Metro Prystai, one of the great names in hockey history, grew up playing hockey on the frozen ponds near native Yorkton, Saskatchewan. He later starred for three years of junior hockey with the powerful Moose Jaw Canucks that won three straight provincial titles. In 1945 and 1947, the team advanced to the final of the Memorial Cup, losing both times to St. Michaels out of Toronto.
Prystai, whose real first name was Dmytro, was such a legendary figure in Moose Jaw that it was said that the day they hung his picture in Thatcher's hardware store on Main Street was his proudest moment in hockey!
Prystai left the little town of Moose Jaw for the big city lights of Chicago to play with the Black Hawks in 1947. Three years later the pint sized center was the team's most popular player, leading the way with 29 goals in 1949-50. But the Hawks packaged Prystai to Detroit in a nine-player deal, which, at that time, was the biggest in National Hockey League history.
Prystai was on the Wings' 1952 Stanley Cup team that swept the playoffs in eight consecutive games, beating Toronto and Montreal.
"We never allowed a goal at home," Prystai said with great pride. "We played four games and Terry Sawchuk had four shutouts. We won the final game 3-0 and I had two goals and one assist. Terry was 225 pounds and so big that you could hardly see the net, but quick as a cat. One year Jack Adams (the Detroit manager) got mad as hell and said he was too big and told him to cut out drinking beer and lay off the potatoes, and he came back the next season 30 pounds lighter, but he was pretty sick from something."
Prystai was the game's first star in the Stanley Cup clinching game in 1952, scoring 2 goals and 1 assist.
The Wings sent Prystai back to Chicago in 1955 in a not so secret attempt to bolster a weakened Chicago team, owned by James Norris, brother of Wings owner Bruce Norris.
"The teams got together and said, 'Look, we're going to send one player apiece to help Chicago.' I was part of the help-the-poor deal," recalled Prystai. "I was kind of half-popular because I had a fairly good year. I wasn't happy to go back because I was enjoying Detroit."
A year later, the Hawks sent Prystai back to Detroit, again. He would slide in and out of the line up, battling injuries, most notably a foot injury that really hobbled him. The Wings sent him to the minor leagues in hopes that he would find his game, but he ended up breaking his leg twice, all but ending his playing days.
When asked if he ever wished he played in the modern era of big money hockey, Metro answered very humbly. His father emigrated from Ukraine with very little, and provided the best he could for his family, and Metro was always very thankful for that.
"If I had a chance to do it over again I would like to do it over again the same, even the same bloody way, even though we didn't get paid a lot of money or anything like that," he said. "But you know I came from a little town. We had nothing. It was just after the Depression. Nobody had any money. Then all of a sudden, - bang-o! You're living first class, you're travelling first class, you're making pretty good money. It was pretty darn good money. We were making close to $10,000 a year but I had buddies at home who worked for 12 months for $3,000 or $4,000."
In all Metro Prystai scored 151 goals, 179 assists in 674 NHL games. He tried his hand at coaching for awhile, first in Omaha then back home in Saskatchewan teaching junior kids in Moose Jaw and Melville. He ultimately left hockey for a variety of careers, including brewery salesman, real estate and insurance sales, and later in life settle in Wynyard, Sask. selling automobiles and raising his family. He also owned a fishing lodge in Northern Saskatchewan where he loved to spend time.
- stick tap to Jennifer Conway