The University of Prince Edward Island and Saint Dunstan’s Saints have combined for six Maritime and Atlantic university hockey championships.
One of those great years was in 1964-65 as Saint Dunstan’s made it to the national championship game and won a silver medal.
The Saints were blessed with the arrival of Bill MacMillan, already an Island born star with the St. Michael’s Majors in the Ontario Hockey League. The junior star returned home and led Saint Dunstan’s to their second and final title. He led the Maritime conference in scoring with a record 22 goals and 41 points and just three years later he would be playing under Father David Bauer and winning a bronze medal for Canada in the 1968 Winter Olympics. Following that he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL. MacMillan was the Saints MVP.
There were several other star players on the Saints that season under coach Jack Kane Jr. Saint Dunstan’s went 10-1 to capture first place in the Maritime league standings and six points ahead of second place St. F.X. The league consisted of eight teams that season. The Saints outscored their opponents, 87-47.
Bill MacMillan was quoted as saying, “It was probably the biggest season ever for PEI hockey. Island fans love winners and we provided them with that.”
Fans including priests on the campus would jam into the UPEI rink. Sometimes as many as 1,800 came to see the local heroes in action. SDU had about 600 students and most of them came out each night to support the team. There was no glass around boards in those days. Chicken wire was used to protect the crowds and keep the puck inside the ice surface.
Five members of the team would later become coaches with the UPEI Panthers in future years. Players Jack Hynes, Vince Mulligan, Bill MacMillan and Gordie Whitlock would all return as coaches. Jack Kane Jr. was the coach of the 1964-65 group and would also coach UPEI in the early 1970’s.
MacMillan and Mulligan made the first team all-stars in the Maritime Conference – Mulligan on defense and MacMillan on the forward line.
Whitlock was a second team forward and said “We had a good team that year with guys like Dick Tingley and we were winning a lot of games. When Billy MacMillan came we were really building toward something.”
Whitlock said the Saints were an eager bunch “Vincie (Mulligan) was our heart and soul guy and it was a good group.”
There were about eleven native Islanders on the team. One of them was Mike Kelly who would also make a name for himself as a standout baseball player. He was so good he received a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. An injury in training camp ended his aspirations.
The Saints were also fortunate to have some French Canadien born players who were student/athletes at SDU and talented hockey players which helped with recruiting.
Saint Dunstan’s began the season with a perfect record but lost on the final weekend of the regular season to St. Thomas. A 6-5 win at St. F.X. in Antigonish, Nova Scotia clinched first place and the Maritimes conference. Gordie Whitlock recalls it was a hostile environment for the Saints in a small rink but they prevailed and took the league regular season title.
There were no playoffs and the Saints travelled to Winnipeg for the national championships, the University Cup. The games were broadcast on CFCY Radio with sponsorship help from Irving Oil. Mike Hennessey of Saint Dunstan’s and formerly of CJRW Radio in Summerside provided the play-by-play in Winnipeg. It was the furthest distance the CFCY had ever broadcast any road games. One problem did occur in the opener. Hennessey did not get the Sir George Williams starting line-up until the last minute before the game began. The cost to St. Dunstan’s to have the game broadcast was only $60. That would be about $450 in today’s money.
Goalie George MacNeill was a standout, in a 3-1 come from behind effort against Sir George Williams of Montreal in the opening game in the Winnipeg Arena. Whitlock, Kelly and MacMillan provided the SDU goals. Islander Paul Arsenault was the coach for Sir George Williams, who is also a PEI Sports Hall of Fame member. The Saints reached the finals against the host University of Manitoba which was a big team which cruised to a 9-2 victory after leading 6-0.
The SDU rink located on the west end of the campus would last many more years but would not see another championship team until the mid-1980’s and by that time it was only a practice rink. It was old and cold – perhaps the coldest arena in the Maritimes – but was home to the great team of 1964-65.
Several of the Saints gathered for the 50th anniversary of the Maritime Championship in the winter of 2015 with plenty of fond memories. The Saints were honored during a night of champions prior to the UPEI-St.F.X game on January 23, 2015 at the MacLauchlan Arena not far from where the old UPEI rink stood. Eight members of the Saints including Coach Kane, Vince Mulligan and Gordie Whitlock took part in the pre-game ceremonies along with Bev Kelly, widow of Mike Kelly.
Tonight the Saints come marching in one more time as they take rightful place with some of the greatest hockey teams ever from Prince Edward Island.
The team members include:
Coach Jack Kane
Jim Levy, Manager
Vince Mulligan (Captain)
The late Mike Kelly (with us tonight his widow, Bev)
Yvon St. Arnaud
Charlie MacMillan (publicity)
The late Darrel Pollock
The late Dave O’Connell (trainer)
The 1964-65 Saint Dunstan’s Saints, Maritime Champions, national silver medalists and now officially inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame.