History of the A's

 
 

Joe Cheevers Remembered

 

 

J. T. J. (Joe) Cheevers

Man Behind Legion Sports

The St. Catharines Standard

Tuesday November 30, 1976

 

Joseph Thomas James (Joe) Cheevers, one of St. Catharines best-known athletes and sportsmen, died suddenly here yesterday after a brief illness. He was 62 years of age.

During his lengthy athletic career, Joe Cheevers was one of Canada’s outstanding lacrosse players and was elected to the Lacrosse Hall of Fame at New Westminster in 1967. After playing minor and junior lacrosse in St. Catharines, he spent three years with Canadian senior championship teams in Orillia before returning here in 1938. The Athletics promptly won the Ontario title against Orillia and went on to bring St. Catharines the Mann Cup for the first time in 27 years. Rated one of the best teams in Canadian box lacrosse history, the Athletics won the Ontario championship the next four successive years and the Canadian three of those four seasons.

Mr. Cheevers spent four years overseas with the 10th Field Battery (RCA) before resuming his lacrosse career with the St. Catharines team that won the Mann Cup again in 1946. In 1948, he was the playing-coach of the Hamilton Tigers, the last team to claim the national senior lacrosse championship for that city.

Although he had many skills, he is best known for his ability to win face-offs. “Joe was the best centre man I’ve ever played with, played against or watched,” recalled his teammate Roy Morton this morning. “ He’d get us the ball and the rest was easy.”

After retiring as a player in the early fifties, he coached the senior Athletics and several minor clubs while continuing as Garden City Arena assistant manager. However, his major interest the past 25 years had been Royal Canadian Legion Branch 24 minor sports program. With the late Judd Hall and Shelley Piper, Joe Cheevers formed the first citywide minor hockey league in St. Catharines in 1950 under the sponsorship of the Legion. The first group was the Little NHL at Garden City Arena and was composed of six teams. Branch 24 now supports 24 minor hockey teams.

Mr. Cheevers doubled as president of the minor hockey and minor baseball leagues supported by the Legion and was also convenor of several individual leagues. He was active in other Legion work as chairman of many committees, an executive member and former first vice-president of Branch 24.

 

THROUGH THE SPORTS GATE

by Jack Gatecliff

The St. Catharines Standard

Friday December 2, 1976

 

Joe Cheevers

Seems incredible it was almost 40 years ago Joe Cheevers, Jack (Wandy) McMahon and Billy Wilson returned to St. Catharines to rejoin the senior Athletics and help start a lacrosse dynasty that brought Ontario and national championships here for almost a decade. But the death of Joe Cheevers this week impresses on most of us how quickly time passes.

The late Harvey Dudley, then president of the St. Catharines Athletics Lacrosse Association, was one of the men responsible for recalling Cheevers and McMahon from Orillia where they had helped the Terriers win three successive Ontario titles, and Wilson from the West Coast where he had gone after stops in Hamilton and Orillia. Mind you St. Catharines already had a strong senior team even without that trio who had left town (1) to play lacrosse and (2) obtain a job when work was hard to find. However with Joe, Wandy, and Billy back plus Bill Whittaker in the nets after playing a year or so in Alexandria, the pendulum swung towards this city.

In 1937 Cheevers and McMahon had helped the Terriers eliminate the Athletics in the provincial finals by a single goal in the deciding game. The next year the A’s swept Orillia out four games to one with all the “homebrews” back in St. Catharines jerseys and playing before crowds of more than 4,000 at the old Haig Bowl. The Terriers never won another Ontario championship. The Athletics won the Ontario in 1938-39-40-41 and 1944-45-46. They were also Mann Cup champions in 1938, 1940, 1941, 1944 and 1946.

HAMILTON PLAYING-COACH

After serving overseas with the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Joe returned to wear the double blue jersey another couple of years, but a youth movement had set in here and in 1948 he joined his pal Tank Teather with the Hamilton Tigers. Joe was the playing coach and the team promptly won the national senior championship again.

What was Joe like as a player? Well there weren’t two alike on those marvellous St. Catharines teams. Perhaps the best way to describe him on the lacrosse crease was “a smoothie.” He was rated among the best if not THE best face-off man in the sport and while detailed statistics were not kept at that time, we’d guess he won 90 per cent of all draws.

Although many consider him to be basically a playmaker, he was also an outstanding scorer. In 1938, for example, he was third in goals with the Athletics – 46 in 23 games for an average of exactly two every match – and was also third in points with 81 behind only Roy (Pung) Morton who had 101 and Wilson with 89. He didn’t include the blazing shot of Morton among his many skills or the speed of the late Billy Fitzgerald but could thread a needle with the ball, picking corners from almost any angle. He was to lacrosse what Stan Mikita, in his prime, was to hockey – picking flaws in the opposition’s defence, passing off, shooting when least expected – the all-round player.

IN HALL OF FAME

Needless to say he was in one of the earlier groups of boxla players named to the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in New Westminster. His teammates from the 1938 club similarly recognized are the late Carl (Gus) Madsen who was the captain of the team, Wilson, Morton, McMahon, Whittaker, Fitzgerald, as well as Doug Favell Sr., who played with some of the later clubs.

However Joe gave much more than his athletic ability to St. Catharines sport. He coached minor teams in hockey and lacrosse, and handled the senior Athletics behind the bench for several years after retiring as a player. Unquestionably his greatest off-field contribution was the founding of the St. Catharines Legion Branch 24 sports program with his good friends, the late Judd Hall and Shelley Piper. Until 1950 the only minor hockey group operating here was the Catholic Youth Organization. For other lads, unless they earned a place with the single teams in bantam, midget or juvenile, it meant they were either out of hockey or restricted to six or seven games each year in public school. Joe became first president of the six-team Little NHL when it opened up in the fall of 1950 while Hall was Branch 24 sports commissioner. The following year a younger group, the Little AHL, was started at Ridley and there are now 24 teams.

MAN OF MANY PARTS

Although his summer sport had always been lacrosse, Joe with Hall by his side again, moved into minor baseball in 1952. For almost 20 years the pair became virtually inseparable, acting in almost every capacity in Legion minor hockey and baseball. For several years Mr. Cheevers was assistant manager at the Garden City Arena, then a highly successful salesman here for General Motors.

Friends?

He had them by the thousands, in fact we know of no person who disliked Joe Cheevers. As Branch 24 president Don Frick put it: “Joe will be missed, not only in sport but as a long-time member, executive and vice-president of our branch. There’s just no way of telling how many youngsters, and adults too, he helped during his life.”

It often seemed strange to us that Joe became known in later years as “Gerry Cheevers’ father.” Gerry of course is the Boston Bruin goaltender, thoroughbred owner and Joe’s elder son. Like his dad, Gerry also excelled in lacrosse and was one of the fastest players – from a standing start – we’ve ever seen. But Joe in his playing days was almost as famous an athlete as Gerry is today. So from “Joe’s son,” Gerry became a celebrity in his own right.

Joe lived his 62 years to the full – possibly too full on occasion – but his beaming, well-scrubbed countenance and congenial behaviour regardless of circumstances will always be remembered.

 

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