Lacrosse Heroes – John Fusco

So just where do you begin when speaking about a player that has won 2 Minto Junior Lacrosse Championships, and 5 Mann Senior Lacrosse Championships? John Fusco started his Junior career off with a bang in 1981 winning his first of two Minto’s, while also receiving Rookie of the Year honours. Twenty years later he called it a day and left behind many memorable nights of lacrosse, a slew of Championships, personal awards and a legacy as one of the greatest Brooklin Redmen of all time. Ironically John’s style of play earned him the respect of his team mates and his opponents. While he was always atop the scoring charts league wide season after season, those numbers were only beaten by his penalty minute totals.

Today, John is still very active in the community with the Brooklin Redmen, and is coaching Minor Lacrosse in Whitby. Enjoy.

GM: Who were some of your lacrosse heroes when you were younger?

JF: I grew up just down the road from the Luther Vipond Arena and I loved going down there on Saturday nights and watching the Redmen with guys like Stan Cockerton, Greg Williams, Ken Colley, Wayne Sorichetti, John Reed, Bram Wilfong, Bob Burke. I didn’t have any one favourite I used to just love watching all of them

GM: In 1980 you were named the Rookie of the Year and also won a Minto Cup in Whitby. Who were some of your team mates that season?

JF: They were mainly local guys that grew up playing out of the Willow Park Box or the Peel Park Box. Guys like Bill Eyre,Eric and Andy Perroni, Brian Reed, Dan Mark, Ed Derks, Gary Crawford, Gil and Rick Nieuwendyk, Jamie Roach, Jim Brady (coach), Jim Hinkson (coach), John Jordan, John Parrot, Lorne Briscoe, Mark Brown, Marty and Randy Gallas, Rob McLean, Terry Martinello, Al MacDonald, Cam Devine, Dave Cruickshank

GM: Describe the honour of that 1980 team getting inducted into the Whitby Sports Hall of Fame.

JF: It is certainly a great honour to be recognized by your home town but to be honoured in a community that has such great sporting history and to be able to achieve this with a number of players I grew up playing lacrosse with is even more special.

GM: You won two Minto Cups with Whitby (80, 84) and five Mann Cups with Brooklin (85, 87, 88, 90, 2000). Can you pick one that stands out as the most memorable?

JF: Although they are all special the most memorable has to be the 1985 Mann Cup. Being down 3 games to 0 and coming back to win the next 4 in Queen’s Park Arena was an unbelievable feeling. We beat a great Peterborough team to get there and then we were able to go on a seven year run of being in the Mann Cup.

GM: During your time in Junior and Senior who were some of the greats you’ve played with and against?

JF: In Junior the guys I remember playing with and against the most are Kelly Mitchell, Adam Oates, Derek Keenan, Larry Floyd, Doug and Mark Evans, Eric/Andy Perroni, Gil/Joe Nieuwendyk, The Gaits, Ben Heiltjes.

In Senior many of those same guys plus the great Peterborough players like John Grant Sr (near the end of his career) John Grant Jr (start of his Senior), JJ Johnston, the Wassons, Paul Evans, John Tavares, The Kilgours, Jim Veltman, Shawn Williams, Wayne Colley, Glenn Clark.

GM: For some of those that maybe weren’t there, describe the atmosphere in the old Luther Vipond Arena and some of your most memorable nights there.

JF: On any given night the arena was full and and hot and dimly lit and it felt like the fans were standing right above you. They were loud and very supportive of the Redmen. We had the board bangers that would be set up in the visitors end and were constantly taunting the opposing team. There were even rumours some of the refs refused to go there because of the intimidation factor. I remember the 85 playoffs against Peterborough and there were about 1400 fans there from Brooklin and Peterborough. They were lined up 5 and 6 deep and when we came up from our dressing room in the basement it was so loud I had shivers down my spine. For me it was a dream come true being able to play there in my hometown rink.

GM: What do you feel you did that allowed you to play the game for as long as you did?

JF: I don’t think there was any one thing that allowed me to play. I was very fortunate to always have the support of my mom and dad, especially when I was younger, and then my wife Sandy and kids Krista, Nick and Katy. I was lucky they loved the game as much as I did and would follow the team, sometimes even ride the buses with us so I never felt like I was leaving them behind to follow my passion.

GM: You were not just a goal scorer; you had your fair share of time spent in the penalty box. What was your most memorable battle throughout your career?

JF: I think the one that stands out to me is one I had with Myles General from Six Nations. I remember trying to dodge his punches and then it seemed like I had to jump up to try and hit him.

GM: What advice would you give to kids that aspire to play at the Major Series Level?

JF: I think now the skill level is getting to such a level that if you don’t have your stick in your hand all the time you will be left behind. There are very few guys now that can’t handle the ball. So many players now at the major and NLL level are playing year round so there fitness levels are always high, gone are the days that you have a 4 week training camp to get in game shape, you only have about 5 practices now so if you haven’t been playing all winter you had better be in great shape or you won’t be able to keep up. There is also a big jump from Junior to Major, keep in mind that generally with the funnel process from Junior B, to Junior A to Senior to Major there is not a lot of spots available. The ones that are going to get the opportunities have to have skill, conditioning, commitment and probably the biggest thing, character.

GM: Give us your thoughts on the players and game style being played today in Major Series Lacrosse.

JF: I think like most sports the players are bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled. I would love to watch old style lacrosse 5 up 5 back. Can you imagine how fast and exciting the game would be? There would be endless odd man situations and the scores would still be higher. I bet they wouldn’t even have to make the nets bigger.

GM: What is your most memorable lacrosse experience?

JF: For me, growing up in Brooklin it was an honour to just play for the Redmen. Though looking back and being part of those teams that went to 7 straight Mann Cups and just recently being inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame are a couple of the things I am most proud of.

GM: What did lacrosse do for you that you otherwise might not have done or achieved?

JF: On a personal note I went out west for the Peewee Nationals when I was 12 and I never forgot that, so when my son’s team was in Peewee we took them out for a couple of tournaments and I hope all those kids have the same great memories as I did. I think in the bigger picture it is great just to be a part of a game where the game is bigger than all of the individuals.

GM: You’ve already joined the Coaching fraternity and last season coached your daughter in girl’s lacrosse. How have you found that?

JF: I also coached my son’s team for many years but coaching the girls for the first time last year was a truly enjoyable experience. We had 2 teams in the house league and from there we wanted to put a team together for some tournaments. Mike Pfeiffer, Michelle Wormald and I pretty much begged the girls to come out so we could get enough players. We finally had enough to put a team together and from the first game where we lost 11-0 to our last game where we lost by 1 or 2 goals these girls probably worked harder and improved more than any team I have ever worked with.

OK, so here are a few fun questions for you to ponder.

GM: Give us your All Time Power Play.

JF: There are too many to chose, most of these guys can play anywhere…

Top- John Grant (either) , John Jordan, Kelly Mitchell
Shooter- Joe/Gil Nieuwendyk, the Gaits, Cockerton , Ken Colley, Tavares, Shawn Williams
Crease- Mike McKee, Dale Kernohan, JJ Johnston, Ben Heiltjes

GM: Who was the goalie you remember having the toughest time scoring on?

JF: Shawn Quinlan, Steve Dietrich, Barry Maruk

GM: Who do you most enjoy watching play for the Redmen today?

JF: Williams, Prout, Nash

GM: You played a few games in 2006. Do you have another comeback in the works?

JF: No I think I better stick to the bench, it was fun while it lasted though.

GM: Thanks for your time John.

JF: Thanks Gary

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