Down Memory Lane - New Westminster, Team of the 1970's
Down Memory Lane Articles - by Stan Shillington
Lacrosse in the 1970's was an exhilarating joyride of success for the New Westminster Salmonbellies.
Over a seven-year span (1970-1976) the Royal City crew captured four Mann Cup titles in five trips to the Canadian championships.
Oh, the middle year (1973) was a pothole of frustration triggered by crippling injuries and retirements. The 'Bellies flip-flopped penthouse to basement but, as quickly as they fell into oblivion, the boys of the Red and Blue climbed back to supremacy the following season.
The team lineups were a wonderful blend of stars and role players with Goss as the gunner, Parnell as the point persuader and Comeau as the catalyst.
The ascent to the '70's actually began in 1968 when the Inter-City Lacrosse League ceased to exist, replace by the Western (WLA) division of the professional National Lacrosse Association. New Westminster had walked through a so-so 19-19 season but caught fire in the playoffs, beating Vancouver, Portland and Detroit for the NLA title.
The Salmonbellies also reached the finals in the second NLA season but lost the pro title to Peterborough. The NLA then folded, resulting in the Western Lacrosse Association returning to the Mann Cup wars.
New Westminster was now on a path of perfection. Wayne Goss, with 136 points, Paul Parnell, counting 96 points, and Joe Comeau topping all netminders, the Royal City team captured first place in 197- with 22 victories in 30 tries. After dispatching Coquitlam in six, the 'Bellies sought revenge on Peterborough. Seek and ye shall find - the Mann Cup was returned to lacrosse's City of Champions, four games to none.
In 1971, the 'Bellies again took first place with 22 wins and nine losses, once more spearheaded by Goss and Parnell, who managed a combined point total of 242. The quest for a Mann Cup repeat, though, failed with the pride of the West dropping four straight in the east to Morley Kells-coached Brantford
The 1972 Mann Cup series was scheduled to be played in the West and New Westminster was determined to take back the coveted trophy. With a third consecutive firs-place finish under the 'Bellie belt, New Westminster played host to Branford. Revenge was sweet: the Fishmen, like Brantford the previous year, took the Canadian championship four straight.
And then the 'Bellies simply, well, discombobulated.
Goalie Joe Comeau packed in his equipment, as did Kerry Gallagher, Ray Bennie and Tracy Wright. Injuries also struck hard:Wayne and Ed Goss, Ken Winzoski, Steve d'Easum, Dave Matheson, John Hannah and Chuck Medhurst missing a total of 82 games. New West tried seven different netminders in hopes of finding a Comeau replacement. From three consecutive league titles and Mann Cup appearances to the WLA cellar, with just seven wins.
Would the Salmonbellies rebound in 1974? You bet they could! Comeau returned, Jim Grady and Walt Weaver came over in trade from Coquitlam, Bob Tasker and Bill Mosdell were plucked out in the junior draft, and new coach Ron Hemmerling talked old buddy Gary Stevens - a former Vancouver standout-out of retirement.
The transformation form doormat tot a 20-3-1 record was incredible, The Fishmen went on to crush Windsor Warlocks 18-5 in the single-game Mann Cup championship. The Jekyl-Hyde makeover was complete.
With Comeau again retiring in 1975, New Westminster managed to take first place in League play - the fifth time in six years - but stumbled in the playoffs. Third-place Vancouver went on the beat the 'Bellies, Victoria and Brampton for the national bragging rights.
New Westminster dropped into second place behind Victoria in 1976 but, hey, Comeau was back. Sure enough, the 'Bellies went on to beat Brampton four games to three.
Four Mann Cups in five trips to the national finals in just seven years!
Ten Salmonbellies from the 1970-1976 lineups have been inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame - Wayne Goss, Paul Parnell, Joe Comeau, Les Norman, Ken Winzoski, Steve d'Easum, Kerry Gallagher, Al Lewthwaite, Brian Tasker and Jim Johnston.
Pride and talent elevated the Salmonbellies to the heights of excellence - character kept them there.