Down Memory Lane - The Big East-West Brouhaha
Article - by Stan Shillington



Imagine, if you can - squeaky-clean John Allen being branded a lacrosse "outlaw" and suspended indefinitely by the Canadian Lacrosse Association.

Wild! And so were Ray Beech, Al Maclean, John Hansen and Harry Woolley. Banishment would seem unimaginable. Well, perhaps it's believable for Woolley-bully, but not for the other four goody two-shoes from Victoria.

The suspensions occurred in 1965 when British Columbia became embroiled in a turf war with an upstart semi-professional lacrosse league in Quebec.

Allen had just graduated from the Junior level in Victoria and hoped to catch a spot with the senior Shamrocks; however, THE RECEPTION WAS COOL. Disgusted, and in need for a job, Allen took his lacrosse stick eastward to Verdun of the unaffiliated Quebec National League. Joining him was Al MacLean, who still had one year of junior eligibility left with the junior Shamrocks but was also looking for employment.

They showed up unannounced at a practice and were immediately injected into the starting lineup for a May 11 game against Maisonneuve; Allen popped in nine goals and McLean six. Despite the heroics, though, the four-team league teetered under financial woes and, by June 1, collapsed.

Meanwhile, Inter-City Lacrosse League president Tom Gordon fired off a protest letter to the CLA boss Carl Madgett complaining that no $500 transfer fee had been paid for BC-registered players.

The dispute picked up steam when Ville St. Pierre of the CLA-affiliate Quebec Lacrosse League plucked Allen and MacLean off the defunct Verdun lineup. Ray Beech and John Hansen, both of whom began the season with Victoria, abandoned the BC team to join Allen and MacLean with St. Pierre. Twenty-three-year-old Harry Woolley joined John Ferguson's QLL entry, Sorel Titans.

Threats of individual and team suspensions continued to fly.

Ferguson, A BC lacrosse star who gave up playing when he signed a hockey contract with Montreal Canadiens, was incensed.

"As lacrosse needs a good shot in the arm across Canada, it is really silly to stand in the way of players who cannot play Senior 'A', although I'm sure Beech and Hansen could," Ferguson told the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper. "I hope both ends of the country can bring the game out of the bushes and bring back an interest. It is sad to see a hotbed like Nanaimo (Ferguson's old club) fold because of consistent bickering with the league officials over the years. Lacrosse needs expansion."

But Ferguson's comments fell on deaf ears. To counteract what was perceived to be potential "wholesale raiding," the CLA suspended Allen, MacLean, Beech, Hansen and Woolley indefinitely. Other BC players in the league - Jim Butterfield, Bob Holness and Terry Wilson - were free to continue playing in the QLL because they weren't registered the previous year in BC.

The QLL agreed to accept the suspensions but, when St. Pierre said it would be forced to fold, reversed its decision and permitted the expelled players to continue playing. Teams meeting St. Pierre played "under protest" as a formality. Sorel pulled Woolley from its lineup but soon reinserted him.

By now, the CLA branded the entire QLL as an "outlaw" league.

Said one QLL official: "The CLA is living too closely with the book. The transfer rule was meant to prevent inter-regional raiding between the powerful BC and Ontario leagues. It wasn't meant to hurt a fledgling league like ours. We need those outsiders so our own boys will know how much they must improve."

With the BC boys leading the way, Ville St. Pierre captured the championship.

The Quebec League - Ville St. Pierre Saints, Drummondville Athletics, Caughnawaga Indians, Sorel Titans and Valleyfield Nationals - continued to defy the CLA when it began the 1966 season.

With unlimited floor time honing his skills, Allen captured the scoring title with 68 goals and 44 assists for 112 points in 22 games. His BC cohorts fared well, too, leading St. Pierre to its second consecutive QLL title.

Things weren't too rosy for Sorel's Harry Woolley, though. Two-thirds through the 1966 season, league president Jean-Paul Massicotte imposed a lifetime suspension on the exuberant Woolley for an alleged attack on a Valleyfield player.

Allen wanted further challenges in a tougher league in 1967 so, ignoring a $75 a game offer and steady employment, John returned to the West Coast and lined up with the Coquitlam Adanacs.

"It's funny," Allen later recalled. "As soon as I signed with Coquitlam, my lifetime suspension was lifted."

Allen went on to amass 542 goals and 453 assists for 995 points in 356 games with Coquitlam, Portland and Boston, He was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame in 1988.

MacLean also returned unsuspended to BC, playing 89 games with Victoria over the next four years. Beech, too, played three more seasons with Victoria while Hansen remained in the East.