History of the A's

 
 

Junior "A" Athletics

 

Narrative from 1952 to 1995

This page will focus on the St. Catharines Junior Athletics

1952

Team Name: ATHLETICS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Norm MacDonald (former Sr. Athletic)
Notable Players: Justin "Spike" Howe (brother of Ted Howe)
Jim "Peewee" Bradshaw (small & highly skilled)
Allan "Skip" Teal (Don Cherry teammate)

Pete Conradi, Les Howard, Doug Baldwin

Regular Season Standing: 2nd place in a 6-team league
Playoff Results: won semi-final by 3 - 0 over Peterborough Filter Queens
lost Ontario final by 3 - 0 to Brampton Excelsiors
Season Recap: Team manager and sponsor Fred Conradi's ongoing quest for a solid fan base took the 1950 Minto Cup champs to nearby Niagara Falls for the 1951 season. But that injury-plagued and unsupported team was quite happy to come back home to the Haig Bowl in '52 and regroup for another Minto run. Over that summer, the Athletics and the Brampton Excelsiors challenged each other for the league lead and were in a first place tie going into the final week of the season. But twin losses to the Excelsiors to close out the regular season relegated the A's to 2nd place and a semi-final match-up versus the 4th place Filter Queens. A 3 - 0 series sweep of Peterborough would not be without incident; a near riot in game two at the Lift Lock City and a protective police escort to assist with the team's get-away after the game. But then the highly anticipated final against Brampton would turn into a bust, an Excelsior sweep by decisive scores of 22 - 6, 11 - 8 and 24 - 7. The Brampton Juniors of 1952 were led by Huntsville's Jack Bionda, arguably one of the greatest boxla players of all time, and the team would go on to a west coast sweep for the Minto title. 1952 was the junior finale for Jim  "Peewee" Bradshaw of the A's, a small but determined player who came out of the city's east side and was a holdover from the 1950 Minto Cup title team. "Peewee" would be picked up by the Excelsiors for the Minto trip west and later, after a couple of good seasons with the Sr. Athletics, ended up as a very popular player in the British Columbia senior loop for the remainder of his career. Jim Bradshaw's life would tragically end in a 1959 vehicle crash in which he was sleeping in the back seat of a car returning from a lacrosse game. "Peewee's" legacy in the game would be recognized 42 years later with his induction into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

1953

Team Name: ATHLETICS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Jack "Wandy" McMahon (former Sr. Athletic)
Notable Players: Wilf "Wimpy" Roberts (Jr. Teepees hockey player)
Marv "Stinky" Edwards (NHL goalie into his late 30's)
Fred Martin ("large-framed checker")
Justin Howe, Doug Baldwin, Ron "Lulu" Labatte
Regular Season Standing: 5th place in a 6-team league
Playoff Results: did not qualify
Season Recap: There were two main stories to the 1953 Junior Athletics; 1) how an epidemic of injuries would decimate the team in mid-season, and 2) how a late-season call-up of some talented juvenile players would fuel the hopes of a promising future. With the Seniors transplanted to the steamy Garden City Arena, the Juniors now became the prime tenants of the legendary Haig Bowl, and they would open their season with a 14 - 13 win over the Oakville Green Gaels on a last minute goal by Pete Conradi. But by July, the team was on the limp and short a number of key players (Baldwin, Allan, Conradi, Roberts & more) and began losing games by such lopsided scores as 18 - 1 (vs. Peterborough) and 24 - 4 (vs. Brampton). However the Athletics would squeeze together some late season wins driven largely by the inspired play of Ron Roy, Don Baker, Richard Daniels, Gary Hind, Mike D'Amico and Pete Saliken, all  from Bill Mackie's juvenile "Teepees". Saliken in particular was a sensation and on July 18th, Jack Gatecliff of The Standard would even call him "this city's best all-round athlete". Saliken's star would only rise higher when he got into a game with the Senior Athletics and the 17-year-old promptly potted 3 goals and 2 assists on the night. But by that time, the sun had set on the 1953 Junior Athletics as they suffered through their first losing season in the box lacrosse game.

1954

Team Name: TEEPEES
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Bill Mackie (former Sr. Athletic)
Notable Players: Don Baker

(Baker, Howard and Roy combined as one of the top scoring lines in Junior "A" lacrosse in 1954)

Les Howard
Ron Roy
Justin Howe, Doug Baldwin, Gary Smith (Six Nations import)
Regular Season Standing: 2nd place in a 5-team league
Playoff Results: lost semi-final by 3 - 1 to the Long Branch Monarchs
Season Recap: The new name represented a radical break from tradition, but in the summer of 1954 the "Teepees" label was something very special to the residents of the Garden City. The St. Catharines Teepees of the Ontario Hockey Association had just claimed their first Memorial Cup title and the entire city went completely wild in their support of their beloved young heroes. The hoped-for crossover appeal seemed to play out for Fred Conradi's team as the lacrosse Teepees enjoyed the best fan support for any junior team in the city since the pre-war years. The team opened strongly with a pair of early season wins over defending Ontario champions Long Branch and even registered a big road win against the highly-touted Newmarket Green Gaels. But the Gaels with future NHLer Bob Pulford in the line-up, came right back to crush the T-Ps by a score of 14 - 5 at the Haig Bowl and remove any of the team's youthful swagger. The Teepees relied heavily on their line of Baker, Howard and Roy and on some nights they were allowed "unlimited action while the substitutes were just used when the trio became overly tired." But Ron Roy would incur a late-season leg injury and the team went into a slump that ended any hopes of catching the fast-running Green Gaels for first place. With Roy back in the lineup, the semi-final against the fourth-place Long Branch Monarchs was expected to be just a prelude to the final. But the Monarchs stunned the T-P's in game one at the Haig Bowl by a score of 15 - 8. Long Branch was coached by the well-respected Merv McKenzie and featured "Porky" Russell in the nets. The T-Ps rebounded in game two to win 11 - 9 at the new Long Branch Bowl with five goals from the "Port Dalhousie Flash", Les Howard. But the Monarchs then took game three (9 - 6) and game four (10 - 5) to end a Teepee Minto Cup dream. Long Branch would go on to upset Newmarket in the Ontario final before losing in the national final to Vancouver. Incidentally, 1954 was the year that three 20-minute periods replaced four 15-minute quarters, and the rover position was eliminated from the O. L. A. Junior series.
1955
Team Name: NORSEMEN
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Pete Conradi (recent Jr. Athletic)
Notable Players: Ron Roy (nephew of Jim McMahon)
Dave Hall (2nd in league scoring)
Dick Morningstar (16 year-old goaltender)
Gary Moore, Mike D'Amico, Brian Woods
Regular Season Standing: 4th place in a 6-team league
Playoff Results: declined playoff participation

Season Recap:

Fred Conradi stuck to his roots in 1955 by adopting a team name that paid tribute to his Norwegian heritage, named son Pete (barely out of junior himself) as the coach, and went with players that came from his self-sponsored minor teams. The Norsemen of 1955 were virtually a juvenile team playing in the Junior "A" loop and Conradi openly stated that they were there to gain experience and build for the future. The team lost 1954 scoring sensation Don Baker to Jim Bishop's Newmarket Green Gaels, but young Dave Hall would step up to provide a capable scoring partner for Ronnie Roy. In early August they managed to coax the popular Pete Saliken out for a game, but the loss of a couple of teeth during his first shift of action brought an end to the lacrosse comeback of this multi-sport star. The inexperienced Norsemen, playing before a near empty Haig Bowl on most nights, put together a respectable 17 win - 17 loss season and proved that they could compete with the best. The regular season closer was an exciting 10 - 9 overtime loss to the first place Green Gaels in what Jack Gatecliff of The Standard would describe as, "another courageous performance against a club which out-weighs them by several pounds a man and had perhaps three years extra experience per player." The Norsemen of 1955 qualified for post-season action but kept to their original development plans and would forego the Junior "A" showdowns. A majority of the players did drop back for the juvenile playoffs.

1956

Team Name: NORSEMEN
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Pete Conradi (son of Mgr Fred Conradi)
Notable Players: Gary Moore (hard underhand shot)
Don Baker (back after yr with Gaels)
Mike D'Amico (improving with every game)
Ron Roy, Gary Hind, Rich Daniels (back from Newmarket)
Regular Season Standing: 1st place in a 5-team league
Playoff Results: lost semi-final by 3 - 0 to the Brampton Excelsiors

Season Recap:

The 1956 Norsemen consisted mainly of the same personnel that had won successive bantam, midget and juvenile championships on Fred Conradi sponsored/Pete Conradi coached teams. Now with a year of experience in the Junior "A" circuit, many felt that this fast-running club was positioned to capture the coveted Minto Cup, especially since Don Baker was back home after scoring 75 goals for the 1955 Newmarket Green Gaels. The season opened slowly for the team with a 1 - 3 start, but suddenly they mustered a five-win-over-eleven-day run in June and quickly jumped from 5th place to 1st. The team locked up first place in early August with a couple of wins over the last place Mimico Green Gaels, but then they met with disaster in the season closer at Long Branch. The Norsemen showed up with just one spare and lost by a score of 10 - 5. But more significantly, they lost their top scorer Don Baker when he ripped the palm of his hand on the screen at the Long Branch Bowl. The best-of-five playoff with the Brampton Excelsiors, a team they had defeated on 5 out of 6 regular season meetings, would commence at the Haig Bowl the following Monday night. The Norsemen opened a 3 - 0 first period lead with Mike D'Amico scoring twice, but soon the bigger and stronger Excelsiors would keep the St. Catharines attack thoroughly disorganized and Bill Castator would get the hot scoring hand with six tallies to help with a 10 - 8 upset. Game two in Brampton would end 10 - 4 for the Excelsiors and then the sweep was completed back at the Haig Bowl with an agonizing 10 - 6 victory for the visitors. Baker gamely dressed for the third match but was still showing the effects of a seriously cut hand. The real story of this series was how Brampton put up a tight, disciplined, defensive wall to shut down the run-and-gun Norsemen and then relied on the scoring exploits of Castator with eleven series goals to mount the upset. The talent-laden 1956 Norsemen were the best St. Catharines junior squad since the 1950 Minto Cup team.

 

1957
 - no Junior "A" lacrosse in St. Catharines -
   

1958

Team Name: ATHLETICS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Joe McCaffery (future Mayor of St. Kitts)

Notable Players:

Gary Moore (played senior in 1957)
Bob McCready

(future hall of famer)

Wally Thorne (good goal scorer)
Vaughan Aloian, Pat Pelletier, Jim Troyan

Special Recognition:

Gary Moore: O.L.A. Jr. "A" scoring champion and M.V.P.
Regular Season Standing: 3rd place in a 4-team league
Playoff Results: lost semi-final by 4 - 3 to the Long Branch Monarchs

Season Recap:

With Fred Conradi accepting the dual roles of manager of the seniors (now in Welland) and President of the O. L. A., the junior team fell into disarray until Ab Frick, Bernard Rhiel and Joe McCaffery resurrected the double-blues in 1958. That triumvirate had guided a good St. Catharines juvenile team to the Ontario title in 1957 and with 16 members of that team still of "Juv" age in '58, a repeat seemed like a good bet. But in May, the club executive offered the players a choice, stay in juvenile or jump to Junior "A". The boys were up to the challenge and the Junior Athletics were reborn. This fast, lightweight team was almost entirely of juvenile age, but they were given a big boost when Gary Moore opted to drop back to junior after a season with the Senior Athletics. In 1958, Moore was a slim, 5' 9", blond-haired, hard-shooting, stick-wizard and The Standard's Jack Gatecliff would write that "Moore was the best thing to happen to junior lacrosse in this area in many years." The young, unpredictable team played with great inconsistency throughout  the season, beating the hapless Whitby juniors by 28 to 3 in one game and then losing to the same team by 9 to 8 just five days later. A 3rd place finish would mean a playoff engagement with the 2nd place Long Branch Monarchs, the biggest and roughest team in the league. The A's would register their first win of the season in Long Branch to open the series but the Monarchs, led by red-haired Ray Shipway, would rebound to take the next two by scores of 16 - 4 and 13 - 7. In game four, league scoring champion Gary Moore would net six goals to lead the A's to an overtime win and a 2 - 2 series tie before 500 fans at the Haig Bowl. But in the last half minute of that overtime, Moore was crashed into the boards by Joe McCracken and the offensive star suffered a twisted knee. Moore would hobble through two periods of game five, a 10 - 6 loss at Long Branch, before suffering a shoulder injury to completely knock him out of the series. With their backs-to-the-wall and missing their scoring ace, the Athletics edged Long Branch by 10 - 6 in a rough game six at the Haig Bowl. In that game, four players were banished for stick-swinging fights and automatically given suspensions for game seven. The A's suffered more from this as they lost John "Bucko" Inglis and their stalwart of the defense, Pat Pelletier, while Long Branch lost two lightly used spares. With Moore injured, two key players suspended and another important offensive player simply refusing to play, the Athletics fell to Long Branch by 11 - 7 in the deciding game. After the game, Athletic President Ab Frick said, "we are more than pleased with the way the team played all season. We are already planning bigger things for next year."

1959

Team Name: ATHLETICS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Bob Melville (former Sr. Athletic)

Notable Players:

Wally Thorne (Port Dalhousie boy)
Frank Asadorian

(hardest shot in junior)

Pete Berge (Ont. Hall of Fame in 2007)
Wayne Young, Bob McCready, Gerry Cheevers
Regular Season Standing: 2nd place in a 5-team league
Playoff Results: won semi-final by 4 - 1 over Peterborough Petes
lost Ontario final by 4 - 1 to Brampton Excelsiors

Season Recap:

With so many good youngsters available and now with a year of Junior "A" experience to build on, a quiet confidence existed in the Athletics camp as the season began. It was evident from the early going that the clubs from Long Branch, Peterborough and Whitby would not offer a strong challenge to unseat the double-blues from second place, so the team would set their sights on the defending Minto Cup champs from Brampton as their main competition. Perhaps the team's regular season highlight would come in mid-July when their crew-cut goaltender Bob McCready back-stopped the A's to 7 - 2 home win over Brampton, then followed that up a week later with a 13 - 10 win in Brampton on the strength of four goals from defenseman Frank Asadorian. In between those two big games came a 14 - 5 road victory on an evening when temperatures were reported to hit 105 degrees F. in the Whitby Arena. This team was on a roll. The Athletics also succeeded in generating the best fan support in many years for junior lacrosse in St. Catharines. The venerable Haig Bowl was now a mere shadow of its former self as the old 4,200 seat facility had gradually been dismantled whenever sections of the aging wooden stands threatened collapse. By 1959 the seating for only 300 remained. But the entertaining Athletics would fill those seats and also line up all the available standing room with their supporters. This was enough to prompt the City Parks Board to move a 100-seat section of stands from the baseball diamond over to the bowl as the playoffs got underway. A modest renewal perhaps, but the sight of lacrosse fans standing two and three deep around the old lacrosse stadium would provide the impetus for the city to rebuild the Haig Bowl for the 1960 season. The 1959 Junior Athletics would win their semifinal playoff against 4th-place Peterborough by four games to one and celebrate their first playoff series win since 1952. But then the much-anticipated Ontario final would open on a 10 - 6 loss in Brampton with league scoring champion Bert Naylor sparking a five-goal third period rally for the A-B-C Excelsiors. The Athletics rebounded in game two to beat the Dominion champions by a score of 7 to 2 on an evening that had a touch of magic. A nostalgic Jack Gatecliff would write the next day in The Standard, "Lacrosse may be in failing health in St. Catharines, but the rickety remains still breathe fitfully at the Haig Bowl. In the city which produced so many lacrosse greats, the sport is now kept alive by a group of youngsters who have been playing the game as a team for several years. It was not merely the "win for our side" which was encouraging to people who love the game. It was the crowd (a large crowd) that cheered and yelled lustily around the skeleton-like bowl. Lacrosse was not dead for them." Amen, brother. You could close your eyes and almost hear radio sportscaster Rex Stimers with his "Come on you double-blues" wail raining down from his broadcast location at the old Haig Bowl just as it had some twenty years earlier. But as John Prine would say, "sweet songs never last too long on broken radios." The boys of this summer were facing a hard reality and about to be outmatched by their strong adversaries from Brampton. The Excelsiors were on the verge of their third Minto Cup title in three years and would close out this series with wins in each of the next three games. The crumbling and tired old lacrosse bowl fell silent again.

1960

Team Name: ATHLETICS
Venue: Haig Bowl (rebuilt)
Coach: Bob Melville (WW2 vet - Italian campaign)

Notable Players:

Wally Thorne (team captain)
Bernie Olsen

(defenseman turned goalie)

Pete Berge (Teepees '60 Memorial Cup)
Wayne Young, Don Bryson, Brian Thomson

Special Recognition:

Wally Thorne: O. L. A. Jr. "A" M. V. P.

Regular Season Standing:

tied for 2nd in a six-team league (relegated to the third seed)

Playoff Results:

lost semi-final by 4 - 3 to the Whitby Red Wings

Season Recap:

A newly-rebuilt lacrosse box at the corner of Haig Street and Pleasant Avenue stood as a hopeful symbol of renewal and rebirth for the ancient game at one of it's former haunts. The "game is making a comeback" had been proclaimed before, but now with the optimism of a new decade, a good junior team returning nearly intact, and even the runaway senior team returning home, all indications were that it was true. The Juniors of 1960 would thrive in their refurbished home and would never walk off their floor in defeat. But oh, what a different story it was on the road. One win away from home all year. The team could have sealed first place in their final game of the season at Whitby and then controlled home floor advantage throughout the entire Ontario playoffs. But the Red Wings with "a sparkling goaltending display by Port Dalhousie native Bob McCready," held on to their first place position with a 9 to 6 win in the season closer. Former Athletic McCready had been enticed to Whitby with a job offer and was fast becoming a leading nemesis to his old team. The playoffs would open just four days later right back in Whitby and true to form, the A's would lose on the road. Coach Bob Melville credited Bob Coull, "Bucko" Inglis and goalie Wayne Morningstar as his only players that "played anything resembling good lacrosse" in the 12 to 6 loss. But back at the Haig Bowl for game two would be a different story...a 11 to 9 win for the double-blues. Frank Asadorian had just returned to the A's late in the season from school in Detroit and on this night, the hard-shooting defenseman would put four behind McCready. Goalie McCready would later charge ex-teammate Wayne Young in the closing moments of the game and within seconds every player on the floor was involved in an ugly skirmish. Game three in Whitby was a blow-out, 19 to 3 win for the Red Wings. A frustrated Coach Melville said after the game, "we're not that bad and they're not that good and unless some of our players shake it up, they'll be a few of them spending more time on the bench." The proactive coach brought changes for game four by going with two forward lines instead of three, and more drastically, putting defenseman Bernie Olsen into the nets for the first time. Melville made it clear that his young goalie Morningstar wasn't to blame, but he wasn't "getting the protection every goaltender needs. Maybe with a new man in there the players will realize that they just have to get back there and check." Olsen would let in four goals on Whitby's first four shots before the husky 20-year-old settled down and the A's went on to register an 11 to 6 win to tie the series at two. This strange game featured a surly crowd badgering Bob McCready unmercifully until some of the Whitby fans intervened, and then things really got out of hand. Ultimately the police had to be called in to restore order. The Athletics would play their best road game of the season in game five but still come up short. The 11 to 7 Whitby win was the cleanest game played in the series to date. The Haig Bowl homesters prevailed in a tight 8 to 7 game six win with the "fleet-footed" Gerry Cheevers scoring three times to help push the series to the seventh and deciding game. But Whitby's elusive Terry Davis would score four in that final game and the Athletics' season ended with a 12 to 2 road loss. The 1960 Junior Athletics would finish the year with a 13 - 0 record at home and a 1 - 13 road record. The Whitby Red Wings would pick up future Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Famers Pete Berge and Wally Thorne of the A's for their Minto Cup showdown in New Westminster, B.C., but the team would be beaten in five games. Wally would learn of his unanimous selection as the most valuable player of the O. L. A. for 1960 during the long train ride home as his exceptional junior lacrosse career drew to a close.

