Metro Junior A Hockey League
|OHA Junior "A"|
|Ontario Hockey Association|
|Canadian Junior Hockey League|
|OHA Junior "B"|
The Metro Junior "A" Hockey League was a junior level ice hockey league based out of Southern Ontario. The league originated in 1956 as the Metro Junior "B" Hockey League, which lasted until 1991, when it changed its designation from Junior B to Junior A. It remained a Jr. A league from 1991 until 1998 when it was absorbed by the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League.
The teams that formed the Metropolitan league played in the Big Six Junior B league in 1950 until 1953, when a new, nine-member OHA Jr.B league was formed. The league officially took on the Metropolitan Toronto junior hockey league name in 1956. For some time, was a part of the Ontario Hockey Association and the Canadian Junior A Hockey League. As the name suggests, the league originally consisted of Junior B teams in the Toronto area. However, over time, with the defection of teams to the Junior A league, the Metro league accepted teams from wider regions. The league featured many future NHL stars, including Brad Park (Toronto Westclairs), Wayne Gretzky (Toronto Nationals), Eric Lindros (St. Michael's Buzzers), Dale Hawerchuk (Oshawa Legionaires), Ken Dryden (Etobicoke Indians), and Curtis Joseph (King City Dukes).
During the early years, the "Junior B" league was essentially the minor league feeder for the "Junior A" Ontario Hockey Association. Almost all of the Metro players eventually moved on to play in the OHA. Following the NCAA's 1980 rule change that deemed any OHL players to be professionals, amateur leagues such as the Junior B leagues grew. The Metro league became a key feeder to college hockey programs during the 1980s and 1990s, producing more than 200 future NCAA players.
The early Junior B years
The early years featured Toronto-based teams such as the St.Mike's Buzzers, Dixie Beehives, Toronto Lakeshore Bruins, Toronto Marlies/Weston Dukes, Unionville Jets, Aurora Tigers, Whitby Dunlops, Leaside Rangers, Brampton 7Ups and the Woodbridge Dodgers. For the most part, the teams served as farm teams at the Junior B level for the Junior A OHA teams. The 1964-65 season starred a 17-year-old Ken Dryden in net for the Etobicoke Indians. With Dryden in net, the Indians won the Metro league title and made it all the way to the Sutherland Cup final where they lost 4-games-to-2 to the Kitchener Greenshirts. Ken Dryden moved on to become one of the most famous NHL goaltenders of all-time. He played in the 1972 Summit Series, won the 1971 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP a season before he was officially a rookie (which he won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1972 as Rookie of the Year), he won six Stanley Cups, and is a Hockey Hall of Fameer.
In 1972 the Metro B league was reshaped substantially when six members left to join the new Ontario Provincial Junior A league. Metro members Ajax Steelers, Aurora Tigers, Dixie Beehives, Downsview Bees, North York Rangers, and the Richmond Hill Rams left. A year later the Markham Waxers also left. To make up for the losses, the Metro league took in new members Belleville Bobcats and the Peterborough Lions from the folded Eastern Ontario Junior B Hockey League, and expanded with the Oshawa Legionaires, Bramalea Blues, Pickering Panthers, and Wexford Warriors. The Etobicoke Selects, Toronto Red Wings, and Markham Royalls joined in 1973. The Kingston Voyageurs entered the league in 1974.
In 1974, the Metro Champion Bramalea Blues defeated the Owen Sound Greys 4-games-to-3 to reach the Sutherland Cup All-Ontario Final. Upon reaching the final, the Blues defeated the Hamilton Red Wings of the Niagara & District Junior B Hockey League in Game 1, only to have a brawl involving the teams, officials, and fans breakout to the point that police were called to break up the incident. Due to the brawl, the Blues withdrew from the final and became the only team in Ontario Hockey Association history to forfeit the Sutherland Cup.
The 1975 season marked the first junior appearance by a 14-year-old "underage" Wayne Gretzky for the Toronto Nationals. In September, Walter Gretzky had Wayne moved to the City of Vaughan to play midget hockey for the Toronto Young Nats instead of playing in his hometown of Brantford, Ontario. In October, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association declared Gretzky and 15-year-old Brian Rorabek ineligible because they had established residency too late. Gretzky sued in the Canadian Courts and lost . Because Gretzky could remain in Toronto to play junior (rather than midget hockey), Gretzky tried out for the Junior B team, and made the team. In 28 games, Gretzky scored 27 goals and 33 assists to win Metro Rookie of the Year honours. The next year the team moved to Richmond Hill and became the Seneca Nationals. Gretzky scored 36 goals and 36 assists in 32 games, and then 40 goals and 35 assists in 23 playoff games to lead his team to a Metro Junior "B" Championship. Sadly, the team came up short of a Sutherland Cup victory, as the Nationals were stopped dead in the 1977 All-Ontario Semi-final by the Stratford Cullitons of the Wellington-Waterloo Junior B Hockey League.
