Was the St. Catharines Teepees the greatest feeder squad ever of 1960-70s NHL stars?


Published February 8, 2022 at 5:03 pm

The pair of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita weren't the only superstars to come from the St. Catharines Teepees Jr A club but they were the first to win a Stanley Cup (1961) just after graduating.

Was the St Catharines OHA Jr. A team, the Teepees, the greatest feeder squad ever for producing NHL stars in the 1960s and 1970s?

A case can certainly be made for it. The team, which ran from 1947 to 1962, sent 54 of its players to the NHL during its existence.

Four of them – Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Phil Esposito and Pierre Pilote – are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Some of those who didn’t make the HHOF are nonetheless familiar names to hockey fans from the 60s and 70s. Goalies of that era who were Teepees included Roger Crozier, Denis DeJordy, Marv Edwards and Roy Edwards.

Famous forwards from the Teepees included Vic Hatfield, Ken Hodge, Dennis Hull, Chico Maki, John “Pie” McKenzie, Ken Schinkel and Fred Stanfield. Not to mention, defencemen like Wayne Hillman, Pat “Whitey” Stapleton and Elmer “Moose” Vasko.

Bobby Hull, goalie Tony Esposito and Stan Mikita in the Blackhawks dressing room, circa 1970.

Just between those names alone, a coach could create a single squad that would have dominated any takers from the late-60s to the mid-70s. And there’s little doubt that many of the other less familiar names were mainstays through the six-team NHL in the 1950s.

Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were an interesting pair, in that they came up together through the Teepees system and remained together right up to the big leagues with the Chicago Blackhawks, who owned the St. Catharines squad.

From 1960 to 1962, Mikita, the Czech-born slick play-making centre who wore a helmet years before it was mandated and Hull, the speedy left winger with the booming slapshot that earned him the name “The Golden Jet” were the NHL’s one-two punch. In 1961, barely off the ice at Garden City Arena is St. Catharines, the pair won the Stanley Cup.

Throughout the 1960s, Mikita was the highest scorer of the entire decade with 316 goals and 827 points, followed by Hull in number two spot with 440 goals and 786 points – ahead of players like Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlich and Jean Beliveau.

Pierre Pilote, left, and Boston Bruin superstar Phil Esposito both came up through the St. Catharines Teepees OHA Jr A hockey club.

Ironically, Hull would help the fledgling WHA get on its feet in 1972 by signing a $1 million deal with the Winnipeg Jets – and no, they weren’t name after him.

But the Mikita-Hull partnership started earlier than that. The pair played high school football together in St. Catharines.

“He was a halfback and I was sort of a flanker back,” Mikita told the Chicago Tribune in 1991. “Even in football, the way we played the game was completely different. I’d try to run around the guy where Bobby would try to run over him.”

And that oddball team name – the Teepees? Certainly one that wouldn’t fly today, their sponsor was a local industry called Thompson Products, hence the T-P name, adding the Indigenous theme to match their NHL affiliate Chicago Blackhawks.

But the squad had other names. They were the Falcons from 1943 to ’47, St. Catharines Black Hawks from 1962 to ’76 before becoming the Niagara Falls Flyers from 1976 to ’82. These days, the team is the Saginaw Spirit, still part of the OHL but based out of Michigan.

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