Four of the seven teams in the OHA Junior 'A' loop replaced their coaches for the 1960-61 season. At St. Michael's College, Bob Goldham resigned as coach of the Majors. With the season just over a month away, the Majors had yet to find a replacement for Goldham. Father David Bauer, the manager, had scoured the industry and, although several names had been rumoured, including that of former Toronto Marlboros' coach Turk Broda, it fell to Bauer to assume the dual role of manager and coach of the St. Michael's College Majors.
|Father David Bauer coached the Toronto St. Michael's Majors to the 1961 Memorial Cup Championship.
That season, with Father David Bauer behind the bench, St. Mike's finished second in the OHA. Individually, the Majors excelled. St. Mike's leading scorer, Bruce Draper, collected 44 goals, second best in the league, and 77 points, which placed him fourth. He was also awarded the Max Kaminsky Trophy for combining gentlemanly conduct with on-ice excellence. Larry Keenan finished with 31 goals, ninth best in the league, and 69 points, which placed him seventh. During the course of the 1960-61 season, Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach announced that Bruce Draper and Larry Keenan were the two best Junior players he had seen that season. "I didn't see anyone better," he declared. "They should be good enough to give the big boys a run for their money (when they are invited to training camp with the Leafs in the fall of 1961), and if they can put some of them out of a job, it's there for them. I hope they do."
The Majors scrapped their way to win the OHA championship, ousting the first-place Guelph Royals, then beat the Moncton Beavers to win the Eastern Canadian championship, thus earning a shot to challenge the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Memorial Cup.
The Majors were given an enthusiastic send-off at the school before being driven to Malton Airport (now Pearson International Airport) for their flight to Edmonton. It was the first time that Edmonton would host the Memorial Cup championship.
"Playoff records seem to give the edge to the Oil Kings, trying to bring Edmonton its first national junior championship in five attempts," predicted The Globe and Mail.
Game One, played on April 25, 1961, saw both teams start tentatively, feeling out their opponent, before St. Mike's took the game 4-0. Gerry Cheevers posted the shutout.
Game Two was far more wide open than the opening contest. Netminder Cheevers "gave Oil King shooters the jitters with his antics, his glamorous glove and splendid pad saves," reported The Globe and Mail. Cheevers came within 6:35 of a second consecutive shutout before Edmonton scored late in the third period, but it was a moot point as the Majors prevailed 4-1.
With a 4-2 victory in Game Three, the Majors put a stranglehold on the series with an almost insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, but with their backs against the wall, the Edmonton Oil Kings staved off elimination with a 5-4 victory in Game Four. In the fifth game, Edmonton doubled the Majors 4-2 to crawl back into contention.
Father Bauer employed an integral piece of strategy prior to Game Six, played on May 5. The coach took the team away for some solitude, where the excitement and stress of hockey were temporarily replaced with boating, quoits and baseball. The drastic change of pace worked wonders, and following Game Six, The Globe and Mail's headline shouted, ST. MIKE'S THUMP KINGS TO CAPTURE MEMORIAL CUP. Up three games to two, the Majors doubled the Kings 4-2 in a rough-and-tumble contest to take the series and collect the Memorial Cup championship.
With the school's fourth Memorial Cup championship, the St. Michael's Majors held the record for most junior championships by one franchise, an honour they held until the Toronto Marlboros (a team made up of several former St. Mike's players), tied the record with their 1964 win, and then eclipsed it with a championship in 1967. The Marlboros now have seven Memorial Cup championships. St. Michael's and the Oshawa Generals are next, both with four.
Father Bauer's zeal to assist his players in believing they could achieve great things, not just on the ice surfaces, but in their futures, was an uncompromising benefit to the players. He told them that, win or lose, they were the greatest group of boys he had ever had the honour of knowing. "We don't just respect him," said one player, "we love him for everything that he has done for us!"
There was a melancholy tone to an interview in which Father David Bauer reflected on the 1960-61 St. Michael's Majors. "Repeatedly, I have said that the 1960-61 edition of the Majors is the greatest group of boys, taken as a team, that I have encountered in my life."
"I am told that we have had teams which completely outclassed their opposition as in the case of the '34, '45, and '47 teams (from St. Michael's). To glory in the truth of this statement adds luster and strength to our illustrious tradition. However, I honestly doubt that any team ever wanted to win for St. Michael's as badly as the 1960-61 Majors. To win any one game or any one series, each boy had to measure up to his maximum potential. This took effort, real effort, an effort that each boy produced for every big game. Never did I lose confidence in the belief that we would win the OHA title. As for the Memorial Cup, I was not as certain. I knew that the series would be played entirely in the west against a strong Western team."
In a 1987 interview, Father Bauer reminisced about that year's Memorial Cup champions. "We had two really good goal scorers, Bruce Draper and Larry Keenan. We had a very strong defence. We were quite a good checking team. We had a pretty good balance. We had a tremendous spirit of camaraderie amongst the players themselves which, in the final analysis, is really what wins or loses for you, along with a few breaks, no question about that."
It is often said that you cannot beat a team that will not be beaten. "This why we are the Memorial Cup champions," stated Bauer.
Ten thousand fans lined Bay Street and crowded into Toronto's City Hall Square to honour the Memorial Cup champion St. Michael's Majors. The team, led by the school's marching band, rode in convertible sports cars, with Father Bauer cradling the Memorial Cup, seated beside Father William Conway, coach of the Junior 'B' St. Michael's Buzzers. The teams were greeted by Toronto Mayor Nathan Phillips on the steps to City Hall. Father Bauer presented the mayor with a Stetson cowboy hat (which each team member also proudly wore that day) and a hockey stick.
For Father Bauer, it was the pinnacle of an extraordinary career in hockey, one which earned him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.