Orillia Terriers had captured three Mann Cup titles in four attempts during the mid-1930’s.
But then the Ontario Lacrosse power base shifted to the St. Catharines Athletics, a talented collection of players proud of their power and determined to outshine Orillia’s record.
In 1938, St. Catharines blasted a hapless New Westmisnter Adanacs three games to none on Eastern soil and then came West the following year confident of a repeat. However, instead of another Mann Cup victory, the Athletics found only embarrassment on the back end of a similar three-nothing series loss to the Adanacs.
The 1940 national finals again shifted East where St. Catharines reclaimed the Mann Cup with a three-games-to-one triumph over the Vancouver Burrards. Two Canadian titles in three attempts, still one shy of the Orillia dynasty. It was now 1941 and the stage was set for the Ontario club to revenge its failure on Western soil two years earlier.
St. Catharines versus Richmond Farmers with the first contest in the Vancouver Forum set for October 10, less than 12 hours after the Athletics alighted from the confines of a lengthy train trip. But, if the 5,000 fans expected a club impeded by travel fatigue, St. Catharines soon dispelled that with a 10-9 series opening win.
If St. Catharines could beat Richmond after a five-day rail trip, what could they do with a three-day rest? The answer, as it turned out, was that St. Catharines played with chumps, not champs. Outscored 10-0 in the third quarter, the pride of Ontario was humbled 21-10.
St. Kitts coach Art Brown laid the blame for the loss on the shoulders of referees Jimmy Gunn and Harry Gilmore, who had assessed the Eastern boys 35 minutes in penalties to Richmond’s 14. But, in truth, the Athletics simply lost control of their collective temper and self-discipline.
With bully-boy tactics baggaged in the dressing room, St. Kitts met the rosy-cheeked Richmond rascals in the third game October 15, reducing the Westerners to the undesirable role of stooges. Paced by centre Joe Cheevers’ four-goal effort, St. Catharines moved out to a 9-1 first-half lead on the road to the 17-9 victory. The turnaround was simple, coach Brown explained: “We’re the best team when we stick to our knitting; last night we played lacrosse.”
In an effort to inject more speed into the lineup for the October 1 fourth game in Queens park Arena, Richmond coach Ed Gilmore stripped youngsters Jimmy Lang, Art Pruden and Adanacs’ Gord Saunders. The CLA brass, however, ordered Saunders off the floor, pointing out that Richmond had named only Bill Wilkes and Bob Lee as pickup players.
No matter! Richmond ran St. Catharines ragged with a sustained passing attack, holding a 10-3 halftime lead before holding on for a 14-11 win.
The best-of-five series was now down to a sudden-death game set for October 20.
And St. Catharines was not to be denied. The Easterners checked Richmond to a standstill, leading 7-2 after three periods and then staving off a frantic last quarter rush to claim an 11-9 victory.
Vancouver Sun reporter Hal Straight was somewhat flowery in his description of the final 15-minute stanza:
“It looked like another freak reversal in a freak series, until the grim gladiators from the delta opened up in the final frame.”
“Then they were superior by far. Then they were fighting, snarling, bricolic supermen who threatened to snatch victory right out of the closed fists of the defending Mann Cup Champions”.
“The din, made up of strident whistles, raucous shouts and miscellaneous murmurs; a din which rasped the roughest eardrum, expressed clearly how exciting a comeback the game losers made.”
“Theirs was a glorious defeat but it would have been the greatest sport victory of all time. But it wasn’t in the cards. St. Catharines were too good, too quick to take advantage and too well-soaked in a solution of experience.”
St. Catharines had matched Orillia’s recorded domination – three national championships in four years.