- Staff photo

1961

Team Name: ATHLETICS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Co-coaches: Joe McCaffery (1947 Minto Cup team)
Bobby Coull (player from 1960 team)

Notable Players:

Pete Berge (team captain)
Gerry Cheevers

(NHL Hall of Fame goalie)

Pat Cheevers (younger son of Joe)
Tom Teather III, Brian Thomson, Jim McGrath

Regular Season Standing:

4th place in a seven-team league

Playoff Results:

lost semi-final by 4 - 0 to the Hastings Legionnaires

Season Recap:

With the age-limit claiming ten players from the 1960 team, the Athletics fully expected to undergo a steep learning curve in 1961. And it wouldn't be getting any better when they lost returning coach Bob Melville after just a couple of games into the season when he accepted the coaching position with the new Niagara Falls Senior "A" club. The Junior Athletics wouldn't claim their first victory until six games into the schedule, and that would come on a bitterly cold mid-June night at the Haig Bowl. But then again maybe the frosty temperatures were just what this team of hockey players needed to get them going. In that game, a 4 to 3 win over Long Branch, Pete Berge from the 1960 Memorial Cup St. Catharines Teepees opened the scoring, defenseman Tommy Teather from the '61 "Teeps" registered the second, and then late in the third period, Gerry Cheevers of the 1961 Memorial Cup St. Michael's Majors netted the winner. Even the low score seemed more akin to hockey. The 1961 Junior Athletics had a few good veterans who were big contributors offensively, Gerry Cheevers could hit full speed after one step and had inherited his father's deadly accurate shot, while captain Pete Berge was a skillful and unselfish playmaker. But as the season wore on, some of the youngsters like Jim McGrath, Bill Thorne (brother of scoring ace Wally), Art Graham and others began to find the net with some regularity. The disastrous start to the season would give way to a six-win in seven-game stretch in mid-July, and the rebounding team had climbed all the way up to third place. In early August the A's even gained some measure of revenge for the prior year when they ended Whitby's playoff hopes with a 16 to 12 victory. On the night, both Pat Cheevers and Billy Thorne scored three apiece, but the real talk could have centred on the seven goal - three assist effort chipped in by a very young John Davis of the Whitby Red Wings. A sample of things to come. The A's would lose their last couple of games of the season, drop to the fourth and final playoff position, and would match up against the second-place Hastings Legionnaires. Hastings was a first-year Junior "A" team manned largely by Peterborough raised players. The series would open in Hastings with the A's absent of Gerry Cheevers, Wayne Young and goalie Bob Dick, all due to work commitments. The teams battled closely and Hastings held a 8 to 6 margin after 40 minutes. But the A's goaltender Gary Van Schagen was returning from a recent appendix operation and was unable to take the floor for the final period. His place in goal was taken by forward Brian Thomson in a move reminiscent of Joe Cheevers in a Mann Cup game exactly twenty years earlier. Unfortunately the gallant Thomson wasn't as lucky as "Curly" and surrendered five third-period goals in a 13 to 6 Hastings win. Game two at the Haig Bowl would see the visitors put together a stretch of six unanswered goals to claim a 7 to 5 victory. The A's fell to Hastings by 15 to 7 in game three before the sweep was completed with an 11 to 4 score against what The Standard described as a "lack-lustre" Athletics team. In the final game Gary Curtis scored three for the Legionnaires while the two goals apiece from the Cheevers brothers were the only shots to elude Hastings' goalie Ted Higgins. Hastings would go on to win the 1961 Minto Cup in what was claimed as their first season of lacrosse in thirty years.
1962
 - no Junior "A" lacrosse in St. Catharines -
   

1963

Team Name: ATHLETICS
Venue: Haig Bowl (new concrete floor)
Coach: Pete Conradi (coached undefeated '62 juvs)

Notable Players:

Doug Favell (NF Flyers '65 Memorial Cup)
Jim McGrath

(hungry goal scorer)

Pat Cheevers (student at McMaster Univ.)
Gary Van Schagen, Art Graham, John Bergsma

Regular Season Standing:

4th place in a eight-team league

Playoff Results:

lost semi-final by 4 - 1 to the Brampton Armstrongs
Season Recap: Long-time lacrosse benefactor Fred Conradi came back to the junior game in 1963 and resurrected the A's after a one-year absence for the team. These lads knew fully well how to win at the juvenile level and even marched through an undefeated season in 1962 to claim the Ontario title. But they were untested at this level and veteran Pat Cheevers would be their only regular with any Junior "A" experience. The boys would open the season with a confidence building 15 to 5 win right at Mimico, and Coach Pete Conradi couldn't have been happier. "I couldn't believe my eyes. They played in almost mid-season form," said the impressed coach after the game. 1963 would see future NHL goalie Doug Favell burst on the junior lacrosse scene and the 18-year-old would rely on his sprinter's speed to score 75 regular season goals. The St. Kitts juniors were continuing a good track record with their second generation lacrosse stars. Jim McGrath was another high-scoring youngster on the team and was just coming into his own before a cracked ankle sidelined him until the playoffs. In fact, the injury bug would have a big impact on the complexion of the entire team as they lost eight players to injuries over an intense five-games-in-eight-day period in mid-season. By late July, there were nights when they played with just five juniors plus seven or eight call-ups from the juveniles or midgets. The team was engaged in a tight late-season race with the Guelph Mohawks and the Long Branch Castrolites for the final playoff position, but a July 30th win over Long Branch would push them into the lead to stay. On that night, juvenile call-ups Bob Cleverley, Dave Landry and Jim McDonald contributed a total of six goals for the cause. The playoff-bound Junior Athletics with a 12 - 12 record would seem to be over-matched against the first place Brampton Juniors with their 21 - 3 record, and the blues suffered a 13 to 6 loss in game one with only ten players in uniform. But game two back at the friendly confines of the Haig Bowl would be the best-played game of the season for the young Athletics as they beat the defending Eastern Canadian champs by a score of 16 to 5 . Setting the pace for the St. Catharines attack was Doug Favell and Jim McGrath with five goals each, and Pat Cheevers and John Bergsma notching deuces. Portions of this game would devolve into excessive rough play with the 165-pound Favell getting special attention from a couple of the Brampton players. But ultimately Brampton was a very good veteran club with half of their team in their final year of junior eligibility, and this experience would shine in their wins of 14 to 7, 14 to 8, and 16 to 4 in the final three games to close out the season for the Athletics. Brampton would eventually lose in the Ontario finals to the Minto Cup bound Oshawa Green Gaels while the St. Kitts Juniors, with almost their entire team returning in 1964, started planning for better days.

1964

Team Name: SUPERTESTS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Pete Conradi (resigned as O. L. A. exec)

Notable Players:

Doug Favell ("fastest in junior lacrosse")
Jim McGrath

("rocket shooting forward")

Dave Landry (calm, proficient rookie)
Gary Van Schagen, Bill Young, John Bergsma

Regular Season Standing:

3rd place in a eight-team league

Playoff Results:

won quarter-final by 3 - 2 over the Hastings Legionnaires
lost semi-final by 3 - 2 to Brampton ABCs

Season Recap:

Team manager and sponsor (and service station owner) Fred Conradi introduced a new club name to St. Catharines’ junior lacrosse in 1964 with the creation of the Supertests. The Supertests were essentially the boyish 1963 squad with a year’s experience, and they would feature a terrific one-two scoring punch in Doug Favell and Jim McGrath. But the team was more than just that dynamic duo…an exciting rookie in Dave Landry with 45 regular season goals, tough defensemen in Art Graham and Bill Hallett, great two-way play by John Bergsma, Sandy Doberstein and Bill Young, plus the solid, if not courageous, goaltending of Gary Van Shagen. This team broke slowly from the gates and could only muster one win in their first four games. Coach Pete Conradi would say, “I’ve been handling lacrosse teams for years, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen one of my clubs play so poorly. They couldn’t pick up the ball, didn’t back-check, and most of them were off in their shooting.” However the month of June would be kinder to the boys and a five-game win streak would elevate the team into third place. The slim, bespectacled Jim McGrath was emerging as an outstanding goal scorer and would finish the regular season with 81 tallies, second only to the 91 picked up by Oshawa’s colossal John Davis. Jack Gatecliff of The Standard would describe McGrath as a “fast-stepping forward” with a “fake shot and shift that works to perfection.” Teammate Doug Favell’s solid 55-goal production was twenty below the output of his rookie season, but first a cracked wrist and then a badly sprained ankle would hamper this speedster’s effectiveness. And throughout the season, the Supertests received outstanding goaltending from Gary Van Shagen. The tall goaltender was particularly adept at throwing a long, accurate pass that often landed in the stick of a fast-breaking Favell. Van Shagen’s performance was all the more remarkable considering the back pain he was enduring and The Standard would reveal that the goalie had a “slipped disk.” He would wear a back brace and in some games he “was in such pain that he actually had to lean on the goalposts for support. However he refused to be replaced.” Late in the season Van Shagen would add a groin injury to his health woes, but still this wasn’t enough to knock this tough 19-year-old from the line-up. The junior boxla game itself in 1964 was a rough and tumble affair, it could even be described as mean and nasty. In one game against Alderwood, rookie Bob Melville was charged by one of the Terriers and was to be carried from the floor by his teammates. Later in the same game, Bill Hallet was severely gashed in a stick-swinging fight with another Terrier. In a game against Hastings, Jim McGrath was brought down hard by the defence and was knocked unconscious for five minutes after striking his head on the floor. Two nights later he was back playing and picked up two goals in a game at Brampton. It was indeed a tough sport, but then on some nights it was still filled with all the grace and beauty that the game is capable of. Late in the season the Supertests defeated the best junior team in the country, the Oshawa Green Gaels, in a fast game at the Haig Bowl that showcased the sport at its best. Jack Gatecliff: “The game last night afforded ample proof that when two running, passing, shooting lacrosse teams are on the same floor the result is certain to be an outstanding spectacle.” John Davis, Gaylord Powless, Favell, McGrath, and the rest, playing the game as it should be. The team finished the season with a winning record and secured third place in the eight-team league. They matched up in the quarter-finals against the sixth-place Hastings Legionnaires and this best-of-five series went the distance as the home team won each match. The semi-final against the second-place Brampton ABCs also went the distance, but this time the Supertests didn’t hold the home floor advantage and their season ended on a late August night in the Rose City. In that final game, Brampton played a 2 – 1 – 2 zone defence and this innovation seemed to completely baffle the fast-running Supertests’ attack. Jack Gatecliff would write that Brampton “put together the best basketball-type zone defence seen in junior lacrosse in years while the St. Catharines rearguard, their Achilles heal all season, was often simply non-existent.” Thus ended a bit of a landmark season. The 14W – 10L record of the 1964 Supertests was the last winning St. Catharines junior lacrosse team until the mid-1980’s. The following season would be the first of 13 straight losing seasons before the juniors eventually folded after the 3W – 19L 1977 season. The sport’s great popularity and success in St. Catharines in the 1930’s and 40’s would inspire and influence the development of a multitude of great, young players in the years that followed. But did the public’s indifference to the game in the 1950’s give rise to a lacrosse drought in the 1960’s and 70’s? The baby-boomers of St. Catharines just weren’t raised to love the game to the same extent as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had been. Oh, but it was not for lack of trying. Dedicated people like the Conradis and the Melvilles and the Fricks and the Rhiels and McNultys and others kept lacrosse going in St. Catharines for years even while it was failing in other centres. And the city’s $10,000 investment in refurbishing the Haig Bowl in 1960…new boards, paved floor, new stands, was a sign that hope still prevailed. For some with fond memories of the golden days, it was just too hard to let it all slip away. Just too hard.

1965

Team Name: SUPERTESTS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Gary Moore (Senior A's top scorer in '64)

Notable Players:

Doug Favell (Ont. Hall of Fame in 2005)
John Bergsma

(82-point regular season)

Dave Landry ("curly-headed forward")
Terry Boyd, Gary Van Schagen, Jim McGrath

Regular Season Standing:

5th place in a nine-team league

Playoff Results:

lost quarter-final by 4 - 0 to Oshawa Green Gaels

Season Recap:

The enigmatic 1965 Supertests had plenty of returning talent and appeared well-positioned to build on the fairly good record of the previous season. But in the drama-less O. L. A. junior circuit of 1965, where eight-out-of-nine teams made the playoffs and all admitted that one "stacked" club had a virtual lock on the title, the Supertests quickly became just another team running in the pack. The untouchable Oshawa Green Gaels were in the midst of their seven-year run as Minto Cup champs and featured a near all-star line-up with such luminaries as John Davis from Peterborough and Gaylord Powless from Six Nations. The Supertests would open the season against the Gaels at the newly-built Oshawa Memorial Gardens and before 3,000 partisan fans, the visitors would be crushed by a 24 to 6 score. Coach Pete Conradi would say, "the Green Gaels played as if they never stopped running since winning the Minto Cup eight months ago. I've never seen a team in such good condition so early in the season." After the team sputtered to a 2 and 4 start, Coach Conradi decided to step down and see if a new face could fire up the boys. Gary Moore had been planning a quiet summer away from the game, but soon found himself not only coaxed back into playing for the Senior Athletics, but coaching the juniors as well. Among the players who stood out for Coach Moore were John Bergsma, who finished eighth in the league scoring, and the cool-headed Dave Landry just two points behind. The Standard's Jack Gatecliff would describe Landry as "a young man who coasts around a lacrosse crease like a sailboat among a group of racing hydroplanes. Easily the calmest player on the floor, Landry seldom appears to extend himself but makes every move pay large dividends." Doug Favell also provided another sterling lacrosse season with 49 goals in just 16 games to compliment his just completed hockey season with the Memorial Cup champion Niagara Falls Flyers. The Supertests' most noteworthy regular season game would come in mid-July when they hosted the Green Gaels at the Haig Bowl and the "homesters" attempted to employ a league rule to avoid an obvious defeat. O. L. A. regulations stated that a game must reach five minutes into the third period before it becomes "official." So when Gaylord Powless scored at 4:33 to push Oshawa's lead to 12 to 6 as the rain clouds opened up, the Supertests goalie Gary Van Shagen judiciously went off for some equipment repairs amid the protests of the Oshawa bench. Eventually the referees determined conditions had deteriorated enough that the 27 seconds needed to put the official seal on the game wasn't possible and the entire match was then cancelled. But the reprieve was short-lived as the next day the O. L. A. awarded the game to Oshawa, fined the St. Catharines club $25 for deliberate stalling and even imposed a $10 fine on goaltender Van Shagen for his part in the affair. Ouch! The Supertests would eventually climb from seventh position to fifth and thus be "rewarded" with a playoff match-up against the 18 - 1 - 1 Oshawa Green Gaels. Superstar John Davis was suspended by his coach Jim Bishop for the first two playoff games for missing a practice, but the talent-laden Gaels still cruised to a 21 to 13 win in game one. In game two the Supertests put together a Herculian effort before an empty-net goal sealed a 10 to 8 win for the visitors at the Haig Bowl. The Green Gaels would complete the series in the minimum four games and then march on to their third straight Minto Cup title. Jack Gatecliff would close out the junior's season by reporting that "the Gaels play lacrosse the way it was intended...accurate passing, quick breaks, tough yet usually clean checking and almost perfect conditioning. It may seem like a large statement but we haven't seen a lacrosse team in almost 20 years which has such a variety of plays. That includes junior and senior clubs." But Gatecliff also had some kind words for one of the home-grown stars..."It's been a long, long time since an individual St. Catharines player has turned in such a tremendous performance in a losing cause as Doug Favell. The Green Gaels double-teamed him throughout most of the series but he still came up with 14 goals in four games. His running, quick shifts and over-the-shoulder shots have been a feature of the otherwise not too successful season."

1966

Team Name: SUPERTESTS
Venue: Haig Bowl
Coach: Dave Hall (active player with Senior A's)

Notable Players:

Doug Favell (12 NHL seasons)
Brian Melville

(57 goals as a 16-year-old)

Dave Landry ("stick-handling wizard")
John Hoculik, Neil Stevens, John Swain

Regular Season Standing:

4th place in a nine-team league

Playoff Results:

lost quarter-final by 4 - 2 to Hastings Legionnaires

Season Recap:

A veritable roller-coaster of highs and lows would mark this junior season as memorable despite the Supertests rather nondescript 11-win and 13-loss record. A young team rebuilding after a massive graduation class of '65, they would struggle through the early weeks of the season and claim only a pair of victories in their first eleven games. This was a team that could score goals aplenty and a number of rookies such as John Hoculik, Neil Stevens, John Swain and particularly, midget-aged Brian Melville, proved that they were quite ready for the offensive aspects of the junior game. But the Supertests' play in their own end was the big concern, along with a disturbing penchant for late-game collapses. Eventually with rookie coach Dave Hall's guidance, the defenders pulled together under a zone defense format and then a very different team began to emerge. The final catalyst for the launch of the Supertest rocket through the league standings was the return of scoring ace Doug Favell from his sore-knee purgatory, and it would all begin with rather unexpected home-and-away victories over the Hastings Legionnaires. The boys followed this up with wins against Toronto, Huntsville, Long Branch and Etobicoke, and the Supertests climb from inglorious ninth-place to fourth-place respectability occurred in just about two weeks. The six-game win streak would then come up against a stern test versus the invincible Oshawa Green Gaels, and on a night when league scoring leader Gaylord Powless of the Gaels was resting his damaged knees, the Supertests went down to a resounding 24 to 3 defeat. But by 1966, most O. L. A. teams conceded that the Gaels were in a league of their own, and the Supertests just rolled off this momentary set-back with a couple more wins to even their season record at 10 wins and 10 losses. Eight wins in nine games, an upper-tier position to secure a good first-round match-up in the playoffs, and the fans taking a larger interest in the team...life was good...right? Well, no. What could defeat this team more convincingly than much of the junior O. L. A. opposition was internal dissention. The Standard's  Jack Gatecliff would report that a couple of the players had quit in a huff after being criticized for not back-checking. And then later in the week a practice was called and only three teenagers turned out. Gatecliff would conclude, "you sometimes wonder, what's the matter with kids today?" Manager Pete Conradi would be quoted in Gatecliff's column, "Don't ask me what's gone wrong. We had better spirit on the club when we were losing. Now they seem to have a couldn't-care-less attitude and if they don't snap out of it there's no sense in going further." The team would win just one of it's last four games, finish in fourth-place, and face the eighth-place Hastings Legionnaires in the quarter-finals. The short-staffed Supertests would need to bring in two players from the Paris-Ohsweken Junior "B" team, including Gaylord Powless' younger brother Gary, but still they would lose game one at the Haig Bowl by a score of 13 to 9. Game two at Hastings was even worse...an 18 to 8 blowout. The Supertests added a couple more reinforcements from the Paris-Ohsweken club and managed to bounce back to take the next two games. But a 10 to 9 loss in game five at the Haig Bowl followed by a 14 to 7 loss at Hastings brought a disappointing end to the Supertests season. Manager Pete Conradi would say, "our problem was lack of depth. We finished the season with just nine of our regular players." The Paris-Ohsweken Junior "B" additions raised that count to just thirteen in a Supertests uniform for the playoffs. This series brought to a close the amazing junior career of Doug Favell and true to form, he contributed 16 goals in the six games. Jack Gatecliff offered this description of a native son in the closing days of his Haig Bowl lacrosse career..."Favell, playing a magnificent game, twisted his way through the entire Hastings team to cut the margin, then added his third of the night on a crease-length pass from goaltender Powless." Douglas Robert Favell...one of the all-time greats of junior lacrosse in St. Catharines.

