When you talk about St. Lawrence Laurentians soccer, you don't talk in terms of a great season or two. You talk dynasties.
Then you try to figure out which dynasty was superior. An impossible task, really. There's the dynasty of the 1970s (six provincial championships); the dynasty of the 1990s (six championships) or the 2000s (eight championships). Take your pick.
St. Lawrence soccer teams have produced three national Challenge Cup silver medals and two bronze and have represented the province a remarkable 24 times, a national record. For their unprecedented success over the team's long history, St. Lawrence Laurentians earn the No. 6 position on The Telegram's list of our 10 best teams.
In 1975, St. Lawrence had to settle for silver when a side from Victoria, B.C., defeated the Laurentians 3-1 in the Cup final. Two years later, arguably the best Laurentians team - on paper at least - beat Winnipeg 5-0 in the semifinal with the help of three goals by Frank Haskell. But the Laurentians, on home turf, fell 1-0 to Vancouver Columbus in the final.
It was a game they could have won. Ray Molloy hit the goalpost and Haskell and Rudy Slaney each hit the crossbar.
However, of the sliver-medal winning teams, the 2002 entry may have best personified what St. Lawrence soccer is all about. The team encapsulated the essence of a small town team with big city dreams. Pride, passion, belief in yourself and your teammates and a never-say-die attitude that can take you a long way regardless of where you are ranked going into a national tournament.
St. Lawrence finished first during the 2002 regular season in the provincial senior league with a 13-1-1 record and were led up front by Richard Kelly and Rudy Norman, who finished 1-2 in league scoring, and all-stars Clinton Edwards on the backline and Paul J. Slaney and Chris Caines at midfield.
It was Norman's goal in overtime which gave St. Lawrence a 1-0 win over Holy Cross in the provincial final that earned the Laurentians the right to play for a national championship again.
After finishing dead last the year before at the nationals in Ontario, St. Lawrence went into the 2002 Challenge Cup ranked 10th in the 10-team tournament. The team had just won its record eighth straight provincial championship but, aside from the players, expectations weren't high for the team to play for a gold medal, even though the competition was in St. John's and the Blueshirts would have plenty of fan support.
Outplayed in most of the tourney matches, the Laurentians were, nonetheless, never outworked. Typical of Laurentian sides, they seemed to want the ball more than the other teams and were willing to do anything to get it. Hard work and a few breaks along the way often overcomes shortcomings.
That 2002 tournament got everyone's attention right away when veteran Laurentians' defender Bob Spearns predicted a Newfoundland win over usual powerhouse British Columbia on the eve of the opening game. B.C. clubs routinely beat Newfoundland representatives in Canadian Challenge Cup play. Teams representing B.C. had won 21 national titles since 1964 heading into the '02 event, which means they usually beat everyone at one time or another.
As it turned out, the game against B.C. was a nail-biter from start to finish. Reliable Richard Kelly scored early and Laurentian keeper Pat Byrne made a dazzling save to earn the shutout. All of a sudden, the Laurentians were contenders and Spearns was a prophet.
In the Laurentians' second game, Quebec needed a goal with three minutes to play to earn a 1-1 draw despite holding a big advantage in ball possession and scoring chances in the second half.
B.C.'s 2-2 tie with Quebec sent St. Lawrence to the semifinal against Alberta. Defying the odds, the Laurentians defeated Alberta 3-1 to earn a berth in the final at King George V Park.
The final was a thrilling affair with over 7,000 fans cheering wildly for a Laurentians team that now seemed destined to win it all.
The Laurentians saved their best effort for last, leaving everything on the field, only to come up achingly short.
The tense match was scoreless right up until Sons of Italy Lions, from Winnipeg, Man., got a goal five minutes into the second 15-minute overtime period to win 1-0.
Lions' coach Chic Devenney said after the game: "The Laurentians did a fabulous job in shutting us down."
Goalkeeper Steve Sawatzky said: "You can't say enough about that (St. Lawrence team) team."
Nodding towards the Laurentian players who stood with their heads down, he added: "Maybe they deserved a better fate because they certainly had a great game today."
The Laurentians' players, some in tears, were obviously devastated by the outcome. They'd come so far, battled so hard. Silver was a major achievement under the circumstances, but the Laurentians always expect more.
The object: To select the 10 best teams Newfoundland and Labrador has produced. Six prominent individuals with an impressive sports background, together with Robin Short, Brendan McCarthy, John Browne and Kenn Oliver of The Telegram's sports department, were chosen to make the selections.
The criteria: Teams must have been primarily comprised of athletes from Newfoundland and Labrador, competed in or represented the province, or country, in athletic competition. The field was open to amateur and professional, and male and female athletes.
The selection panel
Jill Brewer: A long-time diving coach in St. John's, Brewer is head of the St. John's recreation department. A former Canada Games coach, she is a member of the St. John's Molson Athlete of the Year Committee.
Ian Campbell: A two-sport star (hockey and baseball) with the Guards in St. John's during the late 1950s and '60s, Campbell was the 1963 and '65 St. John's athlete of the year and is a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
George Faulkner: Newfoundland's 'Mr. Hockey', Faulkner was voted the No. 1 athlete on The Telegram's Top 10 list of athletes last year. He is a Newfoundland Sports and Newfoundland Hockey Hall of Famer.
Kathy Gosse: A long-time sports reporter at the Clarenville Packet, Gosse knows how to play the game, too. She was the 1972 St. John's Female Athlete of the Year.
Chris Green: A Corner Brook radio personality for over 30 years, Green has called play-by-play in hockey from the old Newfoundland Senior Hockey League to the American Hockey League (Cape Breton Oilers). Today, Green anchors the morning news for CFCB radio in Corner Brook.
Joe Wadden: A long-time baseball and basketball standout in St. John's, Wadden is a member of both the provincial hardball and hoops Halls of Fame. He is a 2009 inductee into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
The '02 silver-medal winning team was a credible representation of the usual talent, spirit, heart and perseverance of Laurentians soccer and their remarkable history.
Those three national silver-medal winning Laurentian teams have sent almost a dozen players to the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Hall of Fame. Four St. Lawrence players from those teams have been inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame. They are Clem 'Junior' Edwards, Norm Kelly, Wils Molloy and Tom Tarrant.
And it's a pretty good bet the 2002 team will send several more to the provincial soccer hall.
1. TBA -May 23, 2009
2. TBA - May 16, 2009
3. TBA - May 9, 2009
4. TBA -May 2, 2009
5. TBA - April 25, 2009
6. St. Lawrence Laurentians
7. Jack MacDuff curling team
8. Conception Bay North CeeBees
9. 1966 Terra Novas junior baseball
10. Sue Anne Bartlett curling team