'52 MANITOBA MIRACLE
The 1952 version of the Manitoba Lacrosse Junior All Stars had many familiar faces with five players having Minto Cup experience, led by goal tender Clarke Hicks playing in his fourth Cup. What made this team different was an infusion of young talent from the Winnipeg Minor Lacrosse League- West End 's Glen and Lorne Christianson, Deer Lodge Hornet grads: Ron Arkley, Jeep Woolley, Jim Palmer, Bill Welligan, Ernie Gaudreau, and Ron Leitch. The group of young talented players from the West Side of Winnipeg was built around a core of ten players from Elmwood, long the hot bed of lacrosse in Winnipeg: goaltenders- Clark Hicks and Mike Tymtysyn, forwards- Lionel Merrick, Gerry Ridler, Doug Smallwood, Gord Horner, Butch Wozniak, and defenders- Cliff Hamilton, Bill Swanke, and Effie Neubauer. In preparation for the Minto Cup play downs, all these players honed their skills by playing for teams in the Winnipeg Senior League. Jim Palmer, Lionel Merrick, Cliff Hamilton, Jerry Ridler, Bill Welligan, Gord Horner, and Doug Smallwood were all top ten scores in the senior loop. With a couple of weeks of practice and some inter squad games, coach, Les Swaffer and manager, Jim O'Dowda were confident that their young squad, with seven players still of Juvenile age were ready to face the challenge.
The Manitoba side was going to have their hands full with the BC team selected from the New Westminster Salmon Bellies, Vancouver Burrards, and Coquitlam Adanacs. The all-star team was thrown together hastily as the provincial Champion Burrards had to default their crown for using two over aged players. That being said coach, Earl McDonald, assembled an extremely talented and experienced crew- as good as any team BC has sent to the Minto Cup Series.
Game one, of the best of three series, played in front of small rabid crowd, was a penalty filled affair with the two teams sharing in 39 penalties and one slugfest between Cliff Hamilton and Harold McLennan resulting in major penalties. The violence from the floor spread to the stands with a scuffle between Bob Marsh, manager of the BC team, and Jim O'Dowda, President of the Greater Winnipeg Minor Lacrosse Association. But for the most part the joyful Manitoba fans were well behaved. As for the game, the Toba Team jumped into 7-1 lead at the end of the half, coasting to a 12-8 victory in a match that took over three hours to play. Glen Christianson lead the "Toba scoring onslaught with five goals, with the Jimmy "The Break away Kid, chipping in two. Singles went to Lionel Merrick, Don Leitch, Butch Wozniak, Lorne Christianson, and Bill Welligan. Dave Bedline replied with four for the BC All Stars.
In protest of the roughness of the game and what BC considered poor officiating the BC team boycotted the Minto banquet hosted by the Elmwood Terriers Lacrosse Club. This animosity could lead to bad blood between the teams.
In the second game of the series, the two teams played hard within the rules of the game. Referees, Eric Abbott and Charlie Harding called a tight game- keeping the players and their emotions in check. BC, displayed their offensive prowess, by jumping out to 5-3 lead a t half time. Manitoba started to take control of the game third period, but still trailed 7-5. In the fourth period, Manitoba charged out to an 8-7 lead, driving the jam packed out into hysterics. But BC put an end to the celebration scoring twice in the last 10 minutes, the winning goal coming with 42 seconds left to play- winning 9-7. Winnipeg scores were Jim Palmer and Bill Welligan, each with a pair and singles by Jeep Woolley, Butch Wozniak and Glen Christianson. With the significant number of penalties called by the officials, power play time was plenty, forcing both goalies, Hicks from Manitoba and Woods from BC to making numerous spectacular saves to keep the game close. The local newspapers predicted a remarkable display of lacrosse in the third game of the series if both teams focus on staying out of the penalty box.