1966 - EPILOGUE

People spilled off clanging streetcars while Packards and Oldsmobiles prowled hungrily for that last vacant spot believed waiting just around the next corner. The lines stretched along Pleasant Avenue as the sun still hung high in a blue summer sky, and someone shouted and pointed “Hey, there he is!” Maybe it was “Tank” or maybe it was “Gus,” from this distance we weren’t quite sure, but he paused momentarily under a felt fedora and offered a quick wave to the hundreds of eyes turning in his direction. It would take some time, but when that first ticket window awoke and yawned open, everyone took an eager half step forward. And in the steady advance were old married couples and people on their first date, kids with the quarter they earned collecting pop bottles and codgers still sharing stories of when they saw Petey Barnett play on the island. “Now there was a real player!” The staccato of footfalls on plank, the smell of fresh popcorn, an occasional chuckle punctuating the steady murmur, a plea to sit closer together and let more in, the old shades of blue dancing a customary warm-up ritual, a familiar face, and another…these were our hometown boys, they were just like us…ah, bless them all. Bless us all. 

This frozen image stretching across the decades was a cherished memory for some, something to reach out for and to cling to, and something that surely could be real again. For others, it was just a tired old story that perhaps had been retold all too many times by now. This was your past. It was time to let it go. 

By 1966, it seemed that any lingering grip on the past had finally been pried free. The citizenry at large had long abandoned any kinship to the game or any of its “homebrewed” heroes.  And eventually, the players themselves lost interest and started to walk away. In mid-summer, the long tradition of Athletics senior lacrosse came to an end in a St. Catharines parking lot when a handful of diehard players finally decided they couldn’t play yet another road game with the usual one or two spares. What is remarkable is that this situation carried on for as long as it did and was a testimony to the passion and dedication that some players like Ted Howe and Bob McCready still carried for the game. The story wasn’t too much better with the juniors. In 1946, a number of young players came to minor lacrosse sponsor Fred Conradi and pleaded with him to start a junior team. They just wanted the chance to play. But by 1966, some of the new generation of young players, with a different set of life experiences and values, were more apt to “flip the bird” at authority and then move on. Hey, it’s the sixties man. 

And maybe all of this purging was really necessary. What once was couldn’t be repackaged or recycled or rejuvenated or reinvented…all of that had certainly been tried before. Maybe all of this was necessary to allow the game to be reborn another day with its own identity, its own sons of the game and its own standards for comparison. The game’s innate beauty would always endure, and maybe another generation would discover it and claim it for themselves. Maybe the time wasn’t ripe for these baby-boomers…but just you wait.

1967

Team Name: LAKESIDES
Venue: Port Dalhousie Lions Bowl
Coach: Ron Winterbottom (played with Sr. A's in 50's)

Notable Players:

John Swain (team captain)
Neil Stevens

(55 goals to lead team)

Geoff Crane (improving goaltender)
John Hoculik, Ken Holder, Jim McMahon

Regular Season Standing:

8th place in a nine-team league

Playoff Results:

won quarter-final by 4 - 2 over Mimico Mountaineers
lost semi-final 4 - 0 to Toronto Township PCO's

Season Recap:

New management, new team name, new home floor, and a lot of new faces all suggested that this would be a rebuilding year for the St. Catharines juniors in Canada's centennial year. This struggling young team would go winless through its first six games before Coach Winterbottom shortened his bench, dressed only twelve select players and squeaked out a narrow 16 to 14 home victory over the Brampton juniors. "Now that the heat is off, we can concentrate on returning to a more normal approach," said the optimistic coach after the game, "after all we can't afford to have a tired team when we reach the playoffs." The home of the '67 St. Catharines Lakesides was the 20-year-old bandbox Port Dalhousie Lions Bowl...a facility completely utilitarian, spartan and downright unattractive. But it was nestled in a relaxed old-town neighbourhood, and on any comfortable summer evening at the "Port" when the floodlights were sparked up and the boys took to the floor, many residents would stroll down to enjoy a game under a clear darkening sky. This team would actually lose many more than it won, but the community took to these boys and the open-air Lions Bowl became a beautiful place to watch lacrosse in that summer of long ago. Perennial Minto Cup champion Oshawa Green Gaels would visit "Port" in mid-June and send the Lakesides record to 3 and 9 on a night when the phenomenal Gaylord Powless would score ten goals for the visitors. But also noteworthy of that game was Oshawa coach Jim Bishop's innovative tactic of pulling goalie Merv Marshall while the teams were at even strength and pressing to the attack, a move that many long-time lacrosse observers had never seen before. The Lakesides season-long struggle with the Toronto Marlboros for the final playoff spot took a severe blow when five good players quit the team in mid-July. The Standard's Jack Gatecliff would even explain that, "a couple of the teenagers left because they claimed there were too many practices." But Gatecliff would also add, "the lads who have stuck with it are producing interesting, often exciting lacrosse and the way the fans are continuing to turn out is evidence that they appreciate those efforts." The team would clinch a playoff spot in the last seconds of their last game when captain John Swain scored at 19:58 to give the Lakesides a 12 - 11 win over Brampton. The eighth-place Lakesides would then meet the fourth-place Mimico Mountaineers in the quarter-finals, and the series opened with a surprise 12 - 11 win over the Mounts. Coach Winterbottom had these boys fired with determination and the over-achieving Lakesides would go on to take the series in six games over their heavily-favoured opponents. "All I can say is this is the greatest team I've ever seen," said the elated coach after watching his team come from a four-goal deficit to win 9 - 8 in the final game. But the Cinderella story of the St. Catharines Lakesides of '67 ended when they met the powerful Toronto Township PCO's in the Ontario semifinals and lost to the second-place finishers in four straight. A decisive finale, but still the story of this season was a heartening success. This was a team beset with players quitting and even some key injuries at a bad time. But they battled to the last second to earn a post-season position and then through sheer will, made their way past a better team in the first playoff round. Team President John Stevens would wrap it all up by saying, "We've learned a few things this year. I guess we made a few mistakes but we'll be back next season trying even harder. The effort by the lads who stuck with the club just couldn't be faulted."

1968 & 1969

Team Name: LAKESIDES
Venue: Port Dalhousie Lions Bowl
Garden City Arena for 1969 playoffs by O. L. A. decree
Coach: Ron Winterbottom (St.Kitts Sports Hall of Fame)

Notable Players:

John Hoculik (team captain in '68)
Bob McMahon

(sons of long-time Sr. A's standout Jimmy McMahon)

Jim McMahon
Jim Hoculik, Bill Hoculik, John Swain

Regular Season Standing:

5th place in a nine-team league (1968)
7th place in a nine-team league (1969)

Playoff Results:

lost quarter-final by 4 - 0 to Oshawa Green Gaels (1968)
lost quarter-final by 4 - 0 to Etobicoke PCOs (1969)

Seasons Recap:

By the late sixties, the long-suffering sport of junior lacrosse in St. Catharines had secured a comfortable niche market at the old lacrosse bowl on Main Street in Port Dalhousie ward. Though swallowed up by the sprawling City of St. Catharines in 1961, old “Port” still faithfully clung to much of its small town charm and quickly adopted the Lakesides as their own team. The relationship of community and team, plus the rare ambiance of the game played in a traditional outdoor lacrosse box gave a typical Lakesides home game a nostalgic feel. But could all of this last? The Lakesides were the last Junior “A” team still playing outdoors and just as the old Town of Port Dalhousie was powerless to fend off amalgamation by its burgeoning neighbour, the traditional outdoor lacrosse box was soon facing external threats of its own. The Lakesides of this era featured the scoring prowess of the son of a legend of the old double blues. Jimmy McMahon’s boy Bob made the early jump from midget lacrosse in the spring of 1968 and the 16-year-old registered 45 regular season goals in his rookie junior season. When he followed that up with an impressive 69-goal campaign in 1969, many a veteran lacrosse observer started comparing him to the McMahons of old. But Bob McMahon was also a defenseman with the Memorial Cup contending St. Catharines Black Hawks and the hockey team seriously frowned on his summer pursuits.1969 would be his last season of junior lacrosse. Other notables on the team included the three Hoculik brothers, veteran John Swain, and Bob McMahon’s older brother Jim Jr. John Hoculik was voted captain in 1968 by his teammates and Coach Ron Winterbottom said, “Huck would sooner play lacrosse than eat.” Middle Hoculik brother Jim was a spirited antagonist who endured his share of injuries and penalties, while young Bill Hoculik was a pure stick-wizard of old. But though they and several others played with style and panache, the teams of these two seasons rarely enjoyed the heights of success. The 1968 Lakesides finished the season in a three-way tie for fifth place and then were given the dreaded playoff match-up of the undefeated Oshawa Green Gaels. Coach Jim Bishop claimed that his 24 – 0 Gaels actually played more close games than his 23 – 1 team of 1967, but this provided little in the way of comfort for the Lakesides. They lost in four.        In 1969 the team lost top players John Hoculik and Neil Stevens, but many still felt that the number of good returnees would propel them higher in the standings…an unfulfilled expectation. The Lakesides managed only seven wins in the twenty-four game schedule and finished the year in seventh place. All indications were that the club lacked any team cohesiveness and even Coach Winterbottom would remark, “there seemed to be too much individual power and not enough team effort.” Before the close of the regular season, the team received the disappointing news that they were being ordered by the Ontario Lacrosse Association to play all their home playoff games in the Garden City Arena. Team President John Stevens said, “I don’t know what their reasoning is. We’d have been satisfied to play outside, then go under the roof if it rained. But I guess we have no alternative than to schedule all our games starting next week at Garden City Arena.” And herein lies the real story of the 1969 Lakesides, the end of an honoured tradition. Throughout the hey-day of Ontario box lacrosse, the venue of choice was often the outdoor lacrosse stadium. These open-air “bowls,” with their creaky wooden seats surrounding olive-painted boards and fan-protective fencing, often contained a playing surface more similar to an over-sized clay tennis court than the unforgiving concrete slab of some hibernating hockey barn. They were for decades the stage for tragedy and triumph, conflict and comedy, ruin and renewal, and all of it played out before the heavens and mortals alike. Many felt that this was the game as it was intended. Summer breezes, sunset skies, quarter moons, and lonesome train whistles pouring in while eruptive cheers, stray arc-lighting and even the occasional sour grumbling or pointed admonishment spilled out. The close of the sixties effectively brought an end to the use of outdoor lacrosse bowls for anything beyond the minor game. St. Catharines was the last holdout. The practical advantage of dry arenas on rainy days clearly outweighed any of the general comfort or tradition or ambiance of the old lacrosse bowls. Progress for some, but most who loved the old bowls would mourn their passing. The team would have just one final game at the Port Lions Bowl, and it would be a beauty. The opposition being the vaunted Green Gaels of Oshawa, six-time Minto Cup champions, soon to make it seven, and the Lakesides came within a whisker of beating them. The home team put up a stunning performance, played an excellent zone-defense, received four big goals from Jim Hoculik, and never trailed until some penalty troubles late in the game opened the door for a Gaels comeback and a 13 – 12 win. Jack Gatecliff wrote that the Lakesides used a “heart-soul-guts approach.” A pleased Coach Winterbottom said it was, “one of our best team efforts all year. If we maintain that team attitude of mental and physical toughness in the playoffs we are going to be hard to beat.” Even Gaels Coach Jim Bishop offered praise, “For a long time now I knew that if this team ever played together as a unit they would be hard to beat. Tonight showed just that. A vastly improved and underrated team.” And so ended the Port Lions Bowl three-year run of Junior “A” lacrosse. It would continue its life as a home for minor lacrosse for several more seasons before being torn down in the early 1980’s. In the playoffs, the Lakesides would offer their coach the team attitude that he tried to instill in them, but two heartbreaking overtime losses in games one and two against a good Etobicoke team dashed their hopes. They lost in four.

1970

Team Name: LAKESIDES
Venue: Garden City Arena
Coach: Gary Moore (Ont. Lacrosse Hall of Fame)

Notable Players:

Brian Melville (former star returns to team)
Bill Hoculik

(exceptional stick skills)

Randy Rigby (husky goaltender)
Al Thompson, John Mouradian, Kevin Sweitzer

Regular Season Standing:

7th place in a eight-team league

Playoff Results:

won quarter-final by 3 - 1 over Mississauga PCO's
lost semi-final 4 - 1 to Bramalea Excelsiors
Season Recap: 1970 would mark the end of the seven-year reign of the Oshawa Green Gaels as the absolute power in Canadian junior lacrosse. Jim Bishop brought a heretofore unheard of level of professionalism to the junior game with his innovative coaching techniques, an aggressive approach to recruiting talent, and a devotion to rigorous conditioning and strict discipline. The string of seven consecutive Minto Cup championships would eventually warrant Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame induction for the teams that few could dispute had elevated the bar to stratospheric heights. But with Bishop departing for a position in the Detroit Red Wings organization, the door was now opened for a more competitive junior O. L. A. and along with that, an upswing of interest in the junior game. No longer was the title conceded each spring to the same team as the talent-laden Green Gaels would pummel away at any and all opposition, year after year. Why now even a lowly seventh-place team had reason to feel that they had a shot. In St. Catharines, the juniors reluctantly made their permanent move indoors to the 31-year-old Garden City Arena and actually drew a respectable 1,500 for their home opener. The “Gas-O-Rama” Lakesides would welcome a new corporate sponsor and a fresh leadership team with the legendary Roy “Pung” Morton as club president along with the soft-spoken and capable Gary Moore behind the bench. Though they lost the services of scoring ace Bob McMahon, now rumoured playing for Rochester of the North American Lacrosse League, they happily picked up the talented Brian Melville who missed several Junior "A" seasons after scoring an eye-popping 57 goals as a midget-aged rookie in 1966. This team would hold a .500 record into mid-June despite suffering through three painful home losses, each on a single goal scored very late in the game. A frustrated Coach Moore would comment, "The other teams just did a little more digging in the last few minutes and that's how games are won. We've got to start playing 60 minutes of lacrosse. Anything less just isn't enough." In late June, the Lakesides embarked on a very rough eighteen-day period when they lost seven out of eight games. But then a noticeable improvement occurred just about the time they brought in netminder Randy Rigby. In a day when lacrosse goaltenders wore minimal equipment and they counted more heavily on cat-like reflexes to shut the door, the large-framed Rigby could effectively square up to the attackers and rely more on his size and good positioning to protect the cage. Rigby's solid goaltending was a real late-season shot in the arm for the Lakesides. In the closing week they mustered a couple of close home victories over a still potent Green Gael team and though they were entering the playoffs as a seventh-place underdog, they now carried a new-found sense of confidence. Jack Gateliff of The Standard would write, "Coach Gary Moore, the executive and the Lakeside players feel that despite their relatively low position they'll give an excellent account of themselves in the upcoming playoffs." The best-of-five quarter-final playoff would open on Tuesday July 28th at the Port Credit Arena against the third-place Mississauga PCO's, and the hustling Lakesides would come away with a surprise 14 - 7 victory. One night later at the Garden City Arena, the over-powering Lakesides out-shot the PCO's by 64 to 37 to emerge with a 2 to 0 series lead on their 19 - 13 win. It was an exciting night as PCO's goaltender Gary Powless kept the score close through two periods before the Lakesides erupted for 9 goals in the final period. Barry McNaughton of The Standard would report, "The turning point of the game came early in the final period when Melville scored a shorthanded goal to ignite a three-goal outburst. Twenty-seven seconds after his first effort, Melville knocked in his own rebound to give the Lakesides a three-goal lead. Then right from the face-off, Tom Stockwell picked up a loose ball and walked in to score on the shell-shocked Powless." Game three was back in Port Credit on the very next night and Mississauga would stave off elimination with a 16 - 15 overtime win. But then after a rare day off, the Lakesides would complete the series upset on a 10 - 5 win with Bill Hoculik notching three goals and two assists. Hoculik was in his final year of junior eligibility and came up with a remarkable fifteen goals and eleven assists in this series. There was very little that the third Hoculikbrother couldn't do with a lacrosse stick, for whatever he lacked in foot-speed was more than made up for with his good old-fashioned stick savvy and a very creative mind. This series win had a feel of redemption for the St. Catharines Lakesides and a gratified Coach Moore would give all the post-game credit to the boys by saying that they "played their hearts out throughout the series. In every game they gave 100 percent and their hard work has paid off." The Lakesides squared off against the well-rested Bramalea Excelsiors in the best-of-seven semi-finals and the first two matches were low scoring Bramalea wins, 4 to 2 and 9 to 4, with much credit bestowed upon goalies Randy Rigby of the Lakesides and Larry Smeltzer of Brampton. (Smeltzer was the first winner of the Bob Melville Memorial Award given to the goalie with the fewest goals against --- it was named for the former Sr. A's player, Jr. A's coach & wounded WWII veteran that had passed away suddenly in May of 1970. Bob was also the father of Brian Melville of the '70 Lakesides). After Brampton opened up a three game series lead, the Lakesides captured their only win with a 13 - 10 penalty-filled victory in St. Catharines on a night that Al Thompson and Tim Howe each scored three. The Excelsiors then closed out the Lakesides season with a  hard-fought 12 - 10 win to move on to the Ontario finals. The regular season standing of the St. Catharines Lakesides of 1970 really belied what was in fact a pretty good little lacrosse club, a team that provided plenty of exciting lacrosse for the disappointingly small crowds that showed up at the their new indoor home.

1971

Team Name: LAKESIDES
Venue: Garden City Arena
Coach: Gary Moore (played for '71 Mann team)

Notable Players:

John Mouradian (played field lax at Ithaca)
Kevin Sweitzer

(44-goal season)

Bob Peppler (St. Kitts Jr. A hockey)
Bruce Jackson, Bob Luey, Ken Holder

Regular Season Standing:

7th place in a seven-team league

Playoff Results:

lost quarter-final by 4 - 0 to Peterborough P.C.O. Teepees

Season Recap:

With the circus booked into the Garden City Arena, the Lakesides played a May 19th home game at the Port Lions Bowl and came away with a convincing 19 - 3 win against the defending Minto Cup champion Lakeshore Maple Leafs. And then three nights later back in the arena, they edged the Mississauga PCO's to build some early expectations that this team could compete with the very best in the junior O. L. A. of 1971. But the boys were to register only three more wins that season and finish with a last-place record of 5 wins and 25 loses. A difficult nine-game losing run through much of June would only be surpassed by an agonizing ten-game losing streak to close out the regular season. The Lakesides returned seventeen players from the not-so-awful 1970 team, but on this new season they would hunger for the missing goal-scoring prowess of former mates Brian Melville and Bill Hoculik. Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle of the 1971 team was the addition of Huntsville's Bob Peppler in mid-July. Peppler was an enormously popular hockey player with the Ontario Junior "A" champion St. Catharines Black Hawks before bringing his considerable lacrosse talents to the home of some of his best hockey memories. He was no stranger to losing lacrosse teams after scoring 86 goals for the 1 and 27 Huntsville Hawks in 1970, but few athletes ever played with any more heart or more determination than the 5' 9" fireball Bob Peppler. Peppler had won the Dennis McIntosh Trophy as league MVP in 1970 and on the evening that he was given O. L. A. permission to play with St. Catharines...the eager 20-year-old leaped over a railing at the arena, dropped about six feet to the concrete floor and raced full speed to the dressing room to get ready for the third period of a Lakesides game already in progress. He would be a welcomed addition to the club and add some punch to the offence, but little could save the fortunes of this star-crossed team. The attendance at the final regular season home game was reported in The Standard as 132 payees...50 adults, 50 students and 32 children. Lakesides' Vice-President Ron Winterbottom would say, "We've averaged around 200 and usually clear $100 after paying the arena percentage and the referees. But $100 isn't enough to cover us for an away game and we'll be lucky to break even at the end of the season." The game was going through some difficult times in the once proclaimed home of lacrosse, and the Lakesides season would close after a four-game playoff sweep to the eventual Ontario champion Peterborough Teepees.

