The Coquitlam Adanacs haven't been in the Western Lacrosse Association's playoffs since 2013. And they've only won one Mann Cup national championship.
A blockbuster trade, a late-season surge, a playoff upset, a dramatic comeback and a global catastrophe; the Coquitlam Adanacs’ run to its only Mann Cup didn’t lack for drama.
As the team prepares to embark on its first post-season since 2013, the Tri-City News looks back on that national senior lacrosse championship squad that seemed anything but halfway through the regular season.
The Adanacs were struggling. Three years off a Mann Cup loss to the Brampton Excelsiors in 1998, the team had only four wins in 10 games.
Then general manager Les Wingrove pulled off a monster trade that brought in Glenn Clark, Kevin Brunch and future Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer Andy Ogilvie.
Pat Coyle: “[The trade] made us a lot harder to play against. [Ogilvie] made everyone on our team two inches taller with his toughness, but also he’s an incredibly skilled player.”
Andy Ogilvie: “I was 36 years old, a veteran with a lot of playoff experience. I knew a lot of the players from playing against them in the WLA as well as the NLL. I recognized they had a solid core group of high-level players.”
Glenn Clark: “The expectations for me were pretty simple; I needed to come in and play to my ability, provide some leadership and contribute to the group.”
The additions had an instantaneous and desired effect on the Adanacs’ fortunes. The team won eight of its next 10 games to qualify for the WLA playoffs where they dispatched the New Westminster Salmonbellies in four straight.
Glenn Clark: “I think it was just a case of the roster taking shape and the team starting to play a little better.”
But the Adanacs’ next opponent for the league championship, the Victoria Shamrocks, hadn’t lost a game all season.
Andy Ogilvie: “We were prepared for a long and hard series. Playing in Victoria is never an easy task either; their fans are very supportive, to put it mildly.”
Pat Coyle: “We knew we had to play disciplined against them because they didn’t retaliate. Our plan in the past was to intimidate them, take it to them physically. But we needed to do that in a controlled way.”
The plan worked. The Adanacs upset the Shamrocks, winning the series in six games to earn the right to play for the Mann Cup – one of the oldest and most valuable trophies in sports.
Pat Coyle: “When playing Victoria, it all came together. That series gave us belief.”
As the host league, the WLA made the decision to play the best-of-seven series at the Pacific Coliseum, where’s there’s more seating capacity than the 2,000 or so fans who could squeeze into the old Coquitlam Recreation Centre and it’s easier to get the attention of the Vancouver media.
Pat Coyle: “That took away a big advantage of ours by not playing in our home arena and packing it.”
Andy Ogilvie: “I was unhappy about it. The last thing you want to do if you are hosting a playoff series is move away from your home arena. It takes away that familiarity and comfort of home floor advantage.”
Meeting the Brampton Excelsiors, a familiar foe
The Adanacs’ opponent would be the Excelsiors, their nemesis from previous Mann Cup appearances in 1993 and 1998; Coquitlam lost both times.
Pat Coyle: “Brampton were deep and talented. We knew whatever team comes from Ontario was going to be tough.”
Andy Ogilvie: “We knew they would be loaded with talent, and they were.”
One of Brampton’s most talented players was a former Adanac, Josh Sanderson.
He’d scored a whopping 93 points in 23 regular season games for the Excelsiors and he relished the opportunity to play against his old team.
“I like cheering for the Coquitlam guys when I’m back east,” Sanderson told the Tri-City News. “But I’m definitely not doing that out here right now.”
In fact, Sanderson scored Brampton’s first two goals in the final and led the Excelsiors to a 9-6 win. The visitors’ victory seemed especially unlikely because they had to use backup goaltender Brandon Miller after starter Bob Watson was injured during the pre-game warmup when he stepped on a ball.
The Adanacs retreated to their dressing room where the players locked the door and held a “stormy” meeting.
In the second game, Coquitlam stormed again, this time to a 5-1 lead. But then its offence shut down. Brampton scored eight unanswered goals to take the series lead, 2-0.
Pat Coyle: “They played like a more experienced, confident team and it really showed. We acted like we hadn’t been there before.”
Adanacs’ coach Bob Johnston said the players weren’t working together.
