He was a giant on the lacrosse floor – in stature, strength and talent.
But, like Achilles of mythical antiquity, Big Al had his weakness – a battered knee that hobbled his career from elevating above super- stardom to legend.
Born in New Westminster October 15, 1950, Al Lewthwaite developed his boxla skills in the Royal City’s Sapperton district but, by aged 15, he was considered too big to continue playing at the Juvenile level. Instead, Al lined up with the New Westminster Junior “B” team that captured the 1966 Canadian championship in Port Arthur, Ontario.
The following year, Lewthwaite joined the Junior “A” Salmonbellies which made unsuccessful challenges for the 1967 and 1968 Minto Cups. Meanwhile, he found the senior ‘Bellies coveting his talents. In his first senior contest in 1967 – he was not yet 17 years of age – he scored two goals. After the 1968 Minto Cup series, he played a pivotal role in the ‘Bellies’ National Lacrosse Association professional championship victory over Detroit.
It was now 1969 – Lewthwaite was six-foot-three, 230 pounds, fleet of foot, a deadly shooter, a natural playmaker and rib-crunching checker. For some reason, league officials virtually drummed him out of the old Pacific Junior “A” Lacrosse League; so, at the age of 18, Big Al became a permanent member of the senior Salmonbellies, registering 87 points in his 27 games. Then, between 1970 and 1974, Al and his mates captured three Mann Cups in four trips to the Canadian championships.
Nicknamed “Lurch” by his teammates after the Fred Gwynne character on TV’s Munsters, Al preferred floor time to sinbin quarantine but, due to his imposing size, often found himself in the role of team policeman. Some of his confrontations with Vancouver’s and Coquitlam’s are fondly remembered by advocates of the lacrosse school of hard knocks.
In 1975, the upstart National Lacrosse League professional team in Boston drafted Big Al in Round One but, then, traded him to the long Island Tomahawks where he accumulated 140 points in 47 games; however, he also seriously injured his knee.
Famed New York sports medicine specialist, Dr. Morris Cowen, basically rebuilt his left knee, but the criss-crossing scars were mute evidence of the obvious – at the age of 25, Lewthwaite’s playing career was virtually at an end. He limped through just 27 more games over the next three years before hanging up his gear for good.
In 269 games with Salmonbellies and Long Island, Big Al managed 308 goals and 443 assists for 751 points. One can only speculate what the total would have eventually reached had he remained healthy. But lacrosse was still embedded deep in his heart. His experience in Long Island playing under well-known boxla mentor persuaded Lewthwaite to try his hand at coaching.
After one season as co-coach of a Senior “B” team, Big Al took over the coaching reins for the Salmonbellies in 1970. Over the next 21 years, Lewthwaite held similar positions with Coquitlam, Richmond, Burnaby and Maple Ridge.
The likable Lewthwaite was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1991.