Down Memory Lane - 1971 Richmond Roadrunners
Down Memory Lane Articles - by Stan Shillington
If one were to script a scenario whereby Phoenix rises from the ashes to ascend to the heights of victory, you probably would pish-tosh it as a farfetched Hollywood fantasy.
Cinderella stories are the tales of make-believe, not reality. It couldn't happen.
BUT IT DID!
Playing fairy godmother (well, perhaps, father), coach Ron Phillips waved a magic wand over his Richmond Roadrunners, turning a hapless team on the verge of collapse into the 1971 Canadian Junior Lacrosse Champions.
Sportswriter Cleve Dheensaw, in his book "Lacrosse 100", observed: "There aren't too many sporting events, from junior to senior, from amateur to professional, from the NHL to the Olympics, that can match the sheer cliff-hanging drama, emotion and excitement of Richmond's Minto Cup victory".
South Vancouver Legion managed only a couple of victories in 1970 and was about to disband when Fred Aspin and a handful of his cohorts moved the club to new digs in Richmond's Minoru Park. Oldtime fans recalled the Richmond Farmers of the 1940s but the Lulu Island community was no longer just farmland but, rather, a thriving suburb. "Farmers" was no longer an appropriate name, so "Roadrunners" found life.
Coach Phillips learned his mentoring skills as a member of Jack McKinnon's 1954 Minto Cup winners, PNE Junior Indians. Feisty, tough defence, quick offensive breakouts - that was his recipe for success.
The Minoru Arena was jammed for the 1971 season opener but the crowds soon dwindled to a handful as the Roadrunners dropped the first five games. It wasn't long, however, before the young players bought into the Phillips' recipe - wins began to mount and, with them, the crowds began to grow. Excitement reverberated throughout the arena, now dubbed "the Zoo".
Richmond won 14 of the next 19 games to finish second to Burnaby Cablevision, a team loaded with stars such as Doug Hayes, Dave Evans, Ted Gernaey, Nick Delmonico, Taki Vohalis and Rick Ornar.
Richmond disposed of New Westminster in four games in the semi-finals for the right to meet Burnaby for the B.C. title. All games were moved to New Westminster's Queens Park Arena to accommodate the anticipated crowds - crowds that swelled from 1,550 at the first game to over 4,500 for the seventh and final contest.
Richmond took the first two games convincingly, 17-8 and 14-8, but lost the third meeting 16-12 even though Phillips' charges outshot Burnaby 68-38, goalie Ted Gernaye being the difference. Burnaby captured two of the next three games to set up an incredible seventh-game, overtime victory for Richmond.
Cinderella had made it to the ball but the skeptics still wondered if the bubble was about to burst into a hapless pumpkin, complete with mice for men. You see, Peterborough PCOs were coming to town.
Eastern Canadian teams had captured nine consecutive Minto Cups and Peterborough, with such superstars as J.J. Johnston, John Grant, Jan Magee, Greg Thomas and the Wasson brothers in the lineup, were determined to extend the monopoly to ten. Coach Phillips countered the Eastern power by adding New Westminster scoring ace Walt Weaver and Burnaby netminder Ted Gernaey to his club.
It mattered not that New Westminster was the CLA-ordered venue - the fiercely loyal Richmond fans merely turned Queens Park Arena into "the Zoo". Block-long lineups formed hours before each game, referees required police protection, dead octopi were tossed onto the floor, three of the seven contests were settled in overtime - in short, "fans" became the abbreviation of fanatic and fantastic.
The two combatants split the first six games, PCOs tying the series with a 13-11 overtime, brawl-filled sixth game victory. Police were called to escort referees Barry Balance and Jim Grey off the playing floor to the safety of a dressing room. Chief game official Wally Henderson called the Richmond fans animals with no concept of lacrosse.
Maybe so - but over 5,000 squeezed into Queens Park for the seventh and final game. They weren't disappointed.
Down by two goals entering the third period, Walt Weaver fired three bullets past PCO's Greg Thomas to tie the game and push it into yet another overtime session. Weaver's hot hand continued, scoring two more goals to give the West a 13-11 victory and the national championship.
Both teams were given a deafening, five-minute standing ovation.
Gernaey, who stood Peterborough on its head with incredible saves (219 in the six games he played), was named the Jim McConaghy Medal winner as the series Most Valuable Player.
Richmond's lineup included future Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famers Dave and Brian Tasker, Dave Durante and Ron Pinder. Others celebrating a Minto Cup involvement were Bob Tasker, Dave Taylor, Jerry Pinder, Bob Holmes, Gary and Jim Bregani, Thoim Penway, Harvey Olsen, Larry Dean, Gord Osinchuk, Mike Smith, Gil Tetrault, Doug May and Pat Safianuk.