Lunch with the venerable captain of the Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs provides a glimpse into the making of character.
Words by Mike Douglas
In the 1960’s every hockey playing/watching boy/man in Canada knew about the St. Michael’s Majors, the Junior A Hockey team from St. Michael’s College, a Toronto school for Catholic boys led by Basilian priests and Father David Bauer. Why? Because the St Michael’s Majors regularly graduated players to the NHL and in particular, to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who won 4 Stanley Cups in seven years with former St Michael’s stars and Hockey Hall of Famers like Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly, Tim Horton—and the one and only Dave Keon.
Keon visited Mississauga last month to visit old friends and drop the puck for a Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors game during the 2011 Memorial Cup and he took the time to catch up with old St. Mike’s buddies while he was in town. Keon and former St. Michael’s player Mike Elik of Mississauga, started one of the first hockey schools in Canada using practices devised by Harry Neale. Run by Keon, Elik, Billy Harris and Harry Neale, the school was so successful that Elik had to leave his executive position at Algoma Steel to run the burgeoning enterprise before briefly acting as Keon’s agent. The next chapter in Elik’s reinvention led to his current position as a successful Canadian Tire dealer in Heartland Town Centre.
Over lunch with Keon, Elik and fellow St Michael’s Majors alumni Murray McGee, a retired lawyer from Kitchener, I listened in on reminiscences of crazy stuff young guys did for laughs at a boys school. Their chuckling recollections are well-practiced and they gently pause over memories of men they played with who have since passed away.
Keon has long lived in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida with his wife Jane and he gets back up here at least once or twice a year for St. Mike’s-related reunions. Keon looks back at his St. Michael’s experience with a warm smile.
“We were away from home, experiencing the anxieties of growing up in a college residence together,” Keon recollects.
“The friendships and camaraderie that you made there formed a great environment to grow up in. Everybody hoped for a career in hockey and some of us
made it and we lived, played, worked together as friends. But Father Bauer made it clear that the Fathers were always more interested in you as a person first, and your education.”
Right. Keon really is just a regular guy, but we all played hockey and he, the smallest of the group, was the superstar! How many hulks tried to kill him on the ice and how he prevailed, a shy puck master who played like a gentleman and won championships, leading by example. He was twice awarded the Lady Byng trophy for gentlemanly and sportsmanlike conduct, plus the Calder Memorial Award as the league’s top rookie and, in 1967, the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs ever brought home the Stanley Cup, Keon won the Conn Smythe Trophy for Most Valuable Player during the playoffs.
As Murray, Mike and Dave parted after their gentlemen’s lunch with hugs and handshakes, one thing was clear—that the bonds formed decades ago at St. Michael’s College would never come undone.