Down Memory Lane - Vancouver Burrards - Lacrosse Overlord of the 1060's
Down Memory Lane Articles - by Stan Shillington
The 1960's undoubtedly belonged to the Vancouver Burrards, a lacrosse dynasty playing under the sponsorship banner of Vancouver Carlings.
Between 1961 and 1967, Vancouver accumulated 189 victories and six ties in 289 games on the road to four Mann Cups in five attempts.
The team was a rock-solid structure, built brick by brick with dedicated team members from the playing floor to the front office; however, the foundation was laid a few years earlier by a fingernail-chewing coach and an assortment of raw rookies.
Jack McKinnon, a nervous Nellie but an incredible teaching coach, guided Vancouver-based junior teams to the 1954 and 1956 Minto Cup championships. In 1957, he moved his charges into senior company with a vow that he would lead them to a league title within three years or would step down as coach.
The team improved steadily but his goal was not to be. Keeping the promise he made to himself, Jack turned over the coaching reins to veteran player Bob Marsh. McKinnon's belief in his players was not unfounded; it was just one year off.
Vancouver topped the Inter-City Lacrosse League in 1960 but failed to move past Nanaimo in the B.C. playoffs; however, the raw rookies of the 1950's were now proven veterans hungry for a national title.
The Vancouver dream was achieved with vengeance in 1961, blasting through Brampton four straight to gain the coveted Mann Cup. Vancouver again took the league title in 1962 but, when Burrards (oops, Carlings) failed to get by New Westminster in the playoffs, Marsh also resigned as coach.
In stepped veteran Alex MacKay as the new mentor, allowing Marsh to return fulltime to the active playing roster. Success followed - Mann Cup championships over St. Catharines 4-2 in 1963 and over Brooklin 4-3 in 1964.
The ICLL expanded in 1965, Vancouver losing five key players to the new Coquitlam Adanacs. All-Star Gordie Gimple became the new Coquitlam playing-coach; going with him were Alex Carey, John Surinak, Ron Bodner and goalie Merv Schweitzer.
Marsh retired his wonky knee off the playing roster and again became Vancouver's coach. Filling his depleted lineup with youngsters Ross McDonald, Gord Frederickson, Bill Robinson and Bob Salt, Marsh again vied for the Mann Cup in 1966, losing four games to one to Peterborough.
Personal commitments required Marsh to step down as coach in 1967. Surprise, surprise, there was Jack McKinnon waiting in the wings and, like Cinderella having a ball, Jack led Vancouver to the league title, a playoff sweep over Victoria and on to a 4-2 Mann Cup win over Brooklin. McKinnon had achieved his long-cherished dream of coaching a Canadian senior lacrosse champion.
Four Mann Cups in five attempts over a seven-year period - the Vancouver club provided a multitude of highlights in the memories of lacrosse fans; for example, Don Hamilton's 13-0 shutout victory over Brampton in 1961.
But the 1964 comeback triumph over a beefed-up Brooklin team was a classic.
Vancouver stepped onto the tiny confines of Whitby Arena to meet what was virtually an all-star team dressed in Brooklin strip. While Vancouver declined to bolster its roster with pickup players, Brooklin was allowed to add eight - Bob Allan, Larry Ferguson and Cy Coombes from Peterborough, Ron Roy and Garv Moore from St. Catharines, Jack Madgett and Don Arthurs from Brampton and Paul Henderson from Port Credit.
After losing the first two contests 10-8 and 11-7, in stepped the most improbably hero imaginable - the loquacious, happy-go-lucky Ron Hemmerling. With Ron in the lineup for the third game - work commitments had delayed his trip east - Vancouver played loose as a goose for a 9-5 win in the only series' game played in the larger Peterborough Arena. Back at Whitby the following night, Vancouver dropped a hard-fought 14-10 battle, despite three goals by Hemmerling - only his third hat trick in his 243-game career.
The fifth game, played September 21, saw Fred Usselman blast five shots past goalie Pat Baker to lead Vancouver to a 13-10 win. Sandwiches purchased by the Brooklin executive for a victory party were given to the underprivileged and the champagne was placed back on ice for a Mann Cup celebration that never came.
The next game, the sixth of the series, was an ulcer-maker. With less than a minute remaining and Vancouver leading 12-10, Brooklin fired two quick shots behind Norm Nestman. The roar of the crowd was deafening in the tiny Whitby Arena. Finally, everyone settled down to await an overtime period that would never come. With just 13 seconds left in regulation time, Usselman won the faceoff and quickly flipped a pass to Gimple who had drifted to the Brooklin goal; Gordie converted it for a 13-12 victory.
The seventh game was anti-climatic. Vancouver went down 4-1 after the first period, but with Hemmerling still chattering and opening the second stanza with a picture goal, Vancouver went on to capture the game 10-5.
Nine players and five executives from the incredible 1964 team were subsequently inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame - Gord Gimple, Fred Usselman, Bob Babcock, Peter Black, Bill Barbour, Sid Warick, Bill Chisholm and John Cervi in the Player Category; player Bob Parry in the Builder Category, and president Bill Ellison, team doctor T.S. Perrett, trainer Lou Moro, manager Jack McKinnon; and secretary-treasurer Stan Shillington, also in the Builder Category.
But, over the 1961-1967 era, there were other future Hall-of-Famers - Bob Marsh, Gord Frederickson, Bob Salt, Skip Chapman, Wayne Shuttleworth, Stan Joseph and Don Hamilton.
Vancouver - 1961 to 1967 - has been inducted in 1999 into the Team Category in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.