Friday, June 5, 2015


To borrow one of Johnny Carson's bits, I will summon Carnac the Magnificent to provide a riddle pertaining to the last three Inside the Room events hosted by Mike Wilson, who is also known as The Ultimate Leafs Fan.

Carnac: "What do you get when you combine a new hockey league, men in striped shirts and two disc jockeys?"

Before Carnac opens the envelope to reveal the answer, here are some really really huge clues.


Clearly an initiative of Toronto Maple Leafs co-owner Stafford Smythe, the Metro Junior A League began to take shape in June 1961. What fuelled its formation was the decision by St. Michael's College School to opt out of OHA Junior A hockey.

Talking to The Globe and Mail, Stafford Smythe stated, "we had to make a choice between St. Mike's and our partners in the league and we chose St. Mike's."

As for St. Mike's, their decision to leave OHA Junior A hockey was based on two factors - scheduling and educational demands.

The rival league, hatched by Smythe, got off the ground in time for the 1961-62 season. The teams participating in year one were the Toronto Marlboros, St. Mike's, Whitby Mohawks, Brampton 7-Ups and Unionville Seaforths.

Ironically, St. Mike's dropped out in year two and were replaced by another Catholic high school in Toronto, Neil McNeil. Other adjustments included Unionville becoming Knob Hill Farms and Whitby changed their name to the Whitby Dunlops. Also, the Oshawa Generals joined the loop with a 14-year-old Bobby Orr in their line-up.

In the second season, it became apparent the Metro Junior A League was struggling. The quality of play wasn't up to par with their adversary and this was reflected in the attendance figures.

By the time 1963-64 rolled around, the Metro Junior A League had folded. The only survivors were the Toronto Marlboros (with the top rated talent from Neil McNeil/St. Mike's) and the Oshawa Generals.

In their first contest upon returning to the OHA Junior A League, the Marlboros defeated the St. Catharines Black Hawks by a score of 7-4. It was the first step in their journey to winning the 1964 Memorial Cup.

After Mike Wilson's opening remarks, he passed the baton to noted hockey writer and historian, Kevin Shea, who provided a history of the Metro Junior A League. Then, a panel of former players from the league talked about experiences.

Left to Right: Doug Kelcher, Jim McKenny, Muni Hoffman and Ken Broderick

Doug Kelcher was a member of the Unionville Seaforths.

"Cliff Simpson was our coach," Kelcher pointed out about the first campaign in Unionville. "The next year the team became Knob Hill Farms. Dr. Kennedy, who was a chiropractor up in Unionville, met with Steve Stavro (who went on to become owner of the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs) and the name was changed."

Kelcher left little doubt that Smythe and the Marlboros controlled the comings and goings in the new league.

"In Unionville we started the season and a guy came over and introduced himself, 'Hi, I'm Wayne Carleton,' said the kid. He was 14-years-old and his dad drove him down from Beaton. The story we got was the Marlboros had a rule that you couldn't play for them until you turned 15. So, the minute Wayne Carleton turned 15 he went to Toronto and we got Ray Winterstein."

An injury suffered by Kelcher while playing for Knob Hill kept him on the sidelines until the playoffs. However, by that time he decided to go elsewhere. "I had signed with the New York Mets," Kelcher told us.

"I was only 15-years-old when I came to Toronto," stated former Leafs defenceman Jim McKenny. "My mother wouldn't let me leave home. I stopped going to school in Ottawa until my mother let me come to Toronto."

"They really stressed education at Neil McNeil. The second day I got there, Gary Smith took me under his wing. He didn't have any books, just a racing form, so our afternoons were spent at Greenwood race track."

"I liked playing in the league and I had a couple of buddies who played for Whitby, Billy Smith and Billy Collins, I knew from Ottawa," recalled McKenny.

"It was one of the most memorable times in my hockey career," beamed Muni Hoffman. "I had only played a month or two with the Marlboros junior B team, which that year was the Lakeshore Goodyears. Then, I came up to the Toronto Marlboros."

"Turk Broda was our coach and he had cataracts. He couldn't tell the time on the clock. He would always be asking the trainer how much time was left in a game, especially in the third period," said Hoffman of his coach.

"Prior to the Metro League starting up, I had played two years with the Marlboros," stated goalie Ken Broderick. "I was cut from the Marlboros and sent to the Brampton 7-Ups. I was expecting to earn $60 a week, which was the going rate for a third year junior player."

Unfortunately for Broderick, no one in the "Stafford Smythe League" got that kind of change. Instead of accepting Smythe's terms, Broderick decided to play for the Ryerson College hockey team while attending school.

"The first night Brampton played, they lost 8-0. I got a call the next morning and was informed that Stafford Smythe wanted to meet with me."

When he got to Smythe's office at the family gravel pit, things turned nasty.

"He called me every name in the book for not reporting to Brampton. He said, 'I'll see to it that you never play a game of professional hockey."

Not intimidated, Broderick stood his ground.

"Mr. Smythe, I'm going to Ryerson and I'm in the graphic arts management program and I expect I will go into printing sales," stated Broderick of his future plans and at the same time letting Smythe know he wasn't going to be dependant solely on hockey to make his living.

Buck Houle, Smythe's liaison with the Brampton club, also attended the meeting and asked Broderick to step into another office so they could talk.

"He told me, 'you'll get your $60 a week, just report to Brampton,' and that is how I ended up with Brampton."


For a change of pace, Inside the Room featured the other guys who shared the ice with some of hockey's biggest stars, the referee's.

Left to Right: Bryan Lewis, Ron Wicks and Bruce Hood

"We were the best money could buy," joked Bruce Hood to start off the evening.

When you get a group of on-ice officials together in one room, there is a question that always tops the list - How and why did you become a referee?

"I started in Georgetown doing kids hockey and it ended up being better than delivering newspapers," said Bryan Lewis of his first venture wearing the stripes. "The worst thing then, as it is now, was parental abuse, but once you got through that it was nothing."

"I started in Sudbury and played in the midget league," Ron Wicks informed the audience. "When I stopped playing, I offered to referee in the league. I was scouted by Bob Davidson, who was the chief scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He sent my name to Carl Voss, who was the NHL referee-in-chief. I took two weeks off as a tax assessor for the city of Sudbury. I came down here (Toronto) to do a few exhibition games and low and behold I got hired for $40 a game. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. And I stuck around for 26 years."

"I was playing intermediate hockey in Milton and I also worked at the rink," began Bruce Hood when talking about how he got his start. One night during a junior game, the referee couldn't make it, so they asked me if I would do it. I drove out to the guys house and got his sweater and whistle. I enjoyed being the referee and that is how I got started."

During the Q&A period, this question was asked of all three members of the panel - Can you remember a favourite game you worked?

"My one-thousand game, it was the only time my mother saw me work live and the game was played in Montreal," advised Bryan Lewis.

"My first game, I was just turning 20 years-old and my knees were banging together," noted Ron Wicks. "I was pinching myself and asking 'what in the hell 'am I doing here?' I remember Clarence Campbell, the president of he league, coming in and saying I missed an off-side by 20-feet. I must have improved because I lasted 26 years."

"My first game, which was played in Toronto," replied Bruce Hood. "I remember going out on that ice and I couldn't feel anything below my waist."


 On tap for this occasion were former Q107 sports guy John Gallagher and current Q morning man John Derringer. The 'Mighty Q' is a Toronto radio station which plays classic rock.

Although a substantial amount of the talk focused on the current state of the radio industry, the two guests spoke about the field of sports broadcasting.

John Gallagher (L) and John Derringer

"I was the annoying little guy playing street hockey in Montreal," stated Gallagher. "I was always leaning on my stick being Ken Dryden and doing the play-by-play. The Leafs would always lose for some strange reason," he said, not hiding the fact the Montreal Canadiens remain to be his favourite NHL team. "I always wanted to be in broadcasting and I got lucky very early."

"In 1979, I started with CFTR (now 680 News) the top 40 station," noted Derringer in his very distinctive voice. "I got hired there when I was going into grade 11 at St. Mike's. My brother worked there and I asked him if I could get a job at the station. He got me a job as a producer," noted Derringer of his first big break. "The first sporting excitement I felt was living in Edmonton in 1983 and 1984, when the Oilers started on their roll."

"I got the gig at Q107 and started doing a segment called Sports Shorts," noted Gallagher, who went on to work in television at City TV with former Leaf defenceman Jim McKenny.

"It was to be about the lighter part of sports," stated Derringer of the Sports Shorts concept. "We went more for the humour," advised Derringer, which didn't come as a surprise for a rock station not noted for their sports coverage.

"Back in the 1980's, we had this great music (classic rock) in common with the players. You could go to a place like The Madison and Wendel Clark would be hanging out there with his teammates," recalled Derringer of a different time in the media-athelete relationship.

"With the Leafs, we were wide-eyed back then," said Derringer, who later worked at the Fan 590 an all-sports station. "When you look back to the 80's, for the most part they made the playoffs. They made the playoffs,  but quickly got blown-out. There was nowhere near the kind of negative energy or anger about the Leafs then, as there is now. To sound kind of wide-eyed and looking more at the personality standpoint of the team did make sense then."

Derringer commented on how times have changed. "Now a days, if you went on the radio in this town and regularly expressed your opinion of the Leafs being awesome because they are in the NHL and only lost a game by the score 6-3, you'd be laughed out of town."

` ` `
Now, back to Carnac for the answer....

"What do you get when you combine a new hockey league, men in stripes and two disc jockeys?

Drum role...

"Metro Junior A League Night, Referee's Night and Q107 Night!"

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