Post Script:  For Coach Gary Moore there was much more to come in that summer of '71. Just as the Lakesides season was winding down he joined the Brantford Warriors (Sr "A") as a player and became part of that great Mann Cup team alongside Bob McCready and Ted Howe of St. Catharines.

 

 

1972 - 1973

Team Name: LEGIONNAIRES (sponsored by Legion 350, Port Dalhousie)
Venue: Garden City Arena 
Coach: Dick McGrath  (defenseman with '54 juniors)
Notable Players: Tom Patrick (327 career junior goals)
John Mouradian (G.M. of the San Jose Stealth)
John Howe (son of goalie Justin Howe)
Scott Hudson, Bruce Richardson, Les Bartley, Ted Howe Jr.

Regular Season Standing:

6th place in a eight-team league (both seasons)

Playoff Results:

lost quarter-final by 4 - 0 to Peterborough PCOs (both seasons)
Seasons Recap: With about half of the 1972 Branch 350 Legionnaires comprised of rookies, Coach Dick McGrath felt that some added conditioning would compensate for a general lack of experience and he had the boys working hard throughout a long pre-season. And just maybe this really succeeded in providing a bit of an early season jump for the team as they built a fairly respectable 3 and 3 record by late May. But then a six-game losing streak in early June dropped the team to last place and set the stage for a season-long battle with Oshawa, Lakeshore, Mississauga and Etobicoke for one of the final playoff spots. 1972 would introduce future Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame player Tom Patrick to the junior game and this strapping lad recorded the first 58 regular season goals of his outstanding four-year career with the perpetually struggling Legionnaires. The '72 team didn't lack for scoring punch as young Patrick's offensive firepower was augmented by 30+ goal-scoring seasons from Al Thompson, Bruce Jackson, John Howe, and John Mouradian. With the bottom five teams separated by just four points and fighting for the final three playoff spots going into the last week of the season, the Legionnaires came up with their biggest win of the year...a 16 - 11 upset over the second-place Excelsiors right in Bramalea. In that game, Patrick and Mouradian each notched four goals while Al Thompson had a nine-point evening to help propel the team past Mississauga and Etobicoke in the standings. The team's ultimate playoff fate was determined in the final game with another big road win, this time in Rexdale. The sixth-place Legionnaires actually matched-up fairly well with most of the teams in the Ontario junior circuit of 1972 as only nine points separated the third-place Rexdale Warriors from eighth-place Etobicoke. This was a league that was thoroughly dominated by the 28W - 0L Peterborough PCOs and in the opening round of the playoffs, that Minto Cup bound team would extend their record to 32W - 0L with a sweep of the Legionnaires of 1972.        In 1973, the Legionnaires would get off to a very rocky start......just one win in their first seven games, veteran Bob Luey out with a season-ending knee injury, and an ugly fight that sent a St. Kitts player to the hospital. Coach McGrath was furious with the game officials for reportedly letting the fight go on too long. Hugh Learmonth of The Standard would write: "McGrath said that his players had been told not to interfere in a fight because of the threat of a game misconduct penalty, but he indicated that he hoped they wouldn't stand back again in a similar situation." The 1973 Legionnaires would become the battling Legionnaires with a one-for-all-and-all-for-one approach, and the team played in several 100+ penalty minute games that contained some real donnybrooks. Two members of the Legionnaires would lead the league in penalty minutes, but two others would go on another kind of a rampage, that of the goal-scoring variety. Second-year player Tom Patrick would register 142 points (80 goals) while fourth-year player John Mouradian finished close behind with his 123 points (58 goals). That duo's scoring exploits would position them in second and fourth place in the overall league offensive records for the summer of '73. In July, the diminutive Mouradian would accept a field lacrosse scholarship to Ithaca College and become one of the first area box lacrosse players to combine athletics and academics at that level (following Ted Greves [Ithaca] and Mike French [Cornell]). The Legionnaires would close their home season with a roughly-played win over Bramalea to secure the sixth and final playoff position, and thereby earn a playoff date with the powerful 26W - 2L Peterborough PCOs. With Coach McGrath sidelined with a broken ankle as the season ended, team executive Ron Winterbottom stepped behind the bench once again and much like his Lakesides team of '67, he instilled a go-for-broke attitude with the heavy underdogs. The Legionnaires of '73 would indeed lose in four, but their determined and gallant efforts against such an overwhelmingly strong opponent earned the respect of their fans and opponents alike. The two games played at the Garden City Arena were particular gems...Peterborough wins of 10 - 9 in game two and 12 - 11 in overtime in game four. In that final game, the Legionnaires were down 9 - 5 midway through the third period but battled back to force the overtime. "We are really proud of these guys," said Coach Winterbottom. "They were beaten by a great team but they put up a good showing." John Mouradian scored four goals in his final game for the Legionnaires and the team ended their tumultuous four-season run at the Garden City Arena with a standing ovation as they left the floor.

1974 - 1975

Team Name: LEGIONNAIRES (sponsored by four area Royal Cdn Legions)
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena  (opened in the fall of 1973)
Coach: Stan Ignatczyk (1974) (future mayor of N.O.T.L.)
Russ Snyder (1975) (assistant coach in 1974)
Notable Players: Tom Patrick (Brampton Mann Cup Capt)
Hector "Mark" Pothier (Eskimos all-century team)
Les Bartley (Toronto Rock coach)
John Howe, Mike McGrath, Dan Atkinson

Regular Season Standing:

8th place in a eight-team league (1974)
7th place in a eight-team league (1975)
Playoff Results: (1974) won "division 2" round robin by 4 - 2
(1974) lost semi-final by 4 - 0 to Peterborough Gray-Munros
(1975) Did Not Qualify
Seasons Recap: You could almost sum up the entire 1974 season of the St. Catharines Legionnaires with the banner headings of some of Jack Gatecliff’s columns in The St. Catharines Standard

May 2nd:     “Legionnaires Ready”
May 14th:     “Legionnaires Home Opener”
June 26th:      “Pete Is Angry”
August 2nd:    “From Bad to Better”
August 8th:     “Important Game Tonight”
August 10th:   “Legionnaires Advance”

New coach Stan Ignatcyzk, a former St. Kitts junior player and Niagara Jr. “B” Warriors coach, had this team working diligently for several months before Gatecliff’s May 2nd byline. The prospects certainly appeared good with 80-goal scorer Tom Patrick back in the fold plus another 14 seasoned juniors returning from the 1973 team. The team was now taking up headquarters in the cozy, new Bill Burgoyne Memorial Arena where a few hundred spectators would pass as a crowd and the “temporary” seating of planks on cement forms could, “for the time being at least, serve the purpose well.” The location of the new building in north St. Catharines was also considered a plus and Gatecliff would write, “The team has traditionally attracted most of its support from Port Dalhousie and Grantham wards, dating back to when the games were played at the Port Dalhousie Lions Bowl.” By the time of Gatecliff’s May 14th article when the 0W – 2L Legionnaires were about to play their first home game, optimism still prevailed as team defense seemed to be the only pressing concern….“(they) seem to have enough scoring punch to finish well up in the standings if they can cut down on the goals against.” But by the end of June the team was clearly struggling with a 3W – 11L record and manager Pete Conradi, fresh from helping to start a good Junior “B” program in nearby Virgil, needed to blow off some steam about his St. Catharines juniors in a Jack Gatecliff sports column. “What I can’t understand is how some of our better players just don’t seem to care. Four or five are always late for practice, some appear just before game time and I’m sorry to say that some just seem to ignore what their coach has to tell them.” They would finish the season in last place with a 6W – 22L record but owing to an unusual playoff format in 1974, the club would advance into a round-robin showdown of the bottom four teams to determine the one team that would move on. And here is where the 1974 Legionnaires began to shine. On August 2nd, Jack Gatecliff would write, “We would be stretching a point to say that St. Catharines Legionnaires had even a mediocre schedule…(but) it’s absolutely remarkable how much the team has improved since the end of the schedule…during the schedule some of the teen-agers appeared as if they could care less…but regardless of these problems, Stan Ignatczyk and Russ Synder have them working well” It would come down to the last game of the round-robin as the 3W – 2L Legionnaires met the 3W – 1L – 1T Lakeshore Maple Leafs at the B.B.A. Manager Conradi would say before that final game, “Everyone’s working hard and while you hate to pick out individuals, Tom Patrick has been our leader.” And Jack Gatecliff would add, “From what we’ve seen, Patrick is one of the best juniors – if not THE best – to develop here in several years.” Patrick would deliver another outstanding game with four goals and two assists, and big games would also come from the likes of Mike McGrath, Mark Pothier, Rick Gingras and others, but much of the post-game credit for the 19 – 14 win over the Maple Leafs would be directed towards their plucky 5’ 6” goaltender Jim Hopgood. Jack Gatecliff – “Quick Jim Hopgood was absolutely superb in the St. Catharines nets. He stopped at least a dozen close-in shots when his defense permitted some loose Leafs to stand around his crease, and late in the third period, stuck his left shoulder up onto the top corner to save an almost certain goal. He was helped to the bench but returned to continue his outstanding play and was given one of many standing ovations accorded the club by the most enthusiastic lacrosse fans to watch a game here in several years.” This important win and in particular the rallying support of the fans, would be the shining moment for the team in the '74 and ’75 seasons. On August 10th, Jack Gatecliff would write of the spectators, “We’d guess it’s been at least 15 years since anything like this has happened to a St. Catharines lacrosse team and there’s no question it helped them pull away from the Leafs in the last 20 minutes.” With a much-troubled regular season clearly behind them, this improving Legionnaire team was now pitted against the powerful Peterborough Gray-Munros in the Ontario junior "A" semi-finals. But the “Petes” of Paul and Brian Evans, J. J. Johnston, Steve Plunckett and Bob Wasson were building a 42W – 0L record against Ontario competition that summer, and rolled over the St. Kitts juniors by one-sided scores of 26 to 8, 23 to 8, 43 to 9, and 24 to 13 to close out the 1974 season of the Legionnaires.          In 1975, the Legionnaires had almost the entire ‘74 team back and looked good in their home opener, a 15 – 14 win over the Bramalea Excelsiors. But they would close out the month of May with a 1W – 5L record and a perturbed Coach Synder would say, “One thing is certain, things just have to get better, and I mean from the goal out. Sure our goalies are making some fine saves but they are letting too many others in they should stop with no trouble. At the other end there’s too much fancy shooting. Four or five times we had good scoring chances, their goalie was out of position, but instead of taking the easy forehand shot, our guys tried the tricky over-the-shoulder deal.” Eventually things did get a little better when a nice four-game winning streak through the middle of June brought the club’s record to 6W – 7L, and equal their win total of the entire 1974 regular season.  Tom Patrick was again the team’s main offensive force, just as he had been for the previous three years. At a solid 6-foot and 200 pounds, Patrick could also move fast and release a hard shot on the run. Jack Gatecliff of The Standard was fond of comparing him to one of his own boyhood heroes, “Pung” Morton. “As we’ve mentioned before, the similarity between Patrick and Roy (Pung) Morton when the latter was shooting bombs for the old senior Athletics a few years ago is remarkable. He rolls off checks much the same as Morton and has a fine side-arm shot which Morton also used to perfection.” Another St. Catharines veteran winding up his junior career in 1975 was Hector “Mark” Pothier, a 6’ 4” 275 pound behemoth who was a force on the defense. On one occasion Gatecliff would write, “It’s worth the price of admission alone to see Pothier on his bulldozer-type dashes as the opposition bounces off his massive frame. He’s not an overly-rough player despite his size but uses his weight to good advantage.” Pothier would go on to play for the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos from 1978 to 1989, be part of six Grey Cup teams and in 2005 be named to the Eskimos’ “all-century” team (offensive lineman). The 1975 Legionnaires finished out of the playoffs with an 11W – 17L record, a five-win improvement over '74 but just a single point behind the sixth-place Oshawa Green Gaels. No post-season drama for this team. After the long season, a young Coach Synder couldn’t help but think of how things could have been just a little different, “We won our first game at home and then played in Oshawa. We were in front by three or four goals in the final period and looked like we had it won, but they came back to beat us. I said after that game it might come back to haunt us and it did.”

1976 - 1977

Team Name: LEGIONNAIRES 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena 
Coach: Russ Snyder (1976) (returning coach)
Dick Morningstar (1977) (goalie with 1st place '56 jrs)
Notable Players: Roger Dunkley (145 career junior goals)
John Gibson (played 48 games in NHL)
Don Rickers (captained 1977 team)
Bob Cullen, Paul Weller, Jim Weller

Special Recognition:

Peter Conradi: "Tip" Teather Trophy, "Mr. Lacrosse" (1976)

Regular Season Standing:

4th place in the five-team western division (1976)
11th place in a twelve-team league (1977)

Playoff Results:

(1976) lost quarter-final by 4 - 0 to Bramalea Excelsiors
(1977) Did Not Qualify
Seasons Recap: The curtain opened on the Legionnaires 1976 season with five big wins in their first seven games and provided what was widely regarded as their best start in many years. “When you figure we had only a half dozen holdovers from last season, we’re doing pretty well,” said Coach Russ Snyder. “Let’s change that and say we’re doing even better than expected.” The team stalled through the middle of June before a fine 18 – 9 win over the Oshawa Green Gaels seemed to get them back on track in what Jack Gatecliff of The Standard would call “as good a display as has been exhibited by a St. Catharines junior team in the last few years.” But the boys would lose the next five, then register a dramatic come-from-behind win over the Hamilton Bengals, before proceeding to lose ten out of next eleven to mire themselves solidly in last place. Part of the problem was inexperience and part of it was injuries. Bob Turner and future University of Massachusetts field star Jim Weller were knocked out of the line-up with broken wrists, rugged seventeen-year-old John Gibson returned from a fractured hand in June only to suffer the same injury a second time, and talented youngster Bob Cullen was persistently nagged by an elbow injury. After one loss, Coach Synder would comment, “It wasn’t a case of not trying. We’re missing Bob Cullen and John Gibson and you can’t just take away two of our better and more aggressive players and expect to fill the gap easily.” Things appeared gloomy for the team that trailed Kitchener by just a single point in the playoff hunt when they traveled to Bramalea for their final game of the regular season. On this must-win night, captain Roger Dunkley would record four goals and six assists to help propel the Legionnaires into the playoffs with a 16 – 12 upset win over the division leading Excelsiors. The team had squeaked into the post-season by the narrowest of margins, and then bowed to the same Bramalea Excelsiors team in four straight playoff games. Despite the playoff sweep, there was a sense of satisfaction in the 1976 team that was billed as building for the future. “We surprised everybody when we got off to such a fast start,” remarked Coach Synder. “You get caught up in that and start expecting more than we’re really capable of. There are some good prospects on this team this year. Guys like (Bob) Cullen, (Paul) Weller, (Tom) Wall and (John) Gibson could develop into excellent players.”        But then the following season of 1977 would turn out to be the very final campaign for the Legionnaires. The club opened with one win in their first three games…closed with two wins in their last three games…and struggled through an agonizing sixteen-game losing streak in between. Nothing, but nothing, would go right for this team. Manager Dick Morningstar would need to be “parachuted” in as coach after a surprise resignation a month into the season, injuries and illness would keep some of the key personnel out of the line-up for extended periods, and a few of the young players would walk away in anger or frustration. Captain Don Rickers would aptly sum up the season in just a few words when he said, “It’s just one of those things. Maybe next year.” The last game of the 1977 season…the last lacrosse game for many of the boys…would be this team’s finest hour. At stake were pride and an escape from last place in a match-up of two 2W – 19L teams. It was a hot, humid evening and the Bill Burgoyne Arena turned into an oppressive sauna as the Kitchener Braves and the Legionnaires stepped onto the floor before a handful of spectators. Jack Gatecliff of The Standard would report, “the fans deserve medals being struck for them for sticking it out in the 100 degree temperature but for the players it was pure torture. That no one was carried out with heat prostration was as remarkable as Legionnaires reaching and passing the 20-goal mark for the first time this year.” Paul Weller, Don Rickers, Larry Wormald and Kevin Berswick all scored three in the 23 – 10 win, and a bit of a celebration accompanied the end of what was for many a very difficult season. But the meager significance of wins and losses, of titles and rings and of passing glory, would all be brought into startling clarity just a short time after the season’s end when young Steve Staats of the St. Catharines Legionnaires was tragically killed in an automobile accident. Now was the time for the tears. The rumours that the team was folding began soon after the final buzzer of the final game. But it would take until March of 1978 before the hard decision would finally be  made…the Legionnaires would play no more. Legionnaires President Bob Makins would say, “We called a final meeting a few days ago to make a last-ditch attempt to form a team. Just five directors turned out and we had collected the names of only 13 players who were ready to start training.” Even finding a coach and manager would be a problem, as the old guard simply couldn’t go on indefinitely. They were left with no alternative but to “put the team on the shelf for a year.” It would be the first time since 1931 that St. Catharines had neither a Senior “A” nor a Junior “A” box lacrosse team.

