The Middle Years

Maple Leaf Gardens

Canada's Centennial Year witnessed the birth of the Ottawa 67's, as the OHL expanded ever eastward. The team played at the Hull Arena for the first half of their first season due to time overruns on Landsdowne Park, the combined football (Frank Clair Stadium) and hockey (Ottawa Civic Centre) arena that would serve as the team's home once it finally opened in early 1968. As the era of NHL-sponsored junior teams ended, the OHL soldiered on with ten teams in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Peterborough, Oshawa, London, Kitchener, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Hamilton.

The first real shakeup since the birth of the Metro League occurred in 1972. The Montreal Junior Canadiens had migrated out of the lower-calibre Quebec Junior Hockey League a decade earlier after being invited away to sustain the OHL in the wake of the Metro League challenge. Now, ten years later, Quebec had put its hockey house in order and wanted the Junior Habs back. The newly-created QMJHL threatened the OHL with a lawsuit, and a compromise deal was worked out where the Ontario league would grant the Junior Canadiens a one-year "hiatus". An "expansion" team was then created in the Quebec League, which was expansion in name but in reality had the same ownership, Forum, and every other detail as the former OHL team, with the exception of the name - the new team called itself the Montreal Bleu Blanc et Rouge. The players were given the option of either staying with the Montreal team or being distributed throughout the OHL in a lottery - only future NHLer Ian Turnbull chose to move to the O, and ultimately wound up in an Ottawa 67's uniform.

Meanwhile, up in the previously uncharted north of Ontario, the former Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, once so formidable an opponent that the OHA teams were forced to play off against the NOJHL champions for the eventual right to play in the Memorial Cup, was collapsing. 1972-73 saw the OHL poach the two strongest NOJHL teams, as the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, playing out of the Sault Memorial Gardens, and the Sudbury Wolves, playing out of Sudbury Arena, joined the southern circuit. In Sudbury's case, the team was actually semi-merged with the Niagara Falls Flyers, as the Emms family who owned the team sold them to northern ownership. The next season, 1973-74, witnessed the "rebirth" of the Montreal Junior Canadiens, playing in the Kingston Memorial Centre as the Kingston Canadians. The team colours and name may have been the same as the old Montreal team, but for all intents and purposes, they were an expansion team. Around this time, the OHL board of governors actually seriously considered a bid from Thunder Bay for an expansion team as well, but common sense prevailed.

In 1974 the shakeup continued. Prior to that year, all levels of junior hockey in the province of Ontario had been governed by the Ontario Hockey Association, from Major Junior all the way down to Tyke. However, taking a cue from the rebel WHL and the newly-established QMJHL, major junior hockey began to split from the sport's provincial governing body, forming a semi-independent league that would be known as the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League. For the first time, a league commissioner - Clarence "Tubby" Schmalz - was appointed and the OMJHL started to oversee its own affairs. Throughout the 1970's, the Toronto Marlboros also tried their best to keep themselves in a permanent home. Maple Leaf Gardens was booked solidly for most of the decade between concerts, the Leafs, and the WHA's Toros. The Marlboros, in spite of being owned by Harold Ballard, brought in the least amount of money, and were therefore the lowest priority. They played temporarily at the Markham Centennial Centre and North York Centennial Centre here and there in the 1970s, as well as playing the odd home games at the Brantford Civic Centre.

1974 also witnessed the renaming of the old Hamilton Red Wings to their new whimsical portmanteau - the Hamilton Fincups, named for the team's owners, Joe Finochio and Ron and Mario Cupido. They still played at the old "converted factory chimney" otherwise known as the Forum, although the new owners made it clear that they would not be able to stomach playing in the decrepit pit for much longer. The next year saw the league expand further west with the rebirth of the expansion Windsor Spitfires, once again playing out of the Windsor Arena.

In 1976-77, the strangest episode in the league's long history occurred. The St. Catharines Black Hawks had been purchased by the Emms family, former owners of the Niagara Falls Flyers, and Hap Emms decided he wanted his team back in Niagara Falls; as a result, the Flyers were reborn. Going into the 1976-77 season, the defending Memorial Cup champion Hamilton Fincups led the pack with a strong cast of returning players. However, in August of 1976 the ice-making plant in the ancient, battered Forum broke down. Ownership attempted to arrange for the team to play at Mountain Arena for the season, but opposition from local residents prevented it. Hamilton City Council continued to dither about whether to build a 7-8,000 seat building for the Fincups or an 18,000 seat building in an attempt to secure a WHA team, and with no options left in Steeltown, the Fincups moved to St. Catharines's Garden City Arena for the 1976-77 season, uprooting literally weeks before the opening of training camp. Ron Cupido also announced that the privately-owned Forum would be demolished as soon as the local groups who had booked into the building had finished with it. True to his word, demolition started August 27, 1976, less than two weeks after the Fincups announced their move. Cupido noted at the time that he was expecting some opposition to the demolition from heritage groups, but none came. The St. Catharines Fincups would only play one season at the Garden City Arena, moving back to Hamilton for 1977-78 after finally arranging to play at the Mountain Arena. That season still saw no progress on the arena issue though, and, out of options, the Fins and Cups threw up their hands and moved the team down the road to the nearby Brantford Civic Centre, becoming the Alexanders.

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