HOLY ICE-CANADIAN CATHEDRAL
A building where legends learned the game,
St. Mike’s Arena is a hockey institution.
Red Kelly’s grandkids tie up their skates in the dressing room named after their Hall of Fame grandpa. When George and Bruce walk through the arena’s front doors, they see their granddad’s name on a plaque and his biography in a lit-up display. A “Red Kelly” banner hangs over their heads when they take the ice. The eight-time Stanley Cup champion is everywhere in this old Toronto rink, and most winter weekends, you’ll even find Kelly himself, now 84, cheering his grandsons on from the stands. Kelly, his signature red hair now mostly white, says it brings back memories. While much has changed since he played here in his heyday, the charm of the place remains. And, of course, the history. Kelly remembers the opener at St. Michael’s College Arena like it was yesterday.
It was Nov. 7, 1960. Kelly, Dave Keon, Tim Horton, Ted Lindsay and Frank Mahovlich led a team of former St. Michael’s College students they called ‘The Old Boys,’ culled together for opening night at the school’s new arena to take on the Memorial Cup–champion St. Michael’s Majors, led by a young Gerry Cheevers. Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard and King Clancy were wearing the stripes. You couldn’t get a seat. “The place was crawling,” Kelly recalls. “It was really exciting to come back and play in that first game.”
Kelly grew up on the rink before they put a roof on it, back when it was called ‘The Pad.’ This new St. Mike’s Arena was a big improvement. At that first game, a standing-room-only crowd of 1,640 turned up to celebrate what is now one of the country’s most historic arenas, a home to hockey lore. To date, 14 former St. Mike’s players—Turk Broda, Reg Noble and Father David Bauer among them—are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Each has a banner hanging in the arena.
Walk into the arena with the signature wooden roof and blue paint and you’ll find more than 200 names on a plaque that recognizes St. Mike’s boys who went on to play in the NHL. Each of those NHLers has his picture on the wall, the latest occupying the south end, including recent alums Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins and Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks. Arena manager Robert Tunney has been working here for 30 years. He recently watched a kid from Buffalo spend almost two hours poring over the history of the place before his game. “People think of it as a local shrine,” he says.
Tunney wasn’t around to see any Hall of Famers play here, but he’s seen his share of possible future ones. The biggest crowd of the past 30 years came out to see Eric Lindros, a 15-year-old prodigy who suited up for the St. Mike’s Buzzers and led the team to the 1988–89 Ontario Jr. B Championship. It was game six of the city final, and the rink was packed to the rafters. “We probably had 2,000 people in here, and it only holds 1,500,” Tunney says. “We were losing and came back to win that night. What a moment.” Jason Spezza was another young kid who impressed, one of the first Grade 9s in school history to play on the senior team. Back in those days, and when the Ontario Hockey League’s St. Michael’s Majors called this rink home before leaving for a larger arena in suburban Mississauga, St. Mike’s drew some 200,000 visitors per year. Now the focus is on the school teams, minor hockey, and the Buzzers. These days a crowd of 150 is a good one, and though it pales in comparison to the draw of the Majors, Tunney says it always feels intimate, the way the seats hover over the ice, how close fans get to the players.
During the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Kelly was given the Stanley Cup for a day. The man who’d won it eight times didn’t think twice about his plans for it, and called up fellow St. Mike’s alumnus Dick Duff to join him. “I thought, gosh, St. Mike’s has put a lot of players into the NHL over the years and I didn’t know if they’d ever had the Stanley Cup there,” Kelly says. Hockey fans lined up to see Lord Stanley’s mug, and Kelly and Duff signed autographs until their wrists were sore. “I just thought it would be good for old St. Mike’s,” Kelly says. “The rink’s been so good to us.”
LOCATION: 1515 BATHURST ST (AT ST. CLAIR AVE WEST) TORONTO