Honoured in the Team Category: St. Catharines Athletics - Minto Cup Champions - (1990-1991)
Editor's Note - The pandemic has resulted in activities across the World being delayed or cancelled for the past 20 months, including countless events in the Canadian lacrosse community. However, on Saturday, November 13, 2021 - the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame held a double cohort Induction ceremony for the years 2020 and 2021. A total of 4 players, 2 builders, 1 veteran and 1 team were inducted for each year.
This is the 1st of 16 feature articles pertaining to the most recent teams, players, builders, or veterans inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. The following article highlights the back to back 1990-1991 Minto Cup Championship St. Catharines Athletics. The Athletics were inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2020 in the team category.
Honoured in the Team Category (2020)
Coached by Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame Builder Jim Brady, the St. Catharines Athletics won back-to-back Junior “A” Minto Cup championships in 1990 and 1991.
Only a few Junior ‘A’ lacrosse teams win back-to-back Canadian championships. When reflecting upon the 1990-1991 teams, Head Coach and General Manager Jim Brady offered the following thoughts, "Despite our strong record, not many thought the 1990 team could win the Minto Cup. But we did. And that made winning the Minto in 1991 easier. The players on both teams had an attitude of being very supportive to each other. They were happy when their team mate had success. Sure, we had plenty of great talent on those teams, but it was the pride, the team pride the players had. The confidence and belief in each other made all of them winners individually and the team a championship team".
The 1990 Athletics roster included a wealth of talent. The team compiled a regular season record of 19-1 in capturing first place in the Ontario Lacrosse Association outscoring the opposition 419 to 154. In the playoffs, they swept Sarnia 4-0 and Peterborough 4-1 to win the Ontario championship. The 1990 Minto Cup was held in New Westminster. With a three-team tournament format which included a Victoria team, St. Catharines defeated the Richmond Outlaws 2-1 in the best of three series.
In 1991, St. Catharines were again first place in Ontario with 15-5 record. In the playoffs, they swept Bay Area four straight and took Brampton 4-1 in the semi-finals. In the finals, the Athletics defeated the Six Nations in five games to win the Ontario championship. The Minto Cup was hosted by St. Catharines and the Athletics defeated the Victoria Eagles 4-1.
The 1990 team was captained by Randy Mearns. Randy was a strong offensive and defensive player known for his exceptionally strong leadership. He was the MVP of the 1990 Minto Cup team. He won five consecutive Mann Cups 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996. He was an assistant coach of the 2006 Canadian World Field Lacrosse Gold Medal team. Randy was inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2008 in the Player category.
When asked about the team was being inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, he reacted with thoughtful emotion, “When I heard that our 1990 and 1991 teams were being inducted I was initially speechless. The reality of the news set in and I felt an overwhelming sense of Joy and Happiness for our coaches, support staff and team mates. We worked so hard to achieve our collective dream of winning the Minto Cup. To be honest, it was 14 or 15 years in the making with each individual overcoming challenges and obstacles. Being honoured together with our induction into the Hall feels unreal!”
Randy fondly recalls winning the Minto Cup – “Reflecting back, I always get an intense sense of pride of our 1990 and 1991 teams. Growing up in minor lacrosse, we all came from traditionally “B” or “C” level centers, mostly in Zone 9 - St. Catharines, Niagara on the Lake, Spartans, Dunville to name a few. We competed against and with each other with a tenacity, passion and a will to win the entire time growing up. If we did occasionally compete in tournaments against the “A” centers like Whitby, Peterborough and Brampton, we mostly fell short in those endeavors, never having enough talented depth to win against the big dogs”.
Obviously, the Minto Cup teams won against the “big dogs”. Randy Mearns spoke about the team mindset and culture, “I feel there was always a sense among the group during minor lacrosse if we could all play together, we could do some amazing things and be the best. That dream started to take shape once we got to Junior. Under the leadership of Jim Brady, we started to build a championship team with a championship culture. As young players, we learned from the veterans and every year continued to gain experience, adding more pieces to the puzzle. We worked our tails off to become more athletic, more talented and truly become a family in and out of the arena. After many heated battles for the Ontario Championship against our arch nemesis, the Peterborough Maulers, 1990 was the year, we believed, in fact, we knew we could win. We had an incredible chip on our shoulders. We were big, strong, tough, extremely talented up front and played with a championship team attitude. We knew we had all the pieces and we put in the work”.
When asked directly to acknowledge particular players who impacted on the team’s success, Captain Mearns shared his thoughts about the roster – “We had solid goaltending with Clayton Henry (St. Catharines), Robbie Thurston (St. Catharines) and Jason Lacombe (St. Catharines). We had team first grinders and glue guys in Dave Cross (Spartans), Greg Huska (Spartans), Vernon Jacobs (Niagara on the Lake), Jeff Snyder (Kitchener) Jeff Bridgeman (Niagara on the Lake) and Joey Fagiani (Niagara on the Lake). We don't win if we don't have these guys. Unsung Heroes in my book. Our D-core was unrelenting - Trevor Bidal (Spartans), Darren Mutch (St. Catharines), Jim Solly (St. Catharines), Steve Fannell (St. Catharines) and Derek Graham (Brantford). Wow, you had to be a very motivated opponent to try and break that defensive core. We had Tommy Hawke (Hamilton) who could play both ways and would rag the ball for 2-minute stretches on the short man unit. Out the front door, we had Mike Lines (St. Catharines), Andy Boldt (Niagara on the Lake) and Travis Kilgour (Niagara on the Lake) who all had incredibly soft hands and had an uncanny ability to find their way to the net and score big goals when needed. Tyson Lieis (Dunville) ran two ways and was a severe match up problem. If he wanted to get to the net, he did! But the key to it all is - we had Rich Kilgour (Niagara on the Lake) and Darris Kilgour (Niagara on the Lake). Rich was an incredible leader who did everything to win. Composed, Tough, Skilled, Two-way player. Top of the PP with a cannon for a shot, top of the Shortman and on a turnover or save he was gone on a breakaway. Rag team, Ball Team. So, so smart that he could read the next play and take advantage! I'm not really sure how often he even came off the floor!! And we needed every minute from him. And finally, Darris Kilgour - Quite simply - He just dominated in 1990 and 1991 - Size, athleticism, Lax IQ, will to win, vision, talent, tough as nails and like his brother did it all for us - PP, Shortman, face offs, ragteam etc. When I think about it, his extra ingredient was his unwavering desire to compete and be better than anyone. He was winning – he would not let you prevent it! And that you can't replace. The best player I have ever played with!”.
Athletics’ team Vice-President, Bob Luey, spoke about two difference makers - “Jim Brady and Randy Mearns had been knocking on the door for a few years. It was special for them to lead the team to be the best Junior “A” team in Canada. Their leadership on and off the floor certainly rubbed off on all players of both the 1990 and 1990 teams. Although 1990 was Randy’s last year, it was his leadership and passion which served as inspiration for all involved in those two great seasons”.
When a team is recognized for their accomplishment and inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, you know it was a special team. When hearing the words of Captain Randy Mearns, it is evident the 1990-1991 St. Catharines Athletics were special, truly a band of brothers. A championship team with skilled and accomplished players – certainly worthy of induction into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame – Class of 2020.
(Written by Rad Joseph - Member of Major Series Lacrosse - Media team)