1978 - 1981

 - no Junior "A" lacrosse in St. Catharines -

        

1982 - 1983

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Sponsor: Golden Pheasant Tavern 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena 
Coach: Jim Hopgood & Ted Howe Jr. (co-coaches in 1982) former Junior Legionnaires
Jim Brady (1983) successful coach in Whitby

Notable Players:

Ted Sawicki future M. I. L. L. all-star
Kevin "Cubby" McNulty son of Joe McNulty (Sr. A's)
Rob Henry 88 points in 1982
Keith McLeod, Jeff Calder, Scott Madole

Regular Season Standing:

5th place in a nine-team league (1982)
1st place in five-team "Tier 2" division (5th overall) (1983)

Playoff Results:

(1982) lost quarter-final by 4 - 0 to Etobicoke Eclipse
(1983) won Tier 2 semi-final by 4 - 1 over Mississauga
(1983) lost Tier 2 final by 4 - 1 to Hamilton Bengals

Seasons Recap:

105 years after the creation of the original St. Catharines Athletics lacrosse club, the Juniors returned to the Garden City in 1982 and resurrected an old name steeped in a rich tradition. The ATHLETICS…the old double blues…once the pride of the Garden City, sons of Irish canal-building stone-cutters claiming the game as their own, horse-drawn carriages and electric trolley cars converging on the “old corner lot”, businesses and factories shutting down on game days, boat excursions across a Great Lake to the grounds at Hanlon’s Point, the XIX battalion band playing to over-flow crowds, lacrosse sticks as school graduation gifts, late night celebrations involving the entire town, and then in another era, Haig Bowl Saturday nights…“please sit closer together so more can get in”, Rex’s excitable radio broadcasts from the silver spire…“Come on you double blues!”, more parades, “Tank” and “Pung” and “Wandy” and “Ali Baba Gus”…yes, the Athletics…ah, what a beautiful journey it all was. Tell me, how could a St. Catharines lacrosse team ever be called anything but Athletics? You can’t buy tradition. But since 1964, St. Catharines Junior “A” lacrosse teams had abandoned the once honoured Athletics moniker and went with an assortment of forgettable names as the game fell upon some rough times. And then worse, the ignominious end after the 1977 season. 1982 was a rebirth…and the first move was the best…the “Athletics” were back! Early in the season, Jack Gatecliff of The Standard wrote; “It was great to see a St. Catharines team in the familiar double blue with the Big “A” on the front and the entire evening smacked of lacrosse nostalgia from 30 or more years ago.” These young Athletics were built upon the remnants of the 1981 Canadian champion Niagara Jr. “B” Warriors and also some emerging talent from the local midget and juvenile programs. The only players with any Junior “A” experience were Phil Wood and Bob Baum, both of whom played with the 1981 Hamilton Bengals. The nine-team junior league of 1982 aimed to reduce traveling costs by playing an unbalanced schedule and the first-year Athletics benefited by meeting the Hamilton Bengals and Elora Mohawks, the league’s weak sisters, in eight of their twenty regular season games. The A’s would post a 6W – 1L – 1T record versus their “division” mates and a 2W – 8L – 2T record against the other six teams. This A’s team would be particularly strong in goal with Randy Piech and the “free-wheeling” Ted Sawicki. Sawicki once played for coach Bob McCready and some of his mentor’s renowned goalie-turned-attacker style must have rubbed off as Ted had an appetite for down-floor forays. (The A’s would lose the services of Ted Sawicki for a week in June when he joined Team Canada at the world field championships in Baltimore. There he would line up with former St. Catharines Legionnaires Jim Weller and Don Rickers on the bronze medal team.) The Athletics experienced a five-game losing streak through mid-season when they came upon a tough part of the schedule, and in a 15 – 9 loss to the Whitby Builders, Jack Gatecliff of The Standard would write, “Playing his second box lacrosse game since guarding the nets for the Canadian entry in the World Field Lacrosse Championships, Sawicki faced wave after wave of two-on-one and three-on-one breaks as the Whitby coaching staff shot players out of the offensive end of the bench on quick changes as soon as they gained possession in their own end. At times it appeared as if the tactic gave them too many players on the floor but it worked well.” An early taste of a style of play that would evolve into the complete offence-defense specialization that dominates the box game today. Though the team would close out with four straight playoff losses to the Etobicoke Eclipse, the boys had a good season for a young, first-year club and succeeded in putting St. Catharines back on the lacrosse map. And all of the post-season sentiments seem to indicate that something had changed. Peter Conradi Jr. of The Standard  “they laid the ground-work toward erasing the loser image which plagued the clubs throughout the previous decade.” Former standout player John Mouradian – “We use to call it Legionnaires disease. Everyone wanted to play but were mostly out for a good time. No one got too upset when we lost.” Conradi again – “Mouradian thinks the attitude of the young people has changed. He believes they are more conservative and more willing to accept authority.” Co-coach Jim Hopgood – “What makes them different is that they are more gung-ho. They’ve got more heart and spirit.” Former coach Dick Morningstar – “That four-year absence has been like a breath of fresh air for junior A lacrosse. They have no ghosts to drag them down. Now the club has to work at maintaining a winning atmosphere that will make players want to play.” All agreed it was great to see the Junior Athletics back.        In 1983 the team would lose three of their top four scorers of 1982…Rob Henry, Jeff Calder and Kevin McNulty. But a new coach would be cause for optimism and Conradi would write, “the Athletics’ biggest advantage over other clubs is behind the bench. No one is better than Whitby’s former coach Jim Brady.” The junior league in 1983 adopted a new format where the top four teams at mid-season remained in Minto Cup contention while the remaining five teams dropped to a “Tier 2” division and played a separate schedule. “To make the season worthwhile we have to get into the top four,” Coach Brady would challenge. And the team was a respectable 6W – 4L in mid-June before a devastating four-game losing streak would officially drop them into the second tier. Coach Brady would take the long view and treat this as a development opportunity. “We have to develop an offence and we are not going to do it against the top teams. They simply play defense too well. Playing the lower teams, we’ll be able to work on different things without fear of being burned badly if we make mistakes.” The A’s would go 5W – 2L – 1T in the Tier 2 schedule and enter the “provincial” playoffs as the top seed. But the loss of top scorer Scott Madole to a shoulder injury would pose a serious challenge to Coach Brady’s goal-hungry team. The A’s would eliminate Mississauga in five games and then match up against the Hamilton Bengals in the finals. “No matter what you say about the Division 2 final, it is still a championship series and you always want to win any kind of a title,” Brady said. “I think we’re a team of the future and it’s better for us to be doing well in this division than be up with Peterborough and getting whipped.” The A’s would open the finals with a thrilling 12 – 11 double-overtime win at the home Bill Burgoyne Arena on a night when last-year junior goaltender Ted Sawicki would score his third goal of the playoffs. “On the goal,” Sawicki said, “I moved in slowly at first and when no one came after me, I took a few more steps in, saw an opening and aimed for it.” But the Bengals would rebound and take the next four for the Division 2 title and end the season for the double blues. The story of the ’82 and ’83 Athletics was really about beginnings. A new team, a new mind-set, and a new generation of players. Let the word go forth……the Athletics were back. The heart stoppin',  earth shockin',  earth quakin',  heart breakin',  history makin',  legendary...... "Double Blues"

1984 - 1985

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Sponsor: Romby's Restaurant 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena 

Coach:

Jim Brady City's personnel director

Notable Players:

Jay Bidal Brown Univ. field lacrosse
Brian Lemon N.L.L. vice-prez of operations
Kevin Sexsmith gentlemanly defenseman
Keith McLeod, Mark Halliwell, Tom Howe

Special Recognition:

Jay Bidal: O. L. A. Jr. "A" rookie of the year (1984)
Jim Brady: "Tip" Teather Trophy, "Mr. Lacrosse" (1984)
Brian Lemon: O. L. A. Jr. "A" rookie of the year (1985)

Regular Season Standing:

3rd place in a seven-team league (both seasons)

Playoff Results:

(1984) won round-robin 4 - 0 vs. Etobicoke & Brampton
(1984) lost semi-final by 4 - 2 to Peterborough A-Team
(1985) lost semi-final by 4 - 3 to Peterborough Maulers
Seasons Recap: As the Oshawa Green Gaels’ ultimate supremacy of the 1960’s was replaced by Peterborough’s and later Whitby’s overwhelming domination through the 1970’s and 80’s, many Ontario junior lacrosse clubs would carry the ghosts of disappointment and the baggage of self-doubt. A wide-spread belief system developed that a few clubs were somehow predisposed to always win while others were simply destined to lose. True? Probably not…...but image can become reality. If the “new” Athletics of the mid-80’s were to become anything more than a run-with-the-pack kind of team, a new-found level of confidence, and belief, and cohesiveness, and vision would have to emerge. And to this end, perhaps the best move that team president Joe McNeill and the executive did was to bring in Jim Brady as coach and general manager. Brady, the city’s newest director of personnel, had coached national Jr. “B” and Jr. “A” champions in Whitby. But beyond the nice resume, Brady understood how to motivate players, how to get the proverbial 110%, and above all, he knew what it was that made people tick. The approach could vary...sometimes it was praise, sometimes it was a kick in the pants…and Brady was a master of both. Brady’s players could believe that tomorrow they would be great, even if today they clearly were not…a perpetual striving for improvement. “I always tell my players that if I ask them to do something it will be because I believe they can do it,” said Brady. “I won’t accept them performing at a level below what I maintain they are able to do.” Peter Conradi Jr. of The Standard wrote, “He rarely misses mistakes, he is not reluctant to criticize (and also is not afraid to praise), he is loud behind the bench, and after almost 30 years involvement, he has earned a spot among the game’s most successful teachers, motivators, and analysts.” A bit of culture-shock ensued in Brady’s first year at the helm in 1983, but by 1984 and 1985 the notion that a Minto Cup title for this organization became deeply rooted in everything it did. “I have great respect for my players and the way they’ve adjusted to the fact that I’m a tougher disciplinarian than they’ve been exposed to,” said Brady in 1985. “It has been difficult for many of them to accept, but I think most of the doubts have disappeared. I have some pride in the fact that they are coming around and are very supportive.” This was Brady’s team and they were on the march. The years of 1984 and 1985 showed that the A’s were not quite yet in the same company as the traditional elite, but they were indeed closing the gap. The '84 team got off to a unimpressive 2W - 6L start, but then they started to gel and the importance of a 13 - 11 win over Peterborough on June 6th wouldn't be lost on Coach Brady..."More than the two points, it gives us credibility. It lets the other teams know that we're getting close to them and deserve some respect." A June 19th win over Elora would elevate the team to third place at 8W - 8L and then they went on to close out the regular season with a 13W - 10L - 1T record, the best record for a city club since 1964. Jay Bidal paced the offense with 52 goals and 80 assists and earned the league's rookie of the year honours. "Finesse has never been one of my stronger points...when it comes time to take the ball to the net, I just use my strength and my speed," said Bidal. The team would go 4W - 0L in a round-robin playoff with Etobicoke and Brampton before matching up against Peterborough in the league semi-finals. The teams split the first four games before the Petes took the series  with a 15 - 11 and 10 - 8 wins in games five and six. "I'm very proud of my players," said Brady. "They showed a lot of guts and determination this year when teams in our league and even people in this city were looking down on us after our slow start. We've shed the loser image. Our players are already talking about next year and winning the Minto Cup."        As the 1985 season unfolded, coach Brady would face a new and pleasantly different type of challenge...over-confidence after a 9W - 0L start. "The coach came into the dressing room after the second period with all kind of stats telling us how poorly our scoring percentage was." said player Mark Halliwell after a one-sided victory for the boys. And when the team chalked up a 33 - 6 win over Etobicoke, Coach Brady would try to diffuse any growing complacency by pointing out, "I was disappointed the way we played the second period." Marty Calder would add, "We aren't losing perspective on this. Jim won't let that happen. We know we have to keep working and improving." The only tangible early season set-back for the team was the 75% right knee ligament tear that scoring sensation Jay Bidal sustained while playing field lacrosse at Brown University. Bidal would return to the A's late in the season wearing a custom knee brace. Once again the team finished in third place, but now with an improved record of 17W - 7L. They would be 3W - 5L versus the powerhouse Peterborough and Whitby clubs, and 14W - 2L versus the rest of the league. "We've come a long way in the past couple of years but we won't know just how good we are until we're tested in the playoffs," said Coach Brady on the eve of their semi-final opener against the Peterborough Maulers. The Maulers captured game one with a 11 to 9 score but the A's rebounded in game two with a decisive 21 to 11 win at the Bill Burgoyne Arena. Some late-game nastiness would prompt Rick Sawicki to comment, "I think this is going to be a very rough series. We don't really want it, but you always have trouble with Peterborough when they get behind. I guess its the frustration coming out after having been the best club for so long." The Maulers put the A's on the ropes with wins in games two and three to open up a 3 - 1 series lead, but then the double blues pulled the surprise of the season in game five in Peterborough. The Standard's Peter Conradi Jr. would write, "The Romby's Athletics last night did something that no other St. Catharines junior "A" lacrosse team has accomplished for close to 30 years - they won in Peterborough." Brady would add, "There wasn't a damn person in St. Catharines who figured we would win. That made it easier for us to stay calm." The game would close with some on-floor extra-curricular activity and even an off-floor attack by a fan on the A's Willie Arnold. "You expect to take a beating on the floor, but not after the game," said Arnold. The unrelenting Athletics would follow this up with 9 to 7 win in game six and push the series to the limit. No one was discounting this team now. But the Maulers would prevail in game seven with a 15 to 11 victory in a match that wasn't without its own controversy. Conradi - "The contest had enormous potential to be a cliff-hanger; a perfect climax to what had been a most exciting series. It will, however, be most remembered for a 25-minute delay caused by a bench-clearing brawl in the second period." Different supporters in the stands spotted each other, words were passed, a fight broke out, then another...one team charged in for the rescue...then came the other...and soon referees Harry Benham and Gary Martin had to call in the police to restore any semblance of order. Jungleland. Some would even attribute the bedlam as a contributing factor to the final result. "Our team was badly shaken by what happened. I don't know why they don't have any police here. I even phoned the O. L. A. before the game and warned them about this taking place," said Coach Brady. Thus closed another chapter, but one thing was certain, this team had come a long way indeed. And just maybe...Jim Brady wasn't done yet.

 

Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz 

Between flesh and what's fantasy

and the poets down here

Don't write nothing at all,

they just stand back and let it all be

And in the quick of the night

they reach for their moment

And try to make an honest stand

but they wind up wounded, not even dead

Tonight in Jungleland     -     Bruce Springsteen

 

 

 

1986 - 1987

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena ('87 Minto Cup tourny at Garden City Arena)

Coach:

Jim Brady future N. J. Storm director

Notable Players:

Rodney Tapp Whittier College "Poets"
Mike Mooradian good penalty killer
Chris Maxwell Q. B. of the power-play
Tyson Leies, Cam Bomberry, Randy Mearns

Special Recognition:

Tyson Leies: O. L. A. Jr. "A" rookie of the year (1986)
Mike Greene: (Hamilton Bengal import) League M. V. P.(1986)

Regular Season Standing:

2nd place in a six-team league (both seasons)

Playoff Results:

(1986) won semi-final 4 - 2 vs. Whitby Warriors
(1987) won semi-final 4 - 3 vs. Whitby Warriors
(1986 & 87) lost final by 4 - 0 to Peterborough Maulers
(1987) lost 4 - 0 in Minto Cup Tournament

Seasons Recap:

“I don’t know for sure, but we could be the best team in Ontario,” said Coach Jim Brady before the start of the 1986 season. And with seven of his top eight goal-scorers back from the ’85 team, he had legitimate reason for optimism. Nobody expected the Whitby Warriors without Joe Nieuwendyk or the Peterborough Maulers with a ton of midget call-ups to be quite as strong, so when the headline in The Standard’s annual preseason preview read, “Junior A’s have a good shot at Minto Cup,” few bothered to challenge that claim. But the notion of a weakened Peterborough club was dispelled on May 10th when the Maulers handed the A’s an 18 – 11 setback in the Lift Lock City. Coach Brady showed his concern of the physical domination of the “rebuilding” Petes…. “Our guys are going to have to learn that you don’t score by standing around the outside. We have to start cutting through the middle. You’re going to get hit, and sometimes it hurts, but that’s how you get goals.” The A’s would win their next four straight before being “mauled” 17 – 8 by Peterborough right in the A’s house, and the plotline of the 1986 and 1987 seasons was now becoming clear… a very good Junior Athletics team up against an strong and often intimidating Peterborough squad. The Maulers were good, cocky and tough…very tough. Peter Conradi would describe them in The Standard as “big, strong, brash, intimidating, at times underhanded, they have depth, adequate goaltending and, most of all, they can play the game.” When the A’s suffered a 14 – 9 loss on June 22nd in Peterborough, Coach Brady said, “I hope this game lays all that intimidation stuff to rest. They are a brutal team. They hack and slash, and none of that ever gets called in Peterborough.”  The Athletics would pick up 20-year-old playmaker Mike Greene from the Hamilton Bengals’ roster in a controversial mid-season move“personally I’m not in favour of all these deals. I wouldn’t have done it until I found out what Peterborough and Etobicoke were up to,” said Coach Brady (Peterborough had previously picked up goaltender Rick Mang from Brampton while Etobicoke acquired Hamilton’s Ed Comeau before the July 1st roster freeze). The 1986 Athletics would finish the season in second place with a 12W – 8L record, eight wins less than the perfect record of Peterborough, and then captured their league semi-final playoff in six games versus the third-place Whitby Warriors. A St. Catharines junior team was entering the Ontario finals for the first time since 1959! But the domination of Peterborough wasn’t about to relent as evidenced by a 20 – 3 Mauler win in game one of the finals. “In the second period Peterborough intimidated us and we played like wimps,” said Brady. Later a calm coach would admit, “There is only one thing to do when you lose like that, forget it.”  In the roughly played third game of the series, five of the Athletics were cut by high sticks and the team vowed revenge for the next game. The Standard’s Peter Conradi would write, “While no one could accuse the A’s of being angels in the series, they certainly haven’t responded to the level of the Maulers’ provocation.” But the fourth and final game, a 21- 10 Peterborough win, would be a relatively tame affair. Conradi “The generally smaller Athletics must have known in their hearts that they couldn’t stand up in a brawl against Peterborough. And as the score indicated, they couldn’t stand up when the Maulers hunkered down and played lacrosse.” Coach Brady – “Peterborough is prepared to do anything necessary to win, legal or illegal. You can do that when you’re big and strong and know what it’s like to be a winner. They’re strong physically and have a mental toughness. And they’re mean. I hope we can develop a winning team here without resorting to those tactics.” The 1986 Peterborough Maulers would go on to capture the Minto Cup in British Columbia and with such a youthful roster, they would be a strong national title contender for several years to come.        In 1987, the Athletics could build around eleven returnees, but they had some holes to fill with five of their top six scorers gone. Some of the new blood would come from the roster of 1986 Ontario midget “A” champions from St. Kitts and the team would also be augmented by the nice addition of 15-year-old Cam Bomberry from Six Nations. An added incentive for the 1987 Athletics would come from the announcement that the Minto Cup tournament would be held in St. Catharines with two Ontario clubs participating. Future Major Athletics owner Bill Lefeuvre chaired a committee that secured the honour for the city. The ’87 team opened the season against their main rival, the Maulers of Peterborough, and were handed a 23 – 5 loss right in the friendly confines of the Bill Burgoyne Arena. “Obviously we have a long way to go before we’ll even deserve to be in the same building with Peterborough. But a least we know that now,” said Coach Jim Brady. When the team next met Peterborough, the A’s record was 7W – 3L and they had indeed come a long way. The double-blues never trailed in the game until Joe Hiltz netted a power-play goal with four seconds left to seal an 8 – 7 victory for the Maulers. “We are a month ahead of schedule,” Brady said. “I knew we would play Peterborough tough, but I didn’t think we would be this close. We should have won the game, but were screwed by the referees.” A month later the teams met in another close contest, an 11 – 9 Peterborough triumph in a game played at the Pelham Arena in benefit of the injured Tom Engemann. “We’re getting closer to beating them each game,” said Brady. Player Chris Maxwell would add this assessment… “We should have shot a lot more from the dotted-line. When you get in close he (Pete’s 250 lb goalie Terry Preston) is really big and you can’t put it over him and you can’t put it around him. It’s just like looking at a wall. He stands there and doesn’t move.” A few days later in a fight-filled exhibition game between the league’s all-stars and the champion Peterborough Maulers, Maxwell would sustain a knee injury and the A’s Dan Armstrong a possible concussion, and both would miss the remainder of the regular season. Armstrong was also given a six-game suspension for his part in the ill-tempered all-star game fiasco. The Athletics would finish again in second place, this time with a record of 18W – 7L (five losses to Peterborough and two to Whitby) and again meet the Whitby Warriors in the league semi-finals. After Whitby took the first two games, the A’s battled back to take four of the next five and claim the series in the maximum seven games. The last three were particular gems…late-season call up Rich Kilgour from Sanborn, N.Y. scoring four goals in a big game-five win, a tight over-time victory for the boys in game six at Whitby, and then a last minute Jason Doucette goal to secure a 9 – 8 game-seven win for the blues – thus advancing to the league finals and also securing a spot in the 1987 Minto Cup tournament. The Ontario finals would again be won in four by Peterborough, but aside of a 20 – 8 shellacking in game three, the Athletics would put up a good showing against the Maulers. The Standard would report that the 9 – 6 victory in game four would be the 62nd straight provincial regular season and playoff win for the Maulers. But this wasn’t the end of the season for the A’s. One week later the Athletics would open the Minto Cup tournament at the Garden City Arena and play well in a 15 – 13 loss to the champions of British Columbia, the Esquimalt Legion. The Legion’s scoring sensations, twin brothers Paul and Gary Gait, didn’t disappoint with a combined 17 points in the opener. The A’s would fall 18 – 5 versus the Maulers and then 20 – 8 in a rematch against Esquimalt to essentially knock themselves out of Cup contention. The final tournament match for the boys would be against an all-too-familiar adversary with little but pride at stake. Their last victory over the Maulers was way back on August 3rd 1985 with a 9 – 7 win in game six of that season's playoffs. Since then, the Peterborough Maulers were 19W – 0L versus Ontario’s second best junior club. “We don’t like Peterborough and they don’t like us. So whenever we play there is a chance for an interesting game,” said Coach Brady. The evening opened with the introduction of eleven members of the Athletics remarkable 1947 Minto Cup team. Maybe some of their old magic rubbed off on their namesakes of 40 years later as the A’s version-87 played one of their best games of the season and it would take a Joe Hiltz goal right at the final buzzer to give the Maulers a close 14 – 13 win. Conradi – “the ball went through the legs of goalie Dave Smart as the green light came on to signal time had run out. But referees John Southall and Gary Martin did not hesitate in allowing the goal.” The heart-broken Athletics had nothing to be ashamed of after their last game of the 1987 season. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been so proud of a team I’ve coached,” said Coach Brady. “We made such tremendous progress this season.” The Peterborough Maulers would go on to capture their second straight Minto Cup title and the Athletics began to re-tool for the 1988 campaign.

