Tucked away from the hustle and bustle at the corner of Bathurst and St. Clair, St. Michael’s Arena is both inconspicuous and peculiar. Amidst the recent high-rise development in the area, the brick and sheet metal façade leading to the dome roof stands out, harkening back to a different era of hockey architecture, a relic of a bygone time. Despite its age – the building turned 57 on Nov. 7 – St. Michael’s is revered within the GTHL community as a historical arena, a hockey barn that has produced more than 200 NHL players (and counting).
Ideas of a potential rink can be traced back to 1955, when Father Ted Flanagan spearheaded a dream that became a reality in 1960 when the venue opened. An article from the June 1960 edition of Arena, Pools & Parks Magazine, a publication preserved by St. Michael’s College, detailed the intricacies of the construction process, revealing details of what is now a unique and eclectic piece of Toronto’s hockey history. It focused on the arch roof made from nine fire resistant British Columbia fir beams, the sturdy wood giving the building a cavernous, cathedral look.
The arena was christened with an exhibition game between the 1960-61 Memorial Cup champion St. Michael’s Majors – led in goal by junior standout Gerry Cheevers – and the St. Michael’s Old Boys – who featured a number of NHL legends, including Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Tim Horton and Ted Lindsay. The wealth of talent on display would set a precedent for the arena as a developmental factory, a stepping stone for burgeoning hockey talents to hone their skills and realize their potential before moving up the ranks.
The symbiotic relationship between school and hockey has continued to modern times. NHLers like Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin, a Toronto Young National alumnus, donned the double-blue and carved up the ice at St. Michael’s before moving on to brighter lights. Though newer arenas are scattered throughout the city, graduates like Seguin return every summer to the familiar confines of St. Mike’s.
“I know a lot of guys might not like that there’s no mirrors in our dressing room,” Seguin said of the simple amenities offered at the storied arena. “It’s not the biggest, but it’s got a lot of character and I wouldn’t change it for the world”.
Of course, the rink was not only limited to those who went to St. Michael’s College. The arena has been a lynchpin in the collective consciousness of GTHL players as a special place to play the game they love.
“It brings back a lot of childhood memories,” said San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward. “St. Michael’s Arena used to be like the Maple Leaf Gardens of minor hockey back in the day.”
With smaller ice dimensions – 180-by-80 feet, compared to 200-by-85 feet like the pads at Scotiabank Pond – and seats that seem to lean toward the ice, the arena can be an intimate place on game day. Yet, for that same reason it has provided a setting for future stars to rise to the occasion, giving glimpse of the success to come.
Don Mills Flyers alumnus Matt Buckles, currently part of the Florida Panthers organization, remembers the performance of one former teammate on St. Mike’s ice.
“My minor midget year, we had a couple good battles with the Jr. Canadiens, they were a good team,” said Buckles. “One night, Max Domi had a hatty that I remember pretty well.”
With new arenas popping up all over the city, it’s clear that St. Michael’s Arena remains relevant among GTHL members of the past, present and future.