In the fall of 1919, despite winning a Stanley Cup two seasons earlier, Toronto’s professional hockey club, the Toronto Arenas, were struggling to make a profit and ownership was looking to sell the team. Stepping in were the Toronto St. Patrick’s of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) who purchased the team on December 7th, 1919. The pro team adopted a shorter version of their amateur counterparts and were set to take the ice for the 1919-20 season with a new name (St. Pats) and new colours (green and white).
The St. Patrick’s of the OHA chose their name in an effort to appeal to Torontonians of Irish decent. In 1847, the city had 20,000 Irish residents. That year, 38,000 more arrived as a result of the Irish Potato Famine. From then on, Toronto became known as “Little Belfast,” taking on many of the Irish city’s characteristics. The hope was that the newly re-named NHL franchise would tap into this strong Irish culture as well.
Following the name change attendance soared, setting new records; the team’s fortunes began to improve (four straight seasons of playing .500 or better), the appeal of the pro game began to surpass that of the amateur variety, and Toronto’s Irish community started to pour into the Mutual Street Arena from the nearby Irish neighbourhood of Corktown.
The St. Pats most notable season was the 1921-1922 campaign. To start that season, the St. Pats signed 5 foot 5, 130-pound goaltender John Ross Roach. This only bolstered an already impressive lineup that featured future Hall of Famers Babe Dye, Captain Reg Noble, Harry Cameron and star Corb Denneny. That year the St. Pats managed to reach the Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver Millionaires, defeating them in the deciding 5th game. Babe Dye was the hero on that night with a remarkable four goal performance.
Following their Cup year, the team’s fortunes began to slip, they weren’t winning, Toronto’s Irish community was no longer showing up in the numbers they once did and by 1927, the team was up for sale and appeared to likely to be headed to Philadelphia for the price of $200,000. There was to be no pro hockey in Toronto.
Enter Conn Smythe; veteran of WWI and the former General Manager of the New York Rangers. Smythe convinced one of the St. Pats owners, J.P. Bickell, to retain his $40,000 stake in the team and was able to bring together other investors to foot the rest of the bill and purchase the team on February 14th, 1927. Conn purchased a 5% stake for himself and with it, the title of Manager.
When Conn Smythe and the new ownership took over, 80% of the city was of English descent. The decision was made to change the name from St. Pats to Maple Leafs in an effort to expand their appeal. On February 16th, 1927, two days after the ownership change, the team would play its final game as the St. Pats faced against the Detroit Cougars in Windsor, Ontario.