The Boys of '47

1988 - 1989

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena

Coach:

Bob McCready (1988)  Cdn Lacrosse Hall of Fame
Jim Brady (1989) Cdn Lacrosse Hall of Fame

Notable Players:

Marty Calder competed in two Olympics
Randy Mearns Canisius U.  player & coach 
Peter Holt back from Esquimalt B. C.
Tyson Leies, Cam Bomberry, Derrick Snure

Special Recognition:

Marty Calder: 1988 O. L. A. Jr. "A" top scorer (185 pts)
Randy Mearns: 1989 O. L. A. Ability & Sportsmanship Award

Regular Season Standing:

2nd place in a seven-team league (both seasons)

Playoff Results:

(1988) lost semi-final 4 - 2 to Whitby Warriors
(1989) won semi-final 4 - 0 vs. Whitby Warriors
(1989) lost final by 4 - 3 to Peterborough Maulers

Seasons Recap:

“If everyone keeps working, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with. I think we can give Peterborough a run this year,” said 18-year-old Tyson Leies after scoring seven goals in the May 4th 1988 season opener against Hamilton. The team would reel off five straight victories to start the season before their first trip to Peterborough, and the boys would come home on the short end of an 11 – 2 score in that first real test. The Maulers hadn’t lost a game to Ontario competition since 1985, so would 1988 be any different? A new face was behind the A’s bench as hall-of-fame goaltender Bob McCready stepped in when Jim Brady decided to take a year off from the grind of coaching a junior “A” team. Some of the boys may have thought that school’s out now that the noted disciplinarian was gone…but coach McCready put the notion to rest quickly. Mike Hamilton of The Standard wrote, “The normally soft-spoken McCready read the riot act to his charges…it seems one or two players were trying to tell him how to do his job… ‘I won’t have that,’ said McCready. ‘If it keeps happening then we’ll replace some people. I don’t care who they are, anyone of them can go.’” It was Wednesday June 22nd when it finally happened, the incredible win streak of more than two seasons of the Peterborough Maulers would come to an end, and it would happen in the A’s house. “I was tired of losing to them. Now it’ll be like a monkey off our backs,” said Athletics’ goaltender Peter Holt after the 14 – 12 overtime victory. “I’ve said it all along that we could beat them and now I think people will start to believe it too,” said coach McCready. A big confidence builder for the A’s…but it would in fact be the only loss of the season for Peterborough in Ontario competition. 1988 saw the return to the A’s line-up of Marty Calder after a season of combining junior “B” lacrosse with his outstanding wrestling career. The 5’ 7” Calder would say of his final season of junior lacrosse, “I decided to take it a little easy this summer. Just get a job and play a little lacrosse before I go back to my No. 1 sport – amateur wrestling.” His 185 points would win the Ontario junior “A” scoring championship with ease, 36 points more than second place John Tavares of the Mississauga Tomahawks. “I don’t know what heights he’d have reached if he’d play lacrosse regularly,” said coach McCready. “Everything comes so naturally to him. He has a fake shot which would have driven me nuts when I was playing.”  Jim Brady would say, “Marty doesn’t shoot to score, he’s so relaxed he just passes the ball into the net.” And long-time lacrosse observer Jack Gatecliff of The Standard would write, “With the exception of people such as Wayne Gretzky and Stan Mikita, Calder is one of the few athletes I know who can see the entire playing area while on the floor (or ice) which is a reason why all three were, or are, outstanding passers.” In the years ahead, Calder’s wrestling career would take him to two Olympic games plus medal wins at the Commonwealth and Pan American games. The A’s and Maulers would later play another exciting overtime game in St. Catharines, but this time the visitors would prevail by a 13 – 11 score. The double-blues were missing standout players Randy Mearns and Cam Bomberry, both playing with Canada’s silver medal team at the World Junior Field Lacrosse Championships in Australia, and coach McCready would say, “I thought our guys played a great game. A couple of goalposts cost us the game. It shows we can beat them.”  A welcomed absence in any of the Athletics-Maulers games of the day were all the gamesmanship, intimidation and nastiness of the prior years as the two talented clubs stuck to lacrosse. But the A's wouldn’t get another crack at the Maulers in the summer of '88. For the third straight year the team would finish in second place and would meet the Whitby Warriors in the provincial semi-finals. The boys opened with a 10 – 3 win in a roughly played game in St. Catharines before Whitby tied the series at home in a tame affair. Game three contained the series tipping point…the A’s were leading 10 – 9 in the dying moments and in control of the ball when a veteran player attempted an ill-advised long shot at an empty net. The ball bounded into the stands and was handed back to Whitby…a goal was scored with five seconds on the clock…and then the visitors sealed the deal with a win in overtime. “We gave it to them,” was about all a sad coach McCready needed to say after that one. The Warriors would win their remaining home games and knock the Athletics out of the 1988 playoffs.         In 1989, Jim Brady returned to the coaching reigns of the junior Athletics after spending a summer coaching the Ontario peewee champions from St. Catharines. I took a more casual approach and realized that to play any sport you have to incorporate fun.” For the ’89 Athletics, the coach made his plan clear; “I think it will still come down to Peterborough and us with Whitby third. We’ll have a run and shoot offence that’ll be about the quickest in the league. And we’ll have excellent powerplay and shorthanded units and great goaltending.” The A’s would not have to wait too long before their first test against the powerful Peterborough Maulers, and on May 3rd the boys registered the surprise 10 – 7 win at the Bill Burgoyne Arena. “That feels great. That’ll give us a lot of confidence for the rest of the year, I mean, that was Peterborough,” said A’s rookie Mike Lines. The team would win their first five games of the season by playing a daring pursuit style of defense. “We want to pressure the other team in their own end. We like to send two guys in deep and that can be dangerous. If the other team breaks out, we’re going to be caught four on three. But that doesn’t happen very often. Usually we force a turnover,” said Brady. The strength of this club would lie in its overall balance and its exceptional espirit de corps. Brady in mid-June – “They’re really coming along as a team. They work hard all the time and they like each other. They get excited when somebody else scores and that hasn’t always been the case.” And on another occasion, Brady would say, “I don’t know yet whether this is my most talented team, but it has the most character and balance.” Captain Randy Mearns would explain, “It’s an attitude we have this year. Nobody starts yelling at anybody if they make a mistake. We say, ‘forget it, we’ll get it back,’ and go from there. This is more of a team than we’ve ever been.” The A’s would go with the rotating goaltending tandem of Peter Holt, the mainstay of McCready’s 1988 team, and Dave Smart, who had a strong season for the A’s in 1987. They would march to a second-place finish with a 19W – 5L record…splitting their home-and-away series with Whitby and Peterborough for four of their losses, and incurring their only home floor loss on a rare lackluster effort against the not-so-strong Mississauga Tomahawks in late May…Brady – “They weren’t in the game. You knew that when guys were showing up just five and ten minutes before game time.” The boys would square off yet again against the Whitby Warriors in the playoff semi-finals, and this time the A’s would collect the sweep in four very close games, three of them in overtime. “We came of age by winning that series. We don’t panic and have the confidence which has given Peterborough so much success,” said an elated coach Brady. Now it’s Peterborough and St. Catharines. And, yes, I think we have a good chance against the Petes. Our teams are different. Peterborough relies almost entirely on four of the best players in Canadian junior – forwards Paul Day, Joe Hiltz and Craig Stevenson and their 6-foot-4, 290-pound goalie Terry Preston who fills the net. If one of those players is injured, they have no replacement. On the other hand we’re better balanced. Cam Bomberry and Randy Mearns both went over the 90-point mark but seven others had more than 20 goals. And defensively we’re better.”  Peterborough claimed game one of the Ontario finals with a 12 – 7 score and perhaps some felt that Brady’s confidence was unfounded. But the A’s came right back and took game two by a startling 11 – 5 score at home in game two. With the boys up 9 – 3 after two periods, Brady changed the teams’ game plan for the final 20 minutes…“Going into the 3rd we played a 10-second offence. We hold the ball for 20 seconds and then have a set play and shot and then fight like hell for the ball.” The Petes took game 3 handily at 11 – 6 and then escaped a return visit to the Burgoyne with a tight 13 – 12 win on a night that the A’s staged a failed but heroic third period comeback. Bill Portrecz of The Standard would write, “The A’s, who looked all but dead, rallied to start the third period and, with chants of ‘Lets Go Blue’ ringing throughout the Bill Burgoyne Arena, scored five straight goals to tie the score at 12 – 12 with eight minutes to play.” The A’s were clearly on the ropes when they traveled to Peterborough for game six, trailing three games to one, but a 2 goal – 4 assist effort from Rich Kilgour and some outstanding goaltending from Welland native Dave Smart spearheaded the surprise win by a 12 – 7 score. “We had a game plan and we stuck to it even when we fell behind 3 – 0,” said Brady. “After the way we played in the third period of the last game we knew they couldn’t shut us down the way other Peterborough teams have in the past. As a result we had a lot of confidence coming into this game.” The rebounding A’s took game six back home by a 9 – 6 score and then traveled back to the Kiwarthas for the dramatic seventh game for the Ontario title. Mike Hamilton of The Standard would write, “It was an exciting game played before a packed house in the small, cramped Otonobee Memorial Arena. The crowd, which jammed every nook and cranny, included a noisy contingent of more then 150 A’s fans who made the long trek to this hamlet (Keene) southeast of Peterborough.” The Maulers opened up a 3 – 0 lead early in the game, but another A’s comeback try would fall short and Peterborough would claim their fourth straight Ontario title with a 9 – 7 win. “We didn’t play our game, our run-and-gun game. We played their game. We let them slow us down and control us,” said captain Mearns. Coach Brady would conclude, “I know its tough for the guys, but they should be proud. They were down three (games) to one and nobody thought they’d come back, but they did. That’s a very good lacrosse team, the best I’ve had in St. Catharines. And it’ll be the dominant team in Ontario lacrosse for the next five years.” The coach believed this. And soon others would share the belief that this team was headed for the promised land.

 

The dogs on Main Street howl

'cause they understand

if I could take one moment into my hands

Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man

And I believe in a promised land 

    -     Bruce Springsteen

 

1990

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Sponsor: Mountainview Homes 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena 

Coach:

Jim Brady M. S. L. Commissioner

Notable Players:

Randy Mearns 9-year N. L. L. career
Darris Kilgour 1st Buffalo Bandit draftee
Rich Kilgour 17-yr. Buffalo Bandit player
Trevor Bidal,  Andy Bolt,  Jeff Bridgeman,  David Cross,  Joe Fagiani, Steve Fannell,  Derek Graham,  Tom Hawke,  Clayton Henry,  Craig Huska,  Vernon Jacobs,  Travis Kilgour,  Jason Lacombe,  Tyson Leies,  Mike Lines,  Darren Mutch,  Jim Solly,  Jeff Synder, Rob Thurston

Special Recognition:

Clayton Henry & Rob Thurston: O. L. A. fewest goals against
Trevor Bidal: O. L. A. Jr. "A" top defenseman award
Darris Kilgour: O. L. A. Jr. "A" top scorer
Randy Mearns: O. L. A. Jr. "A" top graduating player
Randy Mearns: M. V. P. in Minto Cup Series
Brian Allen (A's Pres.): "Tip" Teather Trophy, "Mr. Lacrosse"
Team: Ted Post Memorial Trophy (O. L. A. Jr. "A" title)
Team: Iroquois Cup (emblematic of Eastern Cda champs)
Team: Minto Cup (emblematic of Canadian championship)

Regular Season Standing:

1st place in a eight-team league 

Playoff Results:

won Ontario semi-final 4 - 0 vs. Sarnia Pacers
won Ontario final 4 - 1 vs. Peterborough Maulers
advanced through Minto Cup round-robin 3 - 1
won Minto Cup final 2 - 1 vs. Richmond Outlaws
Season Recap:

“I think we’re the team to beat,” said Coach Jim Brady before his team’s first full practice in the Arena on April 23rd. The club had lost some key players…goaltenders Holt and Smart, sniper Derrick Snure and a few others to graduation, and Cam Bomberry and Peter Skye were now gone, playing for the newly-formed Six Nations Arrows. But there was enough returning talent, much of it exceptional, to fuel any coach’s pre-season optimism…Randy Mearns, Darris and Rich Kilgour, Trevor Bidal, and others. Even Tyson Leies was back after a year spent in the B. C. league…the Dunville native was the O. L. A. rookie of the year in 1986, and a 57-goal scorer for the A’s in 1988. Perhaps this would be the team’s year after all. In the same week that the A’s of 1990 started their serious workouts, a reunion of the A’s of 1950 was held across town. Heavier…grayer…58 to 60 years old…these were the city’s last Minto Cup champions. In many ways, they were the last of a golden era in St. Catharines lacrosse that extended back even further to the dawn of the box game itself. It was true; it had been forty years since an Athletics’ captain had hoisted the Minto Cup over his head. But the long, long drought was about to end. The “Brady Bunch” of 1990 were the team to beat in Ontario…19 wins to 1 loss …419 goals for and 154 goals against…three of the top four scorers in the league…these were the new good old days. The boys split their first two games of the season…beating the Arrows 26 – 8 at the Bill Burgoyne Arena and then losing the rematch just three days later at Six Nations by 14 -11...and then came the 22 consecutive wins. On May 16 they met the Peterborough Maulers, their bitter rivals of recent years, and came away with a decisive 19 – 9 home-floor victory. “It was great to do that to Peterborough. They’ve always had the good teams but this is our year,” said fifth-year veteran Randy Mearns. Captain Mearns was described as being the heart-and-soul of this club…a 5-foot-9, 150 pound human dynamo. “Mearnsy’s always giving 100 per cent and if you don’t give 100 per cent, it would be an insult to him,” said teammate Rich Kilgour. Coach Brady claimed, “Randy is fast, aggressive, our leader. His teammates are in awe of what he accomplishes. If he was any better, they’d have to change the rules to stop him.” Randy Conlon of The Standard wrote, “Mearns’ constant hustle and checking tactics are enough to keep the A’s from falling asleep during their relatively easy wins,” while The Standard’s Mike Hamilton would add, “completely dedicated to winning, he is the one player the A’s cannot afford to have injured or come up flat.” Mearns’ own comment on his style of play would say much about the meaning of team sports, “I enjoy being in the leader's role - I like being a spark plug. If I give 100 per cent all the time, I figure everyone else will too. They'll respect me, just like I respect them.” The double-blues of 1990 were a team that could light ‘em up, and light ‘em up fast…27 goals in a game against Brampton, 30 goals versus Mississauga, 31 against Sarnia, and even a 41-goal outburst against Hamilton. Much of this extraordinary firepower was provided by two brothers from the Tuscarora Nation, Darris and Rich Kilgour. One and two in the league scoring, strong two-way players, fearless and driven, it would be difficult to name any more impactful “imports” to a St. Catharines lacrosse program…maybe “Bones” Allen in 1903 or Cory Hesse in 1905, Harry Green in 1938 or Ross Powless in 1954...not too many, as the history of the double-blues was rich with their own “home-brewed” talent. Mike Hamilton would write, “Rich Kilgour, the oldest of the three brothers, has the hardest shot in junior lacrosse. He finished second in scoring and is excellent defensively. Increase the pressure and Rich gets even harder to stop. The middle Kilgour, Darris, is undoubtedly the best offensive player in the league, winning the scoring title with 153 points. A tough one, he likes to hit people and his defensive play is often overlooked. Like his older brother, Darris responds well to extra pressure.” But the team was much more than just a few stars to make Coach Brady’s job easier, they were fairly well-balanced and like the junior Athletics of the year before, they were blessed with positive team chemistry. “This is not a group of individuals, this is a real team, we work together all the time. We give the ball to the open man and even the veterans don’t look to see who it is - if he's open and he's wearing a blue sweater, he gets the ball in a scoring position,” said Mearns. Coach Brady would add, “Other teams look for certain players - for example, Whitby looks for Van Sickle, Peterborough for Stevenson. We look for the open man, and it doesn't matter who it is. Even the rookies know that if they work hard to get open, they'll get the ball too.” Another time Brady would say, “I had Whitby in the Minto Cup four times. We won in 1980. That was a fine team but I can't judge them against the 1990 Athletics at this stage. But I've never had better balance. You can't say enough about our regulars.” After a first round bye and a semi-final sweep of the Sarnia Pacers, the boys met the Peterborough Maulers in the Ontario finals, déjà vu all over again. The defending Canadian champion Maulers had ruled the league for a few years and though some of the personnel had changed, their ongoing talent base and maybe even their reputation still presented a formidable obstacle. Brady – “Peterbourough was much better (this year) than I’d expected. We beat them twice but they only lost one other league game. With their success rate I’ve already told our players that our record won’t impress them at all.” If that failed to warn the boys, game one of the Ontario finals certainly did…a Mauler 10 – 9 win right in the A’s house. Peter Conradi Jr. of The Standard, “It’s been smooth sailing all summer for the St. Catharines Athletics, but now the water could be getting a little choppy. The Athletics, who built their successful campaign around team play, toughness and speed, yesterday displayed none of those attributes – at least not to any lasting degree. The all-for-one-and-one-for-all rally cry went straight into the dumper. The A’s tried to survive on their talent as individuals, an ill-fated plan which slowed the offence down to a walk. That played directly into the hands of the Maulers, a plodding, ball-control, methodical outfit always happy to accept a leisurely-paced contest.” But the A’s rebounded two nights later with a 13 – 6 win at Peterborough’s Kinsman Arena. “There are no excuses for Monday night. We played badly and they beat us. We were determined that it wouldn't happen again,” said Mearns. Before game-three, Trevor Bidal of the A’s was named the outstanding defensive player in the league“I was surprised. I try to stay in a defensive mode, that's my role. We've got enough guys who can score. But I'm like anybody else - when I get a chance to go on offense, I'll go.” After the opening game loss, the boys were determined to win every game and wrap up the series at home in game five. “We want to win it at home, in front of our fans, our friends and our families. Not too many of them are going to be able to go out West with us, so we want to give them this championship at home,” claimed Mearns. Tyson Leies – “Over the last three or four years, we were beaten out by Peterborough, and some people said we choked in the finals and they started to say it again when we lost the first game. Now we definitely want to give them this championship at home.” On Tuesday August 14th before an over-flow crowd at the Bill Burgoyne Arena, the Athletics were crowned Ontario champions – one forty-year drought (the provincial title) was over. Randy Mearns – “It feels great; we're going to the Minto Cup. This is what it's been all about this year, going to the Minto Cup. It's been five years coming.” A week later the boys boarded a plane at Toronto’s Pearson Airport and few hours later they were in Vancouver…several days quicker than their 1950 train-traveling counterparts. Joining the players, coach Brady and assistant coach Mark Halliwell for the trip west were manager Gord Halliwell, trainer Lee Randall and his son and assistant Bill Randall, assistant G. M. Ken Brady (the coach’s son) and club president Brian Allen. The Minto Cup returned to a round-robin format in 1990 with the Esquimalt Legion and the B. C. champion Richmond Outlaws participating, and it would all get off to a rocky start for the A’s with a 15 – 13 loss to the Outlaws. Both coaches were eager to downplay their teams’ performance…Brady – “We were terribly rusty. We've had 12 days off and it sure made a difference. Considering that, we didn’t play badly. Just a lot of mental errors killed us.”…Roger Ross of the Outlaws – “If it weren't for some untimely penalties we could have finished them off a lot earlier.” The next game, played against Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, would carry much importance and the boys would get it all going in the overtime win. Brady – “We didn’t go with any special lines in overtime and it was the best 10 minutes we've played here. Our defense was outstanding…just knocking bodies everywhere.” The coach also had this comment after the game, “Our season was a lark compared to this. These teams are quality clubs and it’s nice to know we can raise our game to their level and higher.” The second game against the Outlaws was “chippier” than the first and a Darris Kilgour rocket-goal with eight seconds left gave the A’s the 12 – 11 win. Brady – “Our game plan was to establish our physical game and I think the message reached them. They won’t push us around like they did in the first game.” Richmond team captain Kelly Matson – “The game didn’t mean a heck of a lot to us, it meant more to St. Catharines. Maybe that accounts for the letdown.” The victory clinched a berth for the A’s in the national final, and Coach (perhaps even amateur sports psychologist) Jim Brady began setting the stage for the final… “We really haven't played our game here. We've been lucky the last two wins and we don't usually depend on luck to get us wins. But I think we've shaken them up a bit. They've got to be concerned.” The A’s would win their final round-robin game against Esquimalt and later Nirmal Dillon of the Legion would predict, “There’s no way St. Catharines can run with them (Richmond) and they can’t contain them,” while player Bruce Alexander would add, “St. Catharines is bigger but they're slower. I'll pick Richmond.” “They said what?” replied Brady. “Even after what we did tonight. That's good, let them think that. They haven’t seen the true Randy Mearns and Darris Kilgour and I have a feeling those two will be very prominent in the next two games.” The 3W – 1L St. Catharines Athletics and the 3W – 1L Richmond Outlaws would square off in the best two-out-of-three national final. “Richmond has a lot of confidence and I’m not afraid of their toughness and so called speed,” said Randy Mearns. “Everyone is expecting us to die. Well, I don’t think so.” In game one of the finals, St. Catharines took 13 minor penalties to Richmond’s 5, and came up on the short-end of a 13 -12 overtime score. Brady – “Losing this game is not the end of the world for us, we're quite capable of coming back. If all the breaks go against you one game, then maybe they'll go for you the next game.” Tyson Leies would boldly add, “They're in big trouble. We're going to come out clean and hard with our big guns flaring.” The next night, the A’s turned the tide with an 11 – 7 win. Standard correspondent Steve Frost – “The turn-the-other-check Athletics stayed out of the penalty box, scored six straight second period goals and evened the series.” Coach Ross of the Outlaws – “We weren't ready. We got up (4 - 1) and then got overconfident. That's all I'll say.” The Minto Cup would come down to a one game showdown on the wooden floor of the historic Queen’s Park Arena on Saturday September 1st.

