Down Memory Lane - Joe Cheevers
Down Memory Lane Articles - by Stan Shillington
Joe Cheevers, one of lacrosse's most talented goal scorers, amusingly began his senior career with a seven-game suspension. But he never regretted the enforced layoff for a moment.
In 1935, at the age of 20, Joe accepted a winter-long job in Oshawa on the condition that he would start his senior career the following year in that city. However, after spring practices, Joe packed up his equipment and set out for Orillia.
"Jumping the Oshawa team cost me a seven-game suspension but it was a move I never regretted", Cheevers recalled several years later. You see, the rookie received the tremendous sum of $22.50 a week "just for playing lacrosse" as well as a regular job - perhaps the sum pales to today's standard paycheque but, remember, 1936 was the height of the Depression.
Meanwhile, interest in lacrosse was growing again in Cheevers' home town of St. Catharines. After two Ontario championships and one Mann Cup title, Cheevers and teammate Wandy McMahon moved from the Orillia Terriers to the St. Catharines Athletics. Success was immediate - four consecutive Ontario titles and three Mann Cups.
After nine seasons in the Garden City, Cheevers took his scoring talents to Hamilton, leading the Tigers to the 1948 Mann Cup. After coaching Hamilton to the 1949 Ontario title, Cheevers returned to St. Catharines where he took up a lifetime of coaching and executive posts with minor hockey, baseball and lacrosse.
Scores of youngsters helped by Cheevers in their formative years went on to outstanding lacrosse and hockey careers, including his Hockey Hall of Fame son, Gerry Cheevers.
Ontario scoring statistics for 1945 and 1947 have long been lost but, even with these absent, Cheevers recorded 489 goals and 351 assists for 840 points in 390 games. You would expect, then, that some scoring achievement would have been the outstanding thrill of his lengthy career. But, no! It was the fifth and final game of the 1941 Mann Cup finals against Richmond Farmers; St. Kitts' netminder Bill Whitaker was hit flush in the face by a shot and had to be carried off the floor.
Teams carried no spare goalies, so Cheevers donned the pads and went into the nets. Backed by the tenacious checking of his teammates, Cheevers held Richmond scoreless until Whitaker was able to return, broken nose and all, the following period.
St. Catharines went on to the Canadian title with an 11-9 victory. "That (shutout goaltending) was definitely the highlight of my association with lacrosse", Cheevers once said. His comment, though, was made before 1967 when he and his old teammate Bill Whitaker were inducted together into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame - a little icing to top off a colourful career.