero, who coached John Tavares while he played in Oshawa with the Generals, credits St. Mike’s hockey reputation to the school’s rich history of dedication to sports and academics.
“I think it obviously dates back to long ago, in terms of guys like Ted Lindsay, Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon and Tim Horton coming from up north and coming down to Toronto to seek out education here at St. Mike’s,” he said. “But obviously, getting more exposure for their hockey careers, that allowed St. Mike’s to be a magnet for the marrying of academics and hockey.”
In February, the school further developed its hockey program by announcing a 10-year deal with being the feeder for the Ontario Junior Hockey League team, the Buzzers.
Buzzers president Mike McCarron also credited the school’s history as being a catalyst for success.
“I think historically, as much as we’re still producing players, it goes back to pre-NHL draft when the biggest recruiters of the school were the priests and these small Catholic schools, were very much revered at the time in society,” he said.
He recounted the recruitment of Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Mahovlich, who would go on to have a lengthy career in the NHL with Toronto, Detroit and Montreal.
“If there was a hot kid up in Timmins who could play hockey, the priests worked hard for the Basilian and the Leafs,” he said. “When the Leafs took their rights, they sent the Catholics to St. Mike’s and they sent the Protestants to play with the Marlies.”
It’s that connection to the Maple Leafs that started the tradition. Former general manager Jim Gregory also attended the school.
Still, DePiero doesn’t want hockey to shoulder all of the success at St. Mike’s.
He stressed it’s about shaping the entire athlete, and academics plays a prominent role.
“I think the key for us is it’s always about the whole person, and the whole athlete,” he said. “It’s not just about hockey, but it’s about all of our sports.”
Other schools, like Notre Dame in Saskatchewan and Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, have been emulating St. Mike’s model the last eight years.
One of the best success stories to underscore the development of the entire athlete was Andrew Cogliano, who currently plays with Anaheim Ducks.
Cogliano studied at St. Mike’s from Grade 7 to Grade 12, playing on the U14, junior, senior and Buzzers teams.
“He’s emblematic of what it’s like here, to be through the process and be a part of every hockey team here,” DePiero said.
With the Buzzers on board with the school’s hockey program many players will get a greater opportunity to reach the NHL. McCarron drove that point home when describing his role with the Buzzers.
“My job is very simple: to get kids to the next level, whether it’s an ex-OHL kid looking to play in the CIS,” he said. “There are hundreds of kids who leave early and there are a lot of factors, but I think it’s the focus on quality individuals and the focus on development from a coaching standpoint, and our job as developers is to get ready for the next level.”
He rattles off names like Max Domi, Tyler Seguin, Luke Gazdic and Christian Thomas.
“When the scouts come into the building they know these are St. Mike’s kids: they are well-schooled, both on and off the ice,” he said. “They know they’re of high character.
“I think it reflects the results. We get more deals than any other program in Canada and all you have to do is look at that wall at St. Mike’s to see all the success we’ve had.”
And the students who currently play on the school’s hockey teams are probably dreaming they, too, will some day end up on that wall in St. Mike’s Arena.