And...the rest is history.

Score: St. Catharines Athletics 9 – Richmond Outlaws 5

Rich Kilgour – “Finally, we are the best team in Canada”

Randy Mearns – “It hasn't set in, it's weird. For some guys it has, but for me it hasn't. But this is something I definitely won’t forget.”

Rich Kilgour – “This is the best thing ever in my life. I've been wanting this since I started playing lacrosse when I was six years old.”

Tyson Leies – “Earlier this year my mother died and ever since I've dreamed of this day. She put so much into lacrosse that this was my way of saying 'Thanks, Mom!' "

The drought was over!

Read a previous Athleticslacrosse.com tribute to the team at...

1990 - JUNIOR ATHLETICS WIN MINTO CUP

1991

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena (Minto Cup played at Garden City Arena)

Coach:

Jim Brady helped start Oshawa minors in 50's

Notable Players:

Darris Kilgour N. L. L. Buffalo Bandit coach
Derek Graham four different national titles
Mike Lines hard-to-move creaseman
Gerry Bieuz,  Jeff Bridgeman,  Chris Cimek, Joe Fagiani,  Steve Fannell,  Dave Ferguson,  Tom Hawke,  Clayton Henry,  Don Henry,  John Jentz,  Grant Johnston, Travis Kilgour,  Jason Lacombe,  Sean McAlonan,  Pat McCready,  Darren Mutch,  Jason Pepin,  Mike Rombough, Steve Toll, Shayne Wright

Special Recognition:

Clayton Henry & Jason Lacombe: O.L. A. fewest goals against
Darren Mutch: O. L. A. Jr. "A" top defenseman award
Darris Kilgour: O. L. A. Jr. "A" top scorer
Darris Kilgour: O. L. A. Jr. "A" M. V. P.
Tom Hawke: M. V. P. in Minto Cup Series
Team: Iroquois Cup (emblematic of Eastern Cda champs)
Team: Minto Cup (emblematic of Canadian championship)

Regular Season Standing:

1st place in a eleven-team league 

Playoff Results:

won Ontario quarter-final 4 - 0 vs. Hamilton Bengals
won Ontario semi-final 4 - 1 vs. Brampton Excelsiors
won Ontario final 4 - 1 vs. Six Nations Arrows
won Minto Cup final 4 - 1 vs. Victoria Eagles

Season Recap:

 

Nothing about the start of the 1991 season would suggest a Minto Cup repeat was in the making for the Athletics of old St. Kitts…Mississauga, Hamilton, Brampton and Orangeville would each hand the boys defeats in the month of May…character and leadership, the cornerstone of that great team of 1990, now seemed sadly in short supply…and divisiveness ruled as veterans openly blamed the large contingent of rookies for all the team's woes. "We have got guys out there that are just not prepared to play with heart," said Coach Jim Brady. "Darris and Travis Kilgour play with every bit of strength they've got all the time, whether they're having a bad game or a good game, they never give up and they never quit. So does Darren Mutch. But the other guys seem to be able to watch that effort and still not do it, and that's scary." At one point early in the season, coach Brady threw an all-rookie line together to shake things up. "I put them together because I was tired of our veterans using them as an excuse for our poor play. Some of the returning players were spending too much time yelling at the new guys; tonight I decided I'd put the veterans together and let them yell at each other. Maybe it taught them something." The team would slowly start to gel and somehow engineer nine wins out of ten games in the month of June. The A's dressed between nine to twelve rookies for every game and as the season progressed, all these raw recruits would show startling improvement. Midget-aged players Grant Johnston, Shayne Wright and Jason Pepin in particular provided productive first seasons and looked like future stars. "Defense is the hardest thing to teach and learn, but once our kids started to play better defensively, the whole system started to work better," said the coach. This coalescing band of brothers would battle throughout the summer for first place bragging rights with the upstart junior "A" team from Orangeville, the 1990 national junior "B" champion Northmen. The Athletics would eventually clinch the top spot in their second to last game of the season on a 15 to 3 win over the once mighty Peterborough Maulers. "I think it's the first time we've played a 60-minute game all season. We've come together at the right time," said captain Darris Kilgour. "We're getting great goaltending and Tom Hawke has just been outstanding killing penalties. He's stepped in to take over where Randy Mearns left off." After that dreadful 2W - 4L month of May, this team surprisingly finished atop the league standings with a 15W - 5L record. "Although Darris won his second straight scoring title with 128 points and (Mike) Lines had 41 goals, our real strength was balance. After a month, I could put any of my three lines on the floor and they'd be equally successful. And our specialty squads (powerplays and shorthanded situations) which win or lose most games, are very, very reliable," said coach Brady. "But praise doesn't produce championships. We're just one of about five teams which could win it this year." The A's would sweep the eighth-place Hamilton Bengals in the league quarterfinals and then eliminate the seventh-place Brampton Excelsiors (upsetters of the good crew from Orangeville) in five semifinal games. The provincial finals would then come down to the Athletics and the third-place Six Nation Arrows. These two teams had played a wild and raucous regular season game at the Bill Burgoyne Arena in early July that even involved the summoning of the local police on two separate occasions…the first after a smoke bomb was thrown onto the floor in the second period and then again later when a scuffle broke out among some fans behind the penalty bench. But none of those distracting shenanigans would resurface in this series. The first two games would both go to a sudden-death double overtime…a 16 - 15 A's win on August 7th with Mike Rombough providing the heroics on a slick over-the-shoulder winner…and then on the very next night, a 11 - 10 Arrows victory with a breakaway game-ender by former Athletic Peter Skye. Hot doggie, this was exciting. Game three would be played before 1,200 fans jammed into the bandbox BBA and with screaming spectators standing four deep at the ends, the Athletics prevailed by a 13 - 9 score. "It's been tougher than we expected," said defensive stalwart Darren Mutch. After a colossal road win for the A's in the next outing, the boys claimed their second consecutive Ontario championship with an 18 - 7 win before another overflow crowd at the rockin' Bill Burgoyne Arena. "When we won last year it was good because it was the first one, but we knew we were going to do it," coach Brady said. "We were never sure this year because we had a lot of rookies and everybody had to play well." Sixteen-year-old rookie Jason Pepin would add with youthful exuberance, "It's a tremendous feeling. It doesn't compare to any other championship that I've ever won. It just feels great." The team began preparations to move to the larger Garden City Arena to defend their Minto Cup title in a best-of-seven championship series against the B. C. L. A. champion Victoria Eagles. A cautious coach Brady would say, "I think with all the changes, breaking in that many rookies, the team has done extremely well to get this far. But I'm not trying to fool anyone. I think we're the underdog in this series. If the veterans give us the leadership we'll need, our kids will follow, we've seen that all season. And if the young guys come through as they have all year, especially towards the end, who knows." The west coast challengers would not wilt in the oppressively hot and humid conditions of the St. Catharines arena and opened the series with a good 13 to10 win in overtime. Mike Hamilton of The Standard would write, "The Eagles won the British Columbia championship after most people wrote them off early in the season and last night they took advantage of a nervous and flat Athletics squad." Eagles player Chris Prat would comment, "The so-called experts have been selling us short all year and we just keep proving them wrong. We've got an experienced team, we've got eight 21-year-olds, and that's what it takes to win the Minto Cup." But the knowledgeable Eagles' coach Nirmal Dillon was somewhat less than pleased with his team's performance in this opening game win…"Our goaltending was good and our defense was okay, but our offence was not very sharp. They (the Athletics) are a good team: I don't want to hear any more bull about the East being weak this year. We've got to play better than that to win the series." Just a couple of nights later it seemed like two completely different teams had taken the floor as the Athletics tied the series with a 12 to 8 victory. "We were nervous Friday, but we were loose tonight and we played our style of lacrosse, Eastern Lacrosse," said captain Darris Kilgour. Coach Dillon was furious with the eastern referees after his Eagles were given 23 minor penalties to just 14 taken by the A's…"That officiating was atrocious. If they're trying to kill lacrosse, that's the way to do it. If they want a war out there, they'll get it." In game three, the Athletics would rely heavily on Clayton Henry's solid goaltending to eek out a tight 7 to 6 win and take a 2 - 1 series lead. Hamilton of The Standard would report, "The soft-spoken, bespectacled Henry was Mr. Cool in the hot, humid, pressure-cooker - the Garden City Arena." Coach Brady would add, "Poor Clay. He never gets any credit. All year we hear that we don't have any goaltending but he was the top goaltender in Ontario last year and we won the Minto Cup. He and Jason (Lacombe) were the best pair in Ontario this year and we're in the Minto Cup again." The younger crop of double-blues continued to impress as 16-year-old Jason Pepin chipped in two goals to give him six markers in the first three series games. Across the floor, Eagles' coach Dillon was concerned about his experienced team losing some of their composure…"If we don't stop taking stupid penalties and get back some discipline, we're not going to be around here very much longer." The definite low point of the series occurred after game three…Hamilton of The Standard - "the emotionally charged game was marred at the end by an altercation between a fan and some Eagles as they left the floor." What happened was not clear, but later it was learned that the Eagles' Reed Bremner had suffered a 20-stitch gash to his head and would not return in this series. The next game was a tough, penalty-filled affair, and it would ultimately push the Eagles to the very brink of elimination. "The Athletics took a three-to-one game stranglehold on the best-of-seven series against the Victoria Eagles with an 11 - 8 victory in the oven known as Garden City Arena last night," wrote Mike Hamilton. A 16-year-old rookie once again paced the team's offense, but this time it was Pelham native Shayne Wright with three goals and two assists. Team veteran Darris Kilgour with seventeen series points also continued to impress. Coach Dillon, himself a distinguished Minto Cup winner with the Victoria Shamrocks of 1962, continued to struggle with the traditional complaint of the differing (many have dared say biased) refereeing styles in these cross-country match-ups… "They call us for every little thing and don't call anything on them. I mean, we lost to a good team, but…" An Athletics team winning a national championship on home floor had happened only once before in the long history of double-blue lacrosse…those amazing and need-I-say personal favourite junior Athletics of '47 at the grand old Haig Bowl… but that feat was about to be replicated on August 29th, 1991. Mike Hamilton - "The Minto Cup will stay in St. Catharines for another year. The St. Catharines Athletics laid claim to the emblem of supremacy in Canadian Junior "A" lacrosse for a second straight year with a 9 - 8 overtime win over the Victoria Eagles last night." This game offered the greatest drama in the series…the Eagles leading 8 to 6 in the later stages of the third period…goals by Derek Graham and Mike Rombough to tie it up…and then 16-year-old greenhorn Grant Johnston netting the big overtime Minto Cup winner. "That was the biggest of my life and probably always will be," said the proud youngster. Coach Brady, at 54 years of age and a veteran of thirty-five years of coaching this great game once said "I coach because I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the players develop from boys of 16 to men of 21. You can help them improve not only in lacrosse, but in their lifestyle, their discipline, the aims they have for the future." On this night of accomplishment, the significance of the moment wasn't lost on the old coach… "It's the first time I've ever cried after a game. This team wasn't as strong as last year's and everybody said we wouldn't do anything, especially when we started off the season so poorly. I am so proud of what they did." In the spring of 1991 Coach Brady wondered aloud where all the departed heart and leadership was going to come from…by the end of the summer he questioned no more…this team had arrived. Well done boys…well done coach.

Series MVP Tom Hawke - "It's a phenomenal feeling, two in a row. I don't know if it's better than last year or not. I can't tell yet."

Darren Mutch - "They said we couldn't do it and that makes this one better."

Darris Kilgour - "I think this one feels even better. Last year was great but to win here at home in front of all these people, it's an unbelievable feeling."

1992 - 1993

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena 

Coach:

Jim Brady Ont. Lacrosse Hall of Fame

Notable Players:

Shayne Wright 200 games played in A. H. L.
Steve Toll 4 N. L. L. titles with Toronto
Steve Fannell five year junior career
Grant Johnston, Travis Kilgour, Dave Ferguson

Special Recognition:

C. Henry & J. Lacombe: O. L. A. fewest goals against (1992)
Steve Fannell: O. L. A. Jr. "A" top defenseman award (1992)
J. Lacombe & Tom Still: O. L. A. fewest goals against (1993)

Regular Season Standing:

1st place in a eleven-team league (1992)
1st place in a twelve-team league (1993)

Playoff Results:

(1992) won quarter-final 4 - 0 vs. Mississauga Tomahawks
(1992) won semi-final 4 - 2 vs. Kitchener-Waterloo Braves
(1992) lost final by 4 - 0 to Six Nations Arrows
(1993) won quarter-final 4 - 1 vs. Whitby Warriors
(1993) won semi-final 4 - 2 vs. Six Nations Arrows
(1993) lost final by 4 - 1 to Orangeville Northmen

Seasons Recap:

