A classic utterance in the movie Cool Hand Luke went something like “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”
The Canadian Lacrosse Association executive in charge of the 1944 Mann Cup championship certainly did its best to verify the apologue.
The powers-that-be attempted to slip in a ruling that contravened the CLA constitution, resulting in a standoff that threatened to scuttle the series.
Happily, sane minds prevailed and, after much eating of crow during a bitter, 24-hour committee-room battle, a truce allowed the continuance of the Canadian championship.
Ah, what would the Mann Cup be if not for much controversy?
Western titalists New Westminster Salmonbellies travelled East to do battle with St. Catharines Athletics in the spacious Maple Leaf Gardens, beginning October 7.
However, after arriving in Ontario, the ‘Bellies were informed the Gardens was not available between October 11 and 13 or after October 16; a fourth game, if necessary, would have to be played at St. Catharines’ outdoor, dirt-floor Haig Street Bowl.
‘Bellies’ coach Jack Wood exploded: “We did not travel. 3,000 miles to play on a dirt floor. Moreover, we hear the fans down there send up a barrage of stones at visiting goalies. It is final, definite and irrevocable — our team will not go to St. Catharines for a game on Thursday (October 12).”
It seems the Eastern CLA bosses knew of the Gardens’ scheduling problems a month earlier and had informed their Western counterparts; somehow, though, the word did not filter down to the ‘Bellies. The Western club was ordered to play in St. Catharines or face a lengthy suspension if the dictum was ignored.
The New Westminster players took a vote and, to the man, decided not to play. To reinforce their argument, the ‘Bellies thumbed through the CLA rulebook and uncovered a regulation that required all Mann Cup games be played in an indoor environment.
Oops: Red-faced and hopelessly deadlocked, the CLA retreated for a rest before returning to the bargaining table. Meanwhile, St. Kitts had captured Game One 17-10, lost the second match 13-4 and then took Game Three 11-10.
With the best-of-five series now 2-1 in favour of the Athletics, the ‘Bellies were even more determined not to play the fourth, and possibly last, game on St. Kitts’ home floor.
“It’s about time the Western clubs get off their high horse,” one CLA Eastern official was quoted in the newspaper. “We have an unusual situation down here this year, which is not of our own making, and we are obliged to make the best of it.”
“Surely, Salmonbellies’ officials are sportsmen enough to realize that point.”
‘Bellies’ manager Gordon Spring, living up to his nickname “Grumpy,” replied that he had been heckled and threatened with suspension by officials who had forgotten, if they ever knew, that the constitution upheld his club’s attitude.
Finally, an agreement was reached to play the fourth game in the Toronto Gardens October 14 with a fifth contest, if needed, would take place in Hamilton October 16.
With the confrontation now back on the playing floor, the ‘Bellies earned an 11-8 victory on three quick, overtime goals by Peter Meehan, Bill Dickinson and pick up John Cavallin.
For the fifth and final game set for the Hamilton venue — indoors, of course, St. Catharines added four pick up players to its lineup – Bill Isaacs of Burlington, Whoopee Arthurs of Brampton and Scoop Hayes and Al Doyle of Mimico.
The move proved successful — with the added quartet accounting for four goals and three assists, St. Catharines overcame an early 5-1 deficit to win the game — and the Canadian title — 11-9.