Ollie wasn’t a giant in stature. At a relatively short five-foot-nine and hovering around 155 pounds, he would never have been mistaken for The Dominator.
But outside appearances can be, and are, deceiving – a small body hiding a huge heart, a happy smile masking fierce competitiveness, friendly eyes camouflaging an unbending determination to succeed.
These are the extraordinary characteristics that elevated Wayne Oliver Goss above the mundane into one of the greatest lacrosse players in the history of the sport.
This same remarkable willpower and spirit gave Wayne back his life.
A native of New Westminster, Wayne was raised in Sapperton, which proved to be the first obstacle he would negotiate. With no arena facilities available, 10-year-old Wayne and buddy Steve d’Easum would peddle their bicycles miles into the Royal City to play lacrosse and hockey.
Wayne began his junior lacrosse career in Coquitlam in 1965 but quickly switched to the New Westminster Junior ‘Bellies. He played in only 44 junior-level games between 1965 and 1967 but amassed an incredible 183 points while making three unsuccessful challenges for the Minto Cup – those were the years of Jim Bishop’s Oshawa Green Gaels.
In 1968, the Inter-City Lacrosse League gave way to the Western division (WLA) of the National Lacrosse Association. Wayne still had one year of junior eligibility remaining but was determined to crack a powerful Salmonbellies senior roster that included such superstars as Cliff Sepka, Paul Parnell, Wayne Shuttleworth and Doug McRory, all future Hall of Famers.
And crack it he did. His impact was like an explosion. Wayne accumulated 93 points on 54 goals and 40 assists, captured the Rookie of the Year Award, won a first All-Star Team rating, and was named the Ellison Trophy winner (WLA Playoff MVP), and was instrumental in leading the ‘Bellies to the NLA pro lacrosse championship over Detroit. So, what do you do for an encore?
Well, let’s see! Before his retirement following the 1981 season, Wayne had won:
11 All-Star ratings, 9 of them on the First Team
Commission Trophy as the WLA MVP – four times
Ellison Trophy as the WLA Playoff MVP – three times
Ed Bayley Trophy as Rookie of the Year
Three-Star Game Award – once
Huddleston Trophy as the WLA scer – two times
Mike Kelly Award as the Mann Cup MVP – once
6 Mann Cup titles in seven attempts
Goss, nicknamed Ollie, and his linemate Ken “Leo” Winzoski, also became known as the league’s premier penalty killers. So effective were Ollie and Leo that rules were introduced into lacrosse, forcing a shorthanded team to bring the ball over the centreline within ten seconds. Typically, the pair were honoured by the rule change. After all, they only needed half the floor to play catch while skittering in and around frustrated opponents.
The only seasons Wayne failed to reach all-star status were 1973 when he suffered a fractured jaw; 1980 when he ruptured a disc and subsequent back surgery laid him up in hospital for over a month, and 1981 when continuing back pain slowed his progress until the Mann Cup series that saw him named the Series’ MVP. The feat earned him Sport B.C.’s Special Merit Award as the 1981 Athletic Comeback of the Year.
Wayne ended his playing career after that 1981 Mann Cup victory, but life continued on a high – he was named Salmonbellies 1982 coach, he was promoted to lieutenant on the New Westminster Fire Department and he married his sweetheart, Carol.
On April 27, 1982, the bubble of euphoria burst.
Wayne was helping a friend build a cabin at Pitt Lake when a board skidded along the rook, tripping Wayne and catapulting him over the edge onto rocks 10 meters below. He was airlifted to hospital where he lay unconscious for two weeks.
The finely-tuned athlete had suffered a severe brain stem injury affecting balance, co-ordination and speech. Early diagnosis questioned whether he would ever walk or talk again.
But for Wayne, this was just another obstacle to negotiate – he’d been overcoming adversity all of his life. And he would do it again.
What followed were long days, weeks, months, years, of exercise – weights for strength, swimming for endurance, horseback riding for balance, and speech therapy. Whenever he became frustrated or depressed, he had his family, friends and teammates to keep him going, particularly wife Carol who stood as his tower of strength.
Recovery was slow but indisputable. A year in a wheelchair gave way to walking with the aid of two canes, then one, and then often without. Therapeutic horseback riding awakened that competitive spirit, leading to numerous medals at the B.C. Equestrian Disabled Games. Countless hours of speech retraining hasn’t eliminated a slurred, halting delivery but conversations with him are easily understood.
Wayne is undoubtedly one of the most considerate individuals to ever grace lacrosse or, for that matter, any sport.
When he was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1986, Wayne had copies of his acceptance speech distributed “in case you can’t hear me”. But he delivered his own speech while standing unaided before a microphone.
Instead of dwelling on his misfortune, he thanked his family, teammates and friends for their support. Then, with that familiar twinkle in his eyes, Wayne said: “I’d also like to thank Ward Sanderson who, by checking me hard, made me work harder and made the game more exciting for him, me and the fans”. Sanderson, a Vancovuer Burrards bruiser, who outweighed Wayne by 60+ pounds, spent several seasons trying to stop the unstoppable.
In 1989, Wayne was also inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
During his 14-year, 465-game career, Wayne accumulated 812 goals and 1,040 assists for 1,852 points – the all-time assist and point records for Senior “A” box lacrosse in Western Canada. At the time of his retirement, Wayne held 41 WLA scoring and faceoff records and shared four others. As he turns 53 on March 13, 2000, he still possesses or shares 33 all-time records.
Lightening-quick Ollie excelled in all aspects of lacrosse – goalscoring, playmaking, penalty-killing, checking and faceoffs, truly a David in a game of Goliaths.
He was, in this writer’s opinion, the greatest all-round player in box lacrosse history.