Pat Coyle: “We were waiting for the results to make us feel confident and good about ourselves. But that’s a slippery slope if you’re not getting the results.”
The series turns around
Those results started to come in Game Three.
Curt Malawsky found his scoring touch after getting just two goals in the first two game. John Wilson scored three times and added an assist after he’d been benched for Game Two because of a poor performance in the opener.
Coquitlam won 13-5 then tied the series with a 12-8 victory in Game Four.
Brampton recovered to win Game Five, 17-9.
9/11: The world changes
Game Six was scheduled the next night, Sept. 11. But early that morning, the world changed.
Terrorists had flown passenger jets into the World Trade Centre towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. The last thing anyone could think about was lacrosse and the game was postponed.
Andy Ogilvie: “I turned on the TV and thought I was watching a Bruce Willis movie I hadn’t seen before. Then I switched the channel to see a different version of the same scenario.”
Pat Coyle: “Nobody really knew what was going on at that point. It sort of threw a wrench into the flow of the series for sure, but it allowed us to get a bit healthier, more rested.”
Following Game Four, Clark had flown back home to Ontario where his wife was scheduled to have their first child by C-section on Sept. 9. His return flight to Vancouver was booked for the morning of Sept. 11. It was just taking off when all planes in North America were grounded.
Glenn Clark: “It was such a chaotic time in the world. Everyone was processing what had happened in New York. I was on the phone 24/7 trying to get a fight back to Vancouver.”
A climactic showdown for the Mann Cup
Game Six was played Sept 12. Coquitlam won 15-10, setting up a decisive seventh game the next night. After 37 years, the Adanacs were on the cusp of its first national championship.
Andy Ogilvie: “The mood was focused. Tension was thick. Every player was willing to sacrifice for the win.”
At 4 p.m. that afternoon, Clark finally landed at Vancouver Airport after he was able to catch a flight from Toronto on standby. He raced to reach the Coliseum in time for the 7 p.m. start.
The game’s first 40 minutes didn’t go well for the Adanacs. Heading into the third period they trailed their Ontario rivals, 8-4.
But after the break, Coquitlam began chipping away. With 74 seconds left in the third period, the deficit was down to one goal, 9-8.
Pat Coyle: “Momentum can be so powerful. We scored a couple of goals and it felt like that was what we needed. You could feel it coming.”
The Adanacs called a time-out so Johnston could plot his team’s strategy and give his players a chance to reenergize. Goalie Dallas Eliuk extended the break to deal with some broken equipment.
Andy Ogilvie: “At that moment of the game, the adrenaline and focus were both maxed out. There was nothing else happening in the world except that moment.”
Seconds later Dan Stroup tied the game with a low sizzler from the right face-off circle. Then, with just over half a minute left in the third period, Colin Doyle found a lane, took a flip pass from Kim Squire and deposited the game winner over Watson’s right shoulder.
Andy Ogilvie: “Colin and Kim Squire knew what needed to be done, and they did it.”
Glenn Clark: “To win Game Seven like that is really special and memorable. It was really a feeling of relief.”
Pat Coyle: “Euphoric is the best way I could describe it. Unreal. There’s a part that was all a blur because of how emotional everything was, how exciting it all was.”
More than two decades later, the details of what happened next and the celebrations that followed may be a little fuzzed. But the feelings still resonate, and the Adanacs’ name is forever engraved into a shield on the Mann Cup trophy.
Pat Coyle: “That’s honestly one of the proudest moments of my lacrosse career.”
Andy Ogilvie: “Pushing yourself far beyond anything you have ever done before, it’s an experience like no other.”
Glenn Clark: “It was a very talented and focussed group of athletes. The team was very motivated to get over the hump of the WLA final and deliver a Mann Cup to Coquitlam. Championships are everything. It’s what we play for.”
• The Adanacs close out the WLA's regular season tonight (Aug. 4) with a game against the New Westminster Salmonbellies at Queen's Park Arena. A win would put Coquitlam in a four-way tie atop the league standings with the Victoria Shamrocks, Nanaimo Timbermen and Langley Thunder, who've all completed their schedules. Those teams, along with the Adanacs, have already qualified for the playoffs.