Friday, May 8, 2015

1945 Memorial Cup

At a recent NHL Oldtimers lunch, I experienced one of those magical hockey moments that crop up from time to time.

As I was enjoying a conversation with Phil Samis, a former teammate, Johnny McCormack, sat down beside him and they quickly began reminiscing about their early days in hockey and their hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. These two wonderful characters were members of the 1945 Memorial Cup championship team at St. Mike's.

Johnny McCormack (L) with Phil Samis

Phil Samis (above), a defenceman, went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1948. The bulk of his hockey career was spent in the American Hockey League, where he added Calder Cup championship to his trophy case.

Johnny McCormack (above), who played up the middle, was noted for his ability to strip a puck away from an opponent by employing a nasty sweep check. He won a Stanley Cup in 1953 with the Montreal Canadiens.

On April 23, 1945, Samis and McCormack celebrated St. Mike's 7-2 victory over the Moose Jaw Canucks at Maple Leaf Gardens. Although Samis didn't play in game 5, he did see action in two other contests. The win was St. Mike's fourth in the best-of-seven final, thus making them Canadian junior champions.

Future Montreal Canadien, Leo Gravelle, was the scoring hero for St. Mike's in game 5. He notched a natural hat trick with his first goal resulting from a major penalty shot. John McCormack assisted on his third goal. The Globe and Mail noted of Gravelle's final marker: "McCormack passed to Gravelle, but the puck got mixed-up with his feet. He kicked (it) into position for a shot and beat Bentley with a short shot." The goalie for Moose Jaw was Bev Bentley, a member of the hockey family from Delisle, Saskatchewan. Besides this helper, McCormack added a goal of his own and another assist on a goal by Gus Mortson.

In addition to Gus Mortson, who later joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, a number of players listed in the game line-ups for Moose Jaw and St. Mike's went on to play in the National Hockey League.

Several of the better known names for Moose Jaw included Bert Olmstead, Metro Prystai and Ralph Nattrass. On St. Mike's side of the ledger there was Jimmy Thomson, Tod Sloan and Les Costello.

The coach of the Canucks, Reg Bentley, the older brother to Max, Doug and the previously mentioned Bev Bentley, played 11 games with the 1942-43 Chicago Blackhawks. His counterpart behind the bench at St. Mike's was Leaf legend Joe Primeau. The centre for Toronto's dynamic Kid Line, Primeau skated for the Leafs from 1928-29 to 1935-36.

The Globe and Mail reported on April 25, 1945, that "the five-game tournament between (the) Canucks and St. Michael's College drew 65,437 customers for a game average of 13,087, an all-time record."

The success at the box-office raised talk of Maple Leaf Gardens becoming the permanent home for future Memorial Cups. This proposal was made to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association by Conn Smythe. Also, there was chatter of a 'Hall of Fame at the Gardens for junior hockey teams."

Seventy-years have passed since the evening of April 23, 1945, however, on a pleasant spring afternoon in 2015, Phil Samis and Johnny McCormack talked about that time as though it were only yesterday.

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