The Henry Carr Crusaders, a team sponsored by the Toronto highschool, joined the Junior "B" ranks in 1980. They won league titles in 1983, 1984, and 1987. Their best season came in 1983, where they went undefeated during the regular season, won the Metro, and then went on to win the Sutherland Cup as All-Ontario Junior "B" Champions. That team featured future NHLers Bob Essensa, Paul Cavallini and Victor Posa and NHL draft picks Rob Bryden and Allister Brown. In 1991, Henry Carr Highschool dropped its sponsorship of the team, and as of 2006 were known as the Toronto Thunderbirds.
During the 1986-87, a strange occurrence happened with the team that is now known as the Mississauga Chargers. Then known as the King City Dukes and in their third season in King since moving from Weston, the team moved mid-season to North York and renamed itself the North York Civics. The oddity here is that teams rarely do a complete locational move in the middle of a season. The next year they became the Richmond Hill Dukes and skipped around the Greater Toronto Area for the better part of the next decade trying to find a home.
During the 1988-89 season Kingston's Scott Martin won his second consecutive scoring title and League MVP award. His season totals of 62 goals and 114 points in a mere 42 games came closest to topping the league records set by NHLers Patrick Flatley during the 1980-81 season (137 points for Henry Carr), and Paul Gardner during the 1973-74 season (77 goals and 132 points for St.Mike's).
1990 departure from CJAHL and move to Junior A
The league was classified by the OHA as a Junior B league, until a falling-out in June 1990, when the Ontario Hockey Federation was formed, comprising the OHA, the Ontario major junior league, three minor hockey groups and women's hockey. The OHA was given jurisdiction over junior hockey below major junior excluding junior A in the north. Junior teams in Toronto were not members of the OHA and therefore not members of the CAHA. As a result, in 1990 the Metro league declared itself to be an independent junior league. A year later, during the summer of 1991, the league declared itself to be a Junior A league, and hired a full-time commissioner, Don Linthwaite.
The Metro League's move brought into motion changes that ultimately led to the creation of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. After the Metro league declared itself to be a Junior A league, the Central Junior B league followed, declaring itself a Junior A league after the 1992-93 season. Through November 19–21, 1993, the new junior A leagues joined with teams from the other Canadian provincial junior A leagues, and formed the Canadian Junior A Hockey League.
In 1995, crisis struck the Metro Junior A Hockey League. In the midst of perceived corruption by the league, five teams walked out on the Metro. Four of these teams, the Bramalea Blues, Kingston Voyageurs, Mississauga Chargers, and St. Michael's Buzzers, fled to join the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League. The Richmond Hill Riot folded. This marked the beginning of the end for the Metro. The Metro Junior Hockey League chose to play outside the CJAHL and CHA in 1995-96.
Hockey history was made on February 21, 1997 when Ryan Venturelli of the Muskoka Bears became the first goaltender in hockey history to score two goals (both empty net) in a hockey game against the Durham Huskies.
Despite extensive expansion, the league was not able to retain its past glory and was swallowed whole by the OPJHL in 1998. The Metro league folded, with most of its teams being taken in by the OPJHL, as well as many of its players. So far the most successful of these teams seem to be the Aurora Tigers, who after winning the OPJHL and Dudley Hewitt Cup in 2004, they took home the Royal Bank Cup 2004 as CJAHL National Champions as well. The league produced numerous stars, both in the NHL and as a feeder for NCAA college hockey, having produced 350 NCAA Division I scholarship athletes from 1980 to 1998.
Please note: On the chart, the bolded team is the league champion.
(*) denotes that there was no clear winner to the Eastern Division in 1998, but Syracuse did maintain a better record than Oshawa in the 1998 playoffs and is the closest the division has to a playoff champion.
Sutherland Cup Provincial Jr. B Champions
- Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League
- Ontario Hockey Association
- Canadian Junior A Hockey League
- Dudley Hewitt Cup
- Royal Bank Cup
- List of ice hockey leagues