In Historic Sarnia Game 55 Years Ago Esposito Showed His Development and Skills – by C. Scott Holland
While rummaging through a stack of past stats and papers, I recently came across one of the most unique games ever played in the history of the Sarnia Legionnaires. It was dated Jan. 7, 1961 and was played at the Brock St. Arena in Sarnia with the Legionnaires hosting the London Nationals.
Both teams were at different ends of the spectrum that season. The Nationals were in the midst of another long drought and would only win one contest out of 30 that season while the Legionnaires had settled for fourth place and were middle of the pack but exhibiting the skills which would make them a serious playoff title contender.
The historical significance of that game is immense. Future NHL Hall of famer and Team Canada hero Phil Esposito was at the height of his junior career and showed his scoring prowess. That night was no exception for Esposito or his teammates including Jim Bloomfield who would amass four goals and the same number of assists. But it was really a night when Esposito shone – he would register four goals and collect six assists for a 10-point night – his first as a junior B player but not his last since he would have another huge scoring binge in that season’s first-round of playoffs against Goderich. After that match many more eyes became centered upon Esposito. The match may have been not only been an indication of his future and development but one which had scouts focusing more attention on him.
Esposito was just an 18-years-old teenager from Sault Ste. Marie when he signed with the Chicago Black Hawks and was assigned to the Legionnaires in Sarnia. In his lone season in Sarnia, 1960-61, Esposito thrilled Sarnia hockey fans by finding the back of the net 47 times and adding 61 assists for a whopping 108 points in just a mere 32 games, an average of an incredible 3.3 points per game.
The following season he would join the St. Catharines Teepees scoring 32 goals in his 49-game rookie campaign. Some of his teammates in St. Catharines included Fred Stanfield, Dennis Hull, Doug Jarrett, Ken Hodge and goaltender Roger Crozier. Thirteen players from Esposito’s Teepees’ team played in the NHL.
The game’s result was evident within the opening 10 minutes of play. Sarnia had reeled off five consecutive goals before London got on the board. Two more were added and the Nats would counter with a single to make it a 7-2 game. The Legionnaires’ offense was so deep that they tabbed eight goals in the middle frame with six players grabbing the spotlight and another five laying the groundwork. In that one frame nearly every member of the Legionnaires’ 15-man team got on the scoreboard while the Nats added one tally to light up the scoreboard so that it read 15-3. When the final buzzer sounded, Sarnia had an easy 23-4 victory.
But the hungry Legionnaires weren’t finished yet.
Remember that during that era, teams did not carry a spare goalie, so London’s netminder Steve Scarf was the only man they had to halt pucks. Plus the goalie mask had just been invented by Jacques Plante and they weren’t being manufactured or for public sale. One can only imagine how brave Scarf must have been to go out and face the lethal shots fired by Sarnia’s players and a guy like Esposito!
The Legionnaires had scored early in both of the first two periods, but they would outdo themselves in the third and gun their 16th marker only 47 seconds into the stanza. London would reap the game’s 20th goal at the two-minute mark and then Sarnia would fire seven unanswered tallies to complete the merciless massacre of the 15 young men wearing the Nationals uniform.
The hometown Sarnia fans must have been delirious after watching that encounter. A month later that same team would humiliate Woodstock by 24-0 – a game that still stands in the record books as the highest known shutout in Western Jr. B history. The Legionnaires would finish the campaign in fourth place, win their first-round, eight-point playoff series vs Goderich. Esposito hit the record books with an unbelievable and likely unattainable performance when he registered 12 points in a single playoff game. The Legionnaires would ultimately face the first-place St. Marys Lincolns, whose lineup included scoring sensation and future NHLer Terry Crisp. Esposito finished second in league scoring with 108 points to Crisp’s 120, at that time a new Junior B record. Sarnia would lose the Western Jr. B title to the Lincolns 4 games to 2 yet those men who played that day vs London can say they were a part of a game that went into the record books!
Phil Esposito’s rich accomplishments is another reason to celebrate Sarnia’s 60th anniversary of Junior B hockey this season.
Here’s the boxscore from that Jan. 7, 1961 contest:
Jan. 7, 1961 London @ Sarnia
London: Steve Scarf (g); D – Bill Crossan, Dave Crossan, Al Barron, Jim BIshop forwards – Ross Pitt, Dan Black, Frank Kilb, Jim Lyttle, Bob Aitken, Pete Wright, Mel Casey, Frank Dale, Joe Iannarelli, ? Helinki
Sarnia: Joe DeRush (g) D – Dan Chivers, Greg Lawrence, Chester DePