From Mets to Saints
St. Albert, Spruce Grove and Edmonton share a legacy of a prominent AJHL franchise
The history may be complicated, but when it comes to provincial hockey, the most dominant team the past 60 years has been the Spruce Grove Saints. While not always recognized under that moniker and having at times also been a home team in St. Albert and Edmonton, the franchise has enjoyed an enviable string of winning seasons including 13 league titles. As the only team—in one form or another—to have been in the Alberta Junior Hockey League since the beginning, it’s also been an ideal talent incubator for more than 50 NHL players. Here’s a brief look at this rather voluminous history of the Saints.
Provincial investors and local hockey fans banded together to create a junior A-level league to provide opportunities for a large pool of amateur talent. The association became the Alberta Junior Hockey League fielding five teams, including two in Calgary and one from Lethbridge.
Edmonton comprised the rest of the roster with the Western Movers and the Maple Leafs. Of the two, the Western Movers were more prominent, winning Carling Cup league championships in 1967 and 1968. In 1972, the two teams merged into the Edmonton Mets.
The Mets moved to Spruce Grove, starting the first wave of the team’s glory years. Their first season saw the franchise earn a league title and a national championship by beating the Guelph Bitmore Mad Hatters in 1975.
They repeated as league champions in 1976, but lost a quarter-final playoff series the following year against the Taber Golden Suns. It was in their final year in Spruce Grove when they introduced a young centre player named Mark Messier into the fold.
Relocated to St. Albert and christened the Saints, the team finished second overall in the league after the 1977–78 season. Much of that success had to do with Messier, but shortly after starting his third season in the AJHL, he embarked on a professional career that would eventually take him to the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. During his brief tenure in the AJHL, however, his output was impressive, having scored 67 goals and recording 106 assists.
Without Messier, however, the Saints won four league championships in 1981, 1982, 1996 and 1998 and fostered the careers of future NHL stars like Troy Murray, Stu Barnes and Mike Comrie. But in 2004, when St. Albert City Council balked at replacing the decrepit Akinsdale Arena with a newer hockey facility, the team announced it planned to move back to Spruce Grove and the upgraded Grant Fuhr Arena.
Despite a different city, the team name remains the same as the franchise continues to add to its legacy. Since their relocation, the Saints have never missed the playoffs and have won five AJHL championships in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2018. Its reputation for developing NHL talent has also remained intact, having been a home for future big-league players like Ben Scrivens and Matt Benning.
But one NHL star has been prominent with the Saints on an administrative level since 2017. Team owner Darren Myshak sold it to an ownership group that included former Edmonton Oilers luminary Ryan Smyth. So far, the group has witnessed the Saints win an AJHL title in 2018 with prospects of more championships to come. t8n