A Great Guy, and an All Time Great…..Gil Nieuwendyk

In our latest edition of Lacrosse Heroes, we had a chance for a little question and answer time with Gil Nieuwendyk. Many know of Gil’s brother Joe as a recently retired NHL hockey player, but those that have followed lacrosse know Gil as one of the Whitby Warriors and Brooklin Redmen’s all time great players. Gil was as offensively gifted as they came in the day of the wooden stick. Together, Gil and his brothers Joe and Rick, to my knowledge are the only three to all play a Junior game in Whitby on the same team. A classy guy, from a great sports family…..enjoy!

GM: At what age did you start playing lacrosse, and where?

GN: My older brother and I both got into lacrosse because back then our parents of European descent wanted us to play soccer…after 1 practice the coach of our community team in Port Whitby said I was not good enough to play on the team, but they wanted Rick who was 7 at the time. Rick refused to play without me. A few days later my dad won a prize on a raffle ticket he bought at the service station he owned in Port Whitby, a gentleman came by the house to award Dad $200 dollars for second prize and noticed myself and Rick playing soccer in the backyard. My Dad told him the story of what happened at soccer practice and the man suggested that we try lacrosse. It turned out the man was the president of Whitby Minor Lacrosse and Dad used his winnings to register his 6 and 7 year old sons in a sport he had never seen or heard of before.

GM: Who would you say influenced you most in your early years of lacrosse?

GN: Growing up playing minor lacrosse in Whitby the B&R Transporters Jr. B lacrosse club had the biggest influence on me and inspired me to excel to do my best. They were all local players and when they won the national title the excitement it created in the community was unbelievable and I knew from that point that winning a national championship would be awesome.

GM: Who were some of your lacrosse heroes while growing up?

GN: I didn’t have any heroes growing up but the guys I played with in minor lacrosse I admired the most. We hung out together and always had our lacrosse sticks in our hands, some of us even slept with our sticks. Our meeting point every morning during the summer was the Peel Park outdoor lacrosse box and we would play for hours. Scott Ravary, John Waddell and Tim Tran were a few of the guys that made lacrosse fun and made growing up with lacrosse a way of life. We use to go back to Tim’s house after lacrosse for a swim and that’s where I enjoyed talking lacrosse the most. Without a doubt the one person that had the biggest impact into the type of player I became was Elmer Tran. Elmer was a tremendous lacrosse player in Jr. and Senior and he went on to play in the first professional league in the late 60’s. We would listen to the stories about how the game was played and how it should be played. He offered advice and suggestions that helped us to become winners and better lacrosse players, but most of all he cared about the game and wanted us to enjoy it as much as he did. He said he played with a little bit of skill; a lot more grit and a whole bunch of heart; that’s the kind of player I wanted to become.

GM: You were a member of the 1980 Whitby Warrior Minto Cup team that was recently inducted into the Whitby Sports Hall of Fame. Describe both the Championship and the honour of entering the Whitby Sports Hall of Fame.

GN: I have been lucky enough to play with some great players over the years and enjoyed a tremendous amount of success especially in 1980 with a Minto Cup championship. That year our power play was outstanding and in the Minto Cup a bigger and tougher New Westminster team that had never lost on home floor that year did not believe our power play was as good as the numbers said and they paid for that mistake. We won in 5 games because of a great game plan from coach Jim Hinkson, super goaltending from Rob Mclean, tough defence from Al MacDonald, Rick Nieuwendyk, Eric and Andy Perroni, and an outstanding power play led by John Jordan at the top Cam Devine, Terry Martinelllo in the shooter spots and Ed Derks and myself on the crease. Last summer we were honoured as a team and inducted into the Whitby sports hall of fame. What made that special event important to me was that my wife and kids were there to share the moment with me.

GM: You also won 3 Mann Cups while in Brooklin. Give us your thoughts on that run in 85, 87, and 88.

GN: Winning 3 Mann Cups in the late 80’s was the highlight of my career, especially the first one in 1985. For 2 years we thought we had the team to go all the way but a great Peterborough team always seemed to get the better of us until finally in late August 85 we beat them, that was our Mann Cup right there and what ever happened after that was gravy and we played that way for the first 3 games of the Mann Cup with the mentality that just being there was good enough. At the banquet we were embarrassed by the organizing committee during the speeches ‘HOPING BROOKLIN COULD WIN 1 GAME SO WE CAN BREAK EVEN AT THE GATE”. That’s all we needed and we rallied 3,000 miles away from home with only a handful of fans to win 4 games in a row. The first time an eastern team had won the Mann Cup in the west. We came together as a team that week in B.C. and continued the momentum for the next 4 years.

GM: You’ve played with and against some of the greats of the game. Recall some of the best you ever played with and against.