The third game, started off slow with both teams wanting to avoid penalties and feeling the effects of the previous two games. The first period ended with the score 1-1. In the second period BC unleashed a relentless offensive attack out scoring Manitoba 3 to 1. At the end of the half with the west coasters leading by a 7 to 3 margin, with many in the crowd thinking the Manitoba dream was about to come to an end. The Manitoba All Stars outscore BC 3 to 1 in the third period. Manitoba entered the final period trailing 8 to 6. But with 10 minutes left in the fourth period, Manitoba scored 2 power play goals to knot the game at 8. After the game was tied both team, bolstered by a loud raucous crowd played furiously, sensing the game could go to overtime. But with three minutes left, Glen Christianson had a different idea, snapping the winning goal on a nifty passing play. From then it was goal tender Clarke Hicks who stymied any chance of the BC come back. Christianson topped the 'Toba scoring with a hat trick, Lionel Merrick chapped in a pair, with singles going to Jeep Woolley, Jim Palmer, Lorne Christianson, Cliff Hamilton, and Ernie Gaudreau. Merrick's strong performance came after the young player crawled of his sick bed- struck with the flu and fever- hours before the game.
In the bedlam at the end of the game, the full house cheered the victors until they were hoarse. The bedlam continued in the dressing room as the young team celebrated what was considered impossible- a Manitoba lacrosse team besting a squad of experienced and talented BC players.
How did the 'Toba team pull off this storybook victory? Many BC supporters said the win was a fluke fueled by BC's lack preparation and some hometown officiating that favoured the local squad. Most of this was just sour grapes, as the west coast team was comprised of the best players from the BC junior league and both teams were affected the uneven officiating. The secret to Manitoba's victory was goal tender Clark Hicks, whose play was a combination of steady and spectacular when the local gang needed it the most. Hicks gashed in the first game of the series came back bandaged- not missing a minute of the 3 games. Hicks was supported by a strong defensive effort lead by Woolley, Hamilton, Swanke, and Neubauer. The determined Manitoba defense lead to numerous turnovers that provided grade "A" scoring opportunities. Eleven different players cashed these opportunities providing balanced scoring through out the line up. Strong team play allowed David to slay Goliath.
Now it was on to Brampton and a date with the Mimico Mountaineers. There will be little time to prepare for the powerhouse Mounties, as the first game of the Minto Cup finals was set to go in four days. So as a despondent BC team boarded the train for home, a jubilant 'Toba band headed east, dreaming of the ultimate upset. The injury free and rested Mimico club bolstered by additional talent from the Ontario junior league are going to a formidable challenge for the young (seven juvenile aged players) and inexperienced (with only 5 players with previous Minto Cup experience) Manitoba All-stars. Also lost was the element of surprise, by defeating the BC representatives the young team had caught the attention of eastern lacrosse community and the respect of every Mountie player.
In game one, the train weary squad kept the game close playing to a 6-6 tie half way through the game. But at the savvy Mounties struck for quick goals at the start of the second half, combined with the loss of star goal tender, Clark Hicks who was struck in the face took the wind out of the visitors' sails. Mimico cruised to a 20 to 12 victory. Lorne Christianson led Manitoba with four goals. Lionel Merrick and Bill Welligan each contributed a pair and singles went to Jim Palmer, Ron Arklie, Doug Smallwood, and Effie Neubauer.
The second game of the best of five series was a chippy affair, with numerous minor penalties- four players banished from the game, and stick-swinging duel between Manitoba's Cliff Hamilton and Mimico's Fred Sandford. With plenty power play time, the Mounties out scored the visitors 20 to 9. Players picked for this series scored twelve of Mimico's goals. Manitoba's scorers were Bill Welligan (3), Doug Smallwood (2), and singles by Jim Palmer, Lionel Merrick, Lorne Christianson, and Ron Arklie. Game three of the best of series was to be played the next day.
The Mounties swept the series defeating Manitoba 17-9 in the third game. Manitoba jumped out to a quick 2-0 first quarter lead. After snuffing out the Manitoba margin, the home team controlled the game. Manitoba scorers with two each were Glen Christianson, Ron Arklie, and Bill Welligan. Jim Palmer scored a singleton.
After travelling 2 days (over 2000 miles) on four days notice, then playing 3 games in 3 days, the plucky Manitoba line up gave it their best effort. The well rested Mimico side, aware of Manitoba's up set of BC did not take the prairie squad lightly- playing every shift of all three games as their lives depended upon it. Mimico proved to be a true test of Manitoba's ability to play at the national level. The Manitoba representatives, battered and bruised, arrived home to a rousing crowd at the train station. The crowd was there to salute the turn around in Manitoba lacrosse from doormats to worthy opponents. As the players and spectators mingled there could be heard mumbles of "wait until next year".