2022 INDUCTEE- LIONEL MERRICK
Lanky Lionel Merrick was a one of many graduates from the Elmwood lacrosse university. In the 1940's and '50's, Elmwood was the epicentre of the lacrosse in Winnipeg. One season the Elmwood senior team attracted over 23, 000 paying spectators (this number did not count the hordes of young players who were let in for free). Elmwood provided the ideal environment for young Lionel- enthusiastic and supportive adults, great role models, knowledgeable coaches, and a place to practice on your own.
Merrick played in the Elmwood Terrier minor system, starting with Bantam B in 1945 progressing to the juvenile team in 1949. Through out his minor career, Lionel was a goal a game player. The only games in which he did not score were in 1947 season when he was out of action due to a broken jaw. Records from this era are unclear, so as best as we can tell terriers were in the finals each year and that the Terriers won Bantam B and Juvenile titles.
The 5'10'', one hundred forty five pound Merrick started playing senior at 17 years of age. His goal scoring, and play making, combined with playing hard on his check earned him a spot on the 1949 Manitoba All star team. The All Stars hosted a BC Junior all-star team in the Western Canadian Minto Cup play downs. Manitoba truly played the role of host providing a gourmet supper at the Empire Grill on Saturday and a pre-game lunch provided Charlie Krupp at the Elmwood Recreation Association on Sunday.
The young Manitoba team also played the role of host on the floor losing the best of three series two games straight, with scores of 20-8 and 15-4 respectively. Young Merrick did not hit the score sheet, but he earned a ten-minute misconduct for his part in a third quarter melee.
In 1950 The Manitoba Junior All Star team played the perennial powerhouse St. Catharines Athletics. In the first game the spunky 'Toba team gave the Ontario squad all it could handle before falling 21-16 in overtime. Merrick contributed 2 goals supporting Jim McGeorge's five-goal effort. The Athletics swept the series with 9-7 win. Again Merrick contributed two goals to the effort. The Winnipeg Free Press summed up the series: "the finest exhibition of lacrosse has ever been seen locally in Minto Cup play downs."
The Free Press might have been a bit premature with its 1950 declaration. The 1951 team was going to earn Manitoba's first Minto Cup series triumph in 20 years by defeating the BC All Stars.. Merrick, being a three time all star and leading the Winnipeg Senior League in goal scoring was expected to provide leadership to the young team. In the first game of series Lorne Christianson was the star scoring 5 goals propelling 'Toba to a 12-8 victory. Merrick contributed a goal and a hand full of assists. Manitoba let the second game slip away 9-8, losing the lead on three occasions. The third game of the series was considered the roughest of the three games. Manitoba overcame the rough play and stormed back to win 12-8 thriller. Sparked by a five goal performance by Glen Christianson, the team did what no Manitoba team had ever done- win a Minto Cup playoff series.
In the Minto Cup final, Mimico swept the Manitoba squad two games straight. Merrick tallied three goals over the two games.
In 1952, Merrick was again selected as an all star to compete against the Ontario representative Brampton Excelsiors- a team described by the press as a big, rugged team. The Excelsiors won the first game 18-8,with Merrick potting two goals. The Winnipeg Free Press described the second goal as" the most brilliant play of the game". Lionel contributed 2 goals and 2 assists in a 10-9 over tie loss. Jack Bionda of the Brampton team (some consider him to be the best Canadian lacrosse player ever) went out of his way to compliment the play making of Jack Kirby, Butch Wozniak, and Merrick. The Winnipeg Free press echoed this comments by calling Merrick "the best wing man in Canadian lacrosse".
The lanky kid from Elmwood continued his consistent goal scoring in the Winnipeg Senior League (playing from 1951 to 1957), being in the top ten scores every year he played- often leading the league in goals scored. In that time Lionel captured three leagues championships- in 1955 and 1956 with the Elmwood Drewerys and the St. Boniface Kiewels in 1957.
In 1960's, Merrick was part of a group that tried to revive field lacrosse in Transcona.
Merrick's long and distinguished career deserves a place in the Manitoba Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
The next posting will focus on Manitoba goal tending sensation of the '70's and '80's Jim Thompson.