Submitted by Frank Block
Former two time Stanley Cup champion Metro Prystai – a Yorkton hockey legend – passed away last week. Below is a column from Frank Block, author of the Metro Prystai Story.
Good friend and teammate Emile Francis called him “The best junior hockey player I’ve ever seen.” Friend and teammate Bert Olmstead said he was “The top player in Canadian Junior hockey.” Lifelong friend Clare Drake said “He was the Gretzky of his era.”
Metro Prystai was born November 7, 1927 the sixth of seven children of Annie and Harold Prystai.
His parents had emigrated to Yorkton from the Ukraine. Metro said, “They came over here I think it was about 1896 and they didn’t know a word of English. Nothing. And they wanted to be by the church. I can remember guys coming over there and wanting to talk to them and they couldn’t understand anything and I had to be an interpreter for them.”
The Prystai’s ran a very strict household. Harold worked very hard to feed his growing family. His job with the railroad kept him away from home for long periods of time so Annie became the disciplinarian.
Metro’s sister Mary said, “Well, there [were] seven of us so we had to toe the mark, you know.”
But somehow Metro’s mother seemed to keep things together and raise this large family. However, it wasn’t always easy.
Dolly recalls that “the Christian brothers of the Catholic school were very good. They knew all about us. We used to go and help and they would do things for us, too.”
Every family member helped to get things done around the Prystai home whether that meant working in the large garden or taking care of the family cow.
Mary fondly recalls that “he was a good kid, you know, but a little devil.” And that devilish side never came out more than when he was playing hockey on the outdoor rink at home.
Mary says, “[The boys] used to build a rink out the back of our house. My dad would give them a hand. They would play hockey from after supper until about ten, eleven o’clock, screaming and everything.
Two against one: the twins against Metro, and Metro would get the puck away from them. As he’s skating he’s commentating like Foster Hewitt, ‘Here comes Charlie Conacher down the ice… whatever, whatever…. Oh! He shoots and he scores!” Mary says with a laugh “It was hilarious to hear that.”
She continues, “The boys [Billy and Harry] would be so mad. He was a tease too. He’d say, ‘Loser, loser, loser’ and they’d carry it on into the house… every night during the wintertime. He was okay, you know.”
At the ripe old age of fifteen Metro got invited to play hockey for the Moose Jaw Canucks. Many obstacles stood in his way but none were tougher than the conditions that his mother set. Metro recalls quite well the three rules that his mother said had to be met: “I had to go to school, I had to go to church and [they, the Moose Jaw Canucks couldn’t pay me] too much money.” Other players on the team were making one or two hundred dollars a month, which in 1944 was, according to Metro, “big money.” But, he said, “I was getting I think $25 a month and I had to pay room and board and everything. But my mother says that’s good enough for him.”
He packed his bags and went to Moose Jaw where his hockey talents flourished and this young boy from Yorkton became known as “Marvelous Metro”. People would come from miles around to see Metro play.
While in Moose Jaw the team won three straight provincial championships and two trips to the Memorial Cup. His last two seasons he was the league’s leading scorer, something that earned himself the attention of the NHL, an impressive feat given that in his day there were just six NHL clubs during the glory days of the Original 6 era.
In 1947 Metro made the jump to the NHL with the Chicago Black Hawks. In his third season there Metro centred what became known as the “Boilermaker Line” with Bert Olmstead and Bep Guidolin on wing. In that season Metro scored twenty-nine goals and had twenty-two assists, good enough for third in the NHL in scoring behind legends Maurice “The Rocket” Richard and “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe, who Metro would soon be teammates with.
The following season he got traded to Detroit where he would room at the boarding house called “Ma Shaw’s.” Team mates Gordie Howe, Red Kelly and Marty Pavelich also lived there. Metro would win two Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, in 1952 and again in 1954.
The 1952 Stanley Cup was incredible. The Red Wings defeated the reigning Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs in four straight games and then likewise defeated the Montreal Canadians four straight. In the final game (a 3 to 0 victory) Metro scored the first goal, assisted on the second and he scored the final goal for Detroit in the third.
When I asked him what that was like winning the Stanley Cup that year he said, “Oh, terrific, you know. Sawchuk got four shutouts. They never scored a goal on us at home.”
That’s just the kind of a guy Metro was, he never bragged about his hockey accomplishments which is probably why he was a fan fav-ourite everywhere he played. He was always the perfect gentleman.
The Norris family who owned both the Black Hawks and the Red Wings traded Metro back and forth a couple of times before injuries forced Metro to hang up his blades early in the 1958-59 season. In 674 NHL games Metro got 151 goals and 179 assists for 330 points.
Metro has been inducted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame.
More important than all of the accolades Metro received, he remained a humble, kind and gracious man until his passing on October 8, 2013.