“This is a key year. If we can win it again, I think we’ll be light years ahead of everybody else next year,” said coach and general manager Jim Brady. “If we can get through this year, I think it will be a dynasty.” And new team president Bill LeFeuvre agreed…“We’ve had Ontario medal winners at just about all levels in the last year or two, so I think there’s going to be a steady supply of talented youngsters to replace the graduating veterans.” The junior Athletics of 1992 opened the season with a six-game win streak and even their sometimes hard-to-please coach could find few complaints after a 26 – 0 win over Burlington…“Is there anything I didn’t like about this game? I don’t think so,” said Brady. The team would secure first place in the final standings with a mid-July win in Orangeville before finishing the season with a solid 16W – 4L record. The only teams with regular season wins over the A’s were Sarnia and Whitby with one each, and the Brampton Excelsiors with home-and-away triumphs. Brady admitted to The Standard that he hoped Brampton would finish second…“That would mean we wouldn’t face them until the final round and maybe somebody might knock them off earlier. I think I fear them the most. If anybody can beat us this year, it’s them.”  After a four-game sweep of the Mississauga Tomahawks in the quarter-finals, the A’s played a tough semi-final series against the physically imposing Kitchener-Waterloo Braves. The Braves received some outstanding goaltending from Mark McMann and opened up a surprise two games to one series lead. “We can’t score on their guy and they score on every (expletive) shot they’re taking!” said the coach. But the boys rebounded to take the series with close wins in each of the next three games and then marched on to the Ontario finals for the fourth consecutive year. Was the stage now set for the much anticipated match-up with their rivals from Brampton? Well actually…no…the run-and-gun Six Nations Arrows overcame a 3 games to 1 deficit versus the Excelsiors to win their semi-final series and now faced off against the Athletics brimming with confidence and momentum. And game-one would do little to change any of that...the The Standard would flash the news…A’s Shot Down By Arrows. Jim Wallace would report, “Arrow goaltender Ken Sandy was nothing short of spectacular, twice robbing St. Catharines on three back-to-back-to-back shots during the power-play and also sent the A’s Shayne Wright to the bench shaking his head more than once.” The Arrows then backed this up with a 15 – 11 win on their home floor the very next night. “We’ve got to tighten up,” said defensive stalwart Steve Fannell. “We’re letting guys stand five feet away from us instead of staying right on them.” The Athletics came out aggressively in game-three and secured a 4 – 2 lead as they headed for the dressing room after one period. But the Arrows set a torrid running pace in the second, struck for the only three goals of the period, then answered every desperate comeback attempt put forth by the A’s in the third, and returned back to Ohsweken with a 3 games to none lead on the big 9 to 7 victory. Coach Brady – “Their goalie came up big. They helped him out too, and they’re so aggressive on defense. They deserve to win the game, the way they dominated the second and third.” Before game-four, Arrows coach David General asked his players…“Do you really want to go back to St. Catharines, or win it here in front of your hometown fans?” A 12 – 10 Arrows win was the answer. Jim Wallace wrote, “They won the well-played game basically the way they played the entire series – getting superb goaltending by Ken Sandy, taking advantage of their chances and scoring in spurts.” After the game, coach General would add…“The game tonight was dedicated to Pete and Cam”…in honour of former A’s Peter Skye and Cam Bomberry who missed the 1990-91 championship teams in favour of playing for the building Jr. “A” program at Six Nations. A double-blue dynasty was not to be. A day after the sweep, coach Brady would speak of next year…"The players who are coming back went through a learning experience this season and will be all the better for it. They learned that finishing first doesn’t mean anything once the playoffs start.” The Six Nations Arrows would win the 1992 Minto Cup in seven games over the Coquitlam Adanacs.           With the warming temperatures and the lengthening days of a 1993 spring sounding the call, the natural rhythms of this ancient sport began yet another cycle of renewal. Fifteen regulars would return from the first-place '92 team and carry with them a strong sense of history…not the history of the Downey brothers, or of Frank and "Ruby" Williams, "Pay" and "Dubbis" MacGlashan, or even the Madsens, "Geezil" and the charismatic "Ali Baba Gus". These youths of forgotten "double-blue" summers of old had once answered the very same call… played the game for the sheer joy of it, sought out all the challenges and the camaraderie, and then all too soon, they were gone. No, the history that would serve the young of the spring of '93 was a bitter recollection of that fateful campaign just past. True, a season of exceptional accomplishment…but a season falling short of some of their own high expectations. Veteran Grant Johnston, just eighteen-years-old but now entering his third summer of Junior "A" lacrosse, said before the season opener, "Anything less than the Minto Cup is nothing; second place is losing, nothing." This 1993 team carried some high aspirations. As good as the regular season of the 1992 team was, 1993 would be even better…21 wins in 22 games…391 goals scored, 62 more than next best Orangeville…just 184 goals allowed, the best in the league…and to say in just a word, domination. The only regular season loss for this team came on the road versus the Toronto Beaches, and the boys would later secure first place with a mid-July 12 to 7 win over the Orangeville Northmen. "We had to come out and show a lot of heart because this game meant everything to us," said rookie Mike Perna. "It was a big win for the whole team because we didn't want to end up meeting either Orangeville or Peterborough in the second round of the playoffs." The team shifted to the larger Garden City Arena before the end of the regular season (some thought the old barn would soon be hosting another national final) and opened up the playoffs with a four games to one quarterfinal win over the eighth-place Whitby Warriors. But then the semi-finals would reunite the boys with an all too memorable adversary; their conquerors of the previous year…the Six Nations Arrows. Students of recent Arrows' history would tell you that this team knew exactly what it took to win in the playoffs. In '92, they upset the heavily-favoured Excelsiors and Athletics before winning their first Minto Cup. Now a year later, they had already bettered the third-place Peterborough Maulers and seemed fully confident and capable entering another showdown with the league leaders. After the teams split the first two games, the emotions were explosive between athletes and mentor during a tight battle in game three…"As the pressure mounted in the second period, so did the bickering on the bench of the St. Catharines Athletics," wrote The Standard's Mark Jeanneret. "Then, when Six Nations tied the game at 6 - 6 in the opening minute of the third, it suddenly became evident that it was time for the A's to shut up and play lacrosse." The A's would manage a 10 - 9 win in this one, and all the post-game talk would be of reconciliation. One of the players involved would comment, "The thing is Mr. Brady thought we were doing something wrong, and obviously we were. He's the coach and if you listen to him things will go right and that's what happened." Jeanneret of The Standard would write, "Coach Brady, who definitely wasn't his normal vocal self in the final period, shrugged off the incident simply responding 'it could be' when asked whether calming things down vocally on the bench during the third was a factor in the outcome of the game." In game four at Six Nations, Steve Toll would collect seven points in a 13 -11 victory to put the A's up 3 games to one. But the Arrows would then hit the mark with an exciting 12 - 11 overtime win right back in St. Catharines. The Six Nations goaltender Ken Sandy, noted Athletics killer of '92, turned in yet another strong performance and afterwards said, "Well, they're the best team in the league and I just try to come up with a big game." Meanwhile, the A's top sniper Grant Johnston voiced his admiration for Sandy's game, "He's the hardest goalie to play against because he reads peoples' minds and he moves even before you shoot." The A's would close out the hard-fought series with a 9 - 7 triumph in Ohsweken to exorcise some of the demons that may have haunted them from the prior season and, more importantly, extend their streak to five years of Ontario title appearances. The late summer foe this time would be the Orangeville Northmen, an improving defensive team, hard-working, disciplined, and well-coached by Terry Sanderson. And the finals would open on August 11th at the fifty-five-year-old Garden City Arena with seventeen-year-old rookie Bob Fisher scoring three power-play goals in the 11 - 10 Athletics overtime triumph. "He never stops trying that kid," said Coach Brady. But the growing concern in the Athletics camp was the team's diminishing firepower. After producing nearly 18 goals per game over the regular season, the Athletics never seemed to get their goal scoring on track in the post-season and over the next four important games, the boys would average just a little better than 7 per game. In game-two, the A's would outshoot Orangeville by 71 to 52 but lose 10 - 8…in a chippy game-three, they would hold a 52 to 35 shot advantage and lose 10 - 9…and then in a disastrous game-four, the blues would be completely shutdown in a decisive 11 - 3 loss. Mark Jeanneret of The Standard - "From the opening face-off the Northmen executed a nearly perfect defense, holding the A's to the perimeter and quickly smothering any player who found himself with the ball near the crease." Coach Brady would comment, "I'm a little disappointed in my scorers because they're getting opportunities early in the game and they're not scoring on them." The A's with their backs to the wall returned home trailing three games to one. Veteran player Dave Ferguson - "I guess we'll find out it if we're the championship team we claim to be or just another team in the woodwork." Game-five drew 1,000 spectators into what Jack Gatecliff described as "the unbearable heat of the Garden City Arena." The determined Athletics would ring four shots off of goal-posts in the first period and yet emerge with a 5 to 4 lead…then just ten seconds into the second period it was extended to 6 to 4!…nineteen minutes of scoreless lacrosse would follow before the proverbial turning point occurred in the closing moments of the second, Northmen goals by Brandon Sanderson and Dean Harrison to tie the game at six…finally, the Northmen outscored the hometown A's by 5 to 3 in the third to take the game by 11 - 9 and the series by four games to one. "We missed too many chances," said Travis Kilgour. "We played just as well as they did but we didn't score on our chances and they did. That's what it came down to." Coach Jim Brady, completing his tenth season behind the A's bench, would comment, "It's never any fun when you lose but no-one has to hang their heads over this game. We were beaten by a better team. That team had all of the poise it needed and always came back when things went against them and they made their own breaks." And Coach Sanderson of the champion Northmen would gallantly add, "We have a lot of respect for that organization. The best way for me to sum it up is that I think that we learned how to win from St. Catharines." The Minto Cup finals would open up a week later in Orangeville's tiny Tony Rose Sports Centre and Lord Minto's Cup would ultimately reside in Ontario for another year. For the disappointed Athletics, they quietly packed their bags and many would patiently wait for the warming temperatures and the lengthening days of another spring…when the natural rhythms of this ancient sport would begin yet another cycle of renewal.

 
Santiago Hernandez - Peter Haapamaki

Front Row: Bill LeFeuvre (President), Gord Halliwell (Manager), Dave Ferguson, Joe Fagiani, Jim Brady (Coach & GM), Travis Kilgour, Mark Halliwell (Assistant Coach), Steve Toll, Jeff Bridgeman, Lee Randall (Trainer), Bill Randall (Trainer)

Center Row: Dave Brady, John Dassen (Assistant Trainer), Tom Still, Gerry Bieuz, Mike Perna, Grant Johnston, Shayne Wright, Pat McCready, Dave Smith, Jason Lacombe, Bob Wright (Assistant GM)

Back Row: Bob Fisher, Matt Pospiech, Lee Brochu, Jamie Kelly, Jason Luke, Jason Pepin, Andy Morin

 

1994 - 1995

Team Name: ATHLETICS 
Venue: Bill Burgoyne Arena 

Coach:

Paul Day future N. L. L. coach

Notable Players:

Grant Johnston '99 O. L. A. Major M. V. P.
Steve Toll 2000 Mann Cup with Brooklin
Jason Luke '97 O. L. A. Major top rookie 
Pat McCready, Travis Kilgour, Mike Accursi

Special Recognition:

Travis Kilgour: O. L. A. Ability & Sportsmanship Award ('94)
Pat McCready: O. L. A. Jr. "A" top defenseman award ('95)

Regular Season Standing:

2nd place in a six-team west division (1994) (3rd overall)
3rd place in a eleven-team league (1995)

Playoff Results:

(1994) won quarter-final 4 - 2 vs. Six Nations Arrows
(1994) lost semi-final 4 - 3 vs. Peterborough Traders
(1995) won quarter-final 4 - 1 vs. Brampton Excelsiors
(1995) won semi-final 4 - 0 vs. Whitby Warriors
(1995) lost final 4 - 0 vs. Orangeville Northmen

Seasons Recap:

The first “breaking news story” out of the camp of the St. Catharines Athletics in 1994 was the stepping down of coaching-legend Jim Brady. The job of replacing the man who Peter Conradi Jr. fittingly described as “the builder of champions” would certainly be a tough act for anyone to follow. Two-year assistant coach Paul Day was taking over a team that had grown to view anything less than a national title as a bitter disappointment. But Day was up to the challenge and the 25-year-old constable with the Niagara Regional Police had plenty of his own triumphs as a distinguished lacrosse player to build upon…three Minto Cup titles with the Peterborough Maulers, a division III field lacrosse title with Hobart College, and a Major Indoor Lacrosse League championship with the Buffalo Bandits. “I think probably my own experiences in lacrosse helped me get the job,” said Day. “I didn’t just play in one place and I’m not too far out of the game that I don’t know what the players are going through.” This experienced team had lost only three players to age…something that could be very beneficial…or perhaps even…something of a detriment to a young coach trying to set his own path. “I think one difficult thing is we have guys that have played two or three years under Jim’s system,” said Day before the season. “Now I’ve got to work gradually, showing them there’s other things they can do, and changing them to my system.” The team opened the year with wins over Kitchener, Sarnia and Six Nations before absorbing a 14 – 5 home-floor setback to the Orangeville Northmen. “The Athletics simply weren’t prepared for the kind of team effort the Northmen threw at them,” wrote Mark Jeanneret of The Standard. The “hornheads” would have the A’s number throughout that summer of ’94 as the boys in blue would build a strong 20W – 6L record, good enough for second-place in the western division, but alarmingly, four of their defeats came at the hands of their main rivals from Orangeville. As this season was winding down, the entire organization was shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Christine Kilgour, mother of Darris, Rich and Travis, and a long-time dedicated volunteer for the Athletics. “She was part of the family, really a mother to all the boys. She even fixed their sticks for them. She’ll be sadly missed,” said Coach Day. The Athletics opened their post-season against the 13W – 13L Six Nations Arrows, and The Standard’s Dave Feschuk would spare no effort in getting some knowledgeable insight on this series…“ ‘Six Nations is OK,’ said a eight-year-old third-grader and avid Athletics backer between tosses against the arena wall with his lacrosse stick and ball. ‘But our team is way better.’ ” The youngster’s predictions looked bang-on when the Athletics opened up with a 20 to 8 win in game one on a night that the humidex reading soared to 36 degrees Celsius. “That was definitely one of the hottest games I’ve ever played in,” said rookie goaltender Ron Groulx of the A’s. “Things were getting a little fuzzy on me.” These Arrows proved once again to be a very stubborn opponent in their own building and the tense quarter-final series would be all even after four games. Each of the home dates for the favoured Athletics was taking on a must-win feel, and things may have seemed a little shaky in game six when the Arrows rallied from a three-goal deficit to tie the score at nine in the middle of the third stanza. But then a couple of the team’s veterans came up with their own crisis management response to pull out an important win. “When they tied it up, I just turned to Travis (Kilgour) and said ‘it’s our time now,’ ” said regular season top scorer Grant Johnston. “We’ve played together for four years and if it’s going to start somewhere, it should probably start with us.” Kilgour scored once and Johnston added two more in the late stages of the game to lock up the victory. And two nights later the team closed the series on a 13 – 10 win right in Ohsweken with Johnston and Steve Toll netting two goals each. Next up would be the Peterborough Traders with their electrifying goal-scorer John Grant Jr. in an inter-divisional match-up. On paper this had all the potential to be a very memorable series…the A’s at 20W – 6L versus the Traders with a similar 20W – 5L – 1T record…two veritable offensive power-houses…both teams with 395 goals scored during the regular season to pace the league…and each with plenty of outstanding and colourful individual talent such as Grant, Toll, Kelusky, Johnston, and more…ah, tighten your seatbelts for this one. The Athletics dropped the series opener by a 9 to 7 score in Peterborough but then bounced back a couple of nights later in a good effort at the Bill Burgoyne Arena. “We needed this one at home, there’s no doubt about it,” said veteran St. Catharines player Jeff Bridgeman. Coach Day would add, “If everybody comes to play like tonight, this is what’s going to happen. We had the wheels going good tonight and moved the ball really quick up the floor on the fast break.” But the pattern of this series was emerging as a complete home-team domination…Peterborough in game three…the A’s pulling even in game four…the Traders again in game five… then St. Catharines emerged as 17 to 9 victors in game six to force the seventh game. Dave Feschuk of The Standard would write of the post-game mood after that big win, “The players were subdued and stone-faced. Save the odd hoot from the shower room, it was tough to tell that these guys were the winners. But that’s what a series in which the home team has won every game will do to you. A win in your own arena is a given – a loss unthinkable.” Could these A’s pull off the big game-seven upset right in Peterborough? “I don’t believe in tradition,” said Grant Johnston, sounding much like his former mentor Jim Brady. “I don’t think any player on this team cares about what happened the last three times we’ve played up there.” What you want in any game seven is all the grit and determination and heart and resolve that two rivals can muster…and these two teams delivered just that. The A’s opened well before falling behind by a 10 to 6 score after two periods. But this never-say-die blue team would reel off four unanswered goals in the third, the equalizer coming off the stick of Steve Toll, and the game…heck, the series…was pushed into an overtime. Peterborough went up 11 – 10 early in the extra period but then another clutch goal by Stevie Toll, this time with a mere seventeen seconds left on the clock, meant the need for sudden-death double overtime. Dave Feschuk of The Standard would write of what happened next, “They had chances – they hit posts, they missed on breakaways – but the A’s couldn’t put the winner behind Peterborough tender Dave Nisbett.” The series would ultimately be decided by the skilled stick of John Grant Jr. …the league scoring champion and MVP zinging a hard bounce shot up into the top corner of the A’s net past goalie Ron Groulx…and suddenly…it was all over. “I’m just crushed right now, I thought for sure we were going to win,” Groulx said, fighting back tears. “It just felt like the world had ended, it was just over,” said Toll. “It was just the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced in my life.” And captain Travis Kilgour would add, “First time I ever went out in the semis. Groulx played a great game, you couldn’t ask for anything more. We just couldn’t get him that last goal.” In the final analysis, the A’s team of 1994 demonstrated plenty of character in their final defeat... Coach Paul Day –“They showed a lot of heart to come back – a lot of heart.”                  In 1995 the Junior Athletics would have plenty of veteran leadership with five holdovers still in uniform from that youthful Minto Cup championship team of 1991. When Grant Johnston, Jason Pepin, Steve Toll, David Ferguson and Pat McCready experienced the pinnacle of the Canadian junior game as mere 16-year-olds, they established for themselves high expectations of more to come in the seasons to follow. But championships, let alone dynasties, are an elusive temptress, and 1995 would be the last opportunity for this good graduating class. “Not making it to the final last year was torture,” said the cannonball-shooting Grant Johnston. “You look back and it makes the whole season feel like a waste” “I think we’ll be right in there again this year, in the top three,” said returning head-coach Paul Day. “Whitby’s improved, with a lot of speed. Orangeville didn’t lose much, so they’ll be tough again and Peterborough will be strong.” The team was bolstered in the off season with the addition of Pelham native Mike Accursi, the 1993 Junior A rookie of the year with Burlington, and a huge hole on the right side was filled. The boys would build a very respectable 8W – 2L record through their first ten games, but a pair of losses to rival Orangeville would highlight an ongoing concern. The A’s would finish the regular season in third place with a 15W – 5L record after splitting their games with Whitby, Peterborough and Toronto, and Johnston and Toll would finish second and third in the league scoring behind Peterborough’s John Grant. “We’re looking forward to the playoffs more than we did last year,” said Johnston. “It’s easier going in as the underdogs. But we’re there, no team is going to blow us away and if we keep our discipline, stay level-headed, we could win it all.” The team would match up against the sixth-place Brampton Excelsiors in the O. L. A. quarter-finals and win the series in five hard-fought games. In particular, the July 22nd match-up in St. Catharines was an ugly affair as many of the Brampton players went into the stands to confront boisterous fans after the A’s Jason Luke was run into the boards from behind….the league would subsequently announce one-year suspensions to two of the Excelsiors’ players. The semi-finals for the team would then open on July 29th in Whitby and the boys would come away with a big 19 – 9 win against the favoured Warriors in the first game…Luke and Toll each netting four. Games two and three would be close wins for the Athletics before the sweep was completed with an 11 – 4 triumph in the Bill Burgoyne Arena on August 4th. The Athletics were returning to the Ontario finals for the sixth time in seven years…and it would be a rematch of that haunting 1993 series when the Orangeville Northmen surprised the heavily-favoured double-blues. The A’s mustered just one win in that series and it was now remembered as the team’s last victory over Orangeville. Some were even talking of a Northmen jinx. “I think it may be in a couple of guys’ minds that they have our number,” assistant captain Steve Toll said. “But I think that has to be put aside in the championship series.” Veteran Dave Ferguson would add, “This is our last shot. We’ve had three years that we’ve been close but now we know that it’s either do or die. We don’t have next year to look forward to and I think that will make a big difference. I’m willing to do anything I have to put another ring on my finger. I don’t care if it’s playing defense, offence or even cheerleading. I’ll do anything.” The home-floor Northmen would open up a 10 – 3 lead in game one before a third period come-back try by the A’s fell short in the 11 – 8 loss. “It’s obvious that we have to show up for 3 periods to win,” said Coach Day. Seven power-play opportunities including one five-minute advantage helped propel the Northmen to a close 11 – 9 at the B.B.A. in game two. “There isn’t one reason that we tend to beat them,” Northmen head coach Terry Sanderson said. “All the games have been so close and actually a lot of them could have gone either way. Maybe there’s a lot of luck involved – I know there was a lot tonight.” Luck or not, the Northmen captured game three with a very close 9 – 8 win in Orangeville before taking the series in the minimum four games with a dramatic 12 – 11 triumph back in St. Catharines on August 13th as Trevor Gordon potted the winner with just 43 seconds left in a overtime period. All hope ended for the A’s when they twice hit the goal post in the dying seconds. Mark Jeanneret of The Standard“While the rest of his team-mates were pulling on their street clothes and getting ready to go home, Pat McCready stood in front of his corner stall attempting to delay the inevitable. What once would have been a routine procedure grew painstakingly long and drawn out for the St. Catharines Athletics captain as he slowly removed one piece of equipment at a time and carefully hung it up in its rightful place. ‘It hit me that that was it when I came back to the room and hung my sweater up for the last time,’ said McCready, fighting back emotion. ‘I didn’t want to take it off.’” And for Dave Ferguson…“I think some Wednesday when I’m coming to the rink for a home game and we don’t have one, it’s going to set in.” Time waits for no man. The 1995 Orangeville Northmen would go on to claim the much-coveted Minto Cup with a four-game sweep of New Westminster while the A’s bid a sad farewell to their last link to the ’91 championship team.           

 

 


 

Accounts of the St. Catharines Juniors of earlier years can be found in these selected articles...

1914 Junior Athletics

1920 Junior Athletics
1921 Junior Alerts
1924 Junior Athletics
1931 Junior Tecumsehs
1932 Junior Athletics
1934 Junior Athletics
1935 Junior Athletics
1936 Junior Saints