GN: I’ve played with and against some superb athletes in my career and would list as follows:

BEST GOALIE: Barry Maruk and Wayne Colley
GOALIE HATED TO PLAY AGAINST: Shawn Quinlan and Ray McWhirter
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Gerard Cowie and Andy Perroni
HARDEST HITTER: Dan Dunn and Rick Nieuwendyk
SMARTEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Fred Upshaw and Blaine Harrison
BEST LOSE BALL GUY: Mark Evans and Al Macdonald
MOST DETERMINED: Larry Floyd and Derek Keenan
MOST TALENTED PLAYER: Jayde Gibbs and Ken Colley
SMARTEST PLAYER: John Jordan and Phil Scarphone
BEST PLAY MAKER: Adam Oates and Kevin Vansickle
MOST GIFTED: Joe Nieuwendyk

GM: Many folks in Durham Region witnessed some great matches between Whitby and Oshawa over the years. Are there any games that stand out above the others?

GN: In 1992 the Jr. A Whitby CBC Builders finished first and we could pick our first round opponent, in a cost saving measure and a chance to increase the attendance we picked Oshawa who finished 3rd although we won every game during the regular season, it was still close. Big Mistake as Oshawa inspired by our selection defeated us in 7 games. What a series back and forth great goaltending and heavy hits every game, it was a season filled with great plays. Game 7 was outstanding, Oshawa’s best players came to play and Hank Bennet, all 5’5″ of him made some unbelievable saves to give Joe Rosnick a chance to win it with 2 minutes left. We came close to tying it but it was not meant to be.

GM: In 1981 Whitby and Oshawa fans saw you and your two brothers (Rick and Joe) play together at the Civic Auditorium. You and Rick were veteran Junior players at the time while Joe was still 14. Describe that experience and the emotion you felt playing lacrosse with both of your brothers.

GN: Playing with both my brothers was quite a treat, Rick and I played on the same team since we were peanuts but to have Joe play Jr. with us was special. Joe in my opinion was the best Jr. lacrosse player back then and would have set all kinds of records if he had not committed himself to his hockey career. Naturally being brothers we kept a close eye on one another. Rick always looked out for me and so it was my turn to look out for Joe, luckily for me the entire team made sure Joe was looked after because I was not a tough guy. I remember that game in Oshawa Dan Gravel was giving it to Joe pretty good; nothing dirty but hard hits. I thought I’d do something about it and hit Dan with a solid cross check during a line change. He was a Jr. A hockey player and pretty tough when it came to physical play and my cheap shot didn’t even phase him. It got him mad so he started chasing me the rest of the period; thanks to Randy Gallas who decided to step in and go to blows with Gravel. That game in Oshawa probably was more special for our Mom than it was for us, she has always been our biggest supporter and to have all 3 boys on the same team must have made her proud.

GM: Give us your all time Power Play setup

GN: My all time power play would look like this:

Point: John Jordan
Left Shooter: Ken Colley
Right Shooter: John Fusco
Left Crease: Ron McCoy
Right Crease: Neil Atkinson

GM: You are now coaching in the Halton Hills minor organization. How have you found coaching vs. your playing days?

GN: I find coaching to have the same intensity as playing but more controlled, you still feel the same emotions after a win or loss as you did as a player but now as a coach it seems to last longer. I’m trying to teach the same game plan we were taught in Whitby and Brooklin to the Halton teams I’ve coached; fast break, tough defensively and great stick skills. So far so good.

GM: Who do you feel was the best goalie or two you ever had to face?

GN: The best Goalie ever in my opinion that I had to face…. Wayne Colley, every day at practice.

GM: What do you think of the offence / defence style of game today?

GN: I’m not a big fan of the front door / back door players it seems that only half a lacrosse player is being developed, it also takes away a lot of the flow with the constant line changes. I think it has a place in the higher levels but needs to be tinkered with for the benefit of the fans. The Halton Midget team I coached last year we introduced a hybrid type game with 3 players going both ways and 2 making changes, it still allowed for the fast break and improved our defence. This year’s Bantam team everyone plays both ends of the floor.

Fun Questions

GM: Your most fond memory of lacrosse is………

GN: 1972 winning Canadian Pee Wee championship and riding on a fire truck through the streets of Whitby,

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

GN: I’ve met a lot of great people because of lacrosse and probably would never have gone to the Brooklin Legion.

GM: Rick, Gil or Joe… who’s the best shooter?

GN: Joe makes the best shooters.

GM: What is your greatest lacrosse accomplishment?

GN: After winning the Mann Cup on home floor in 1988 and calling it a career giving my stick to a 10 year old boy in the stands and seeing the smile it brought to his face.


1 Comment

  1. COACH!

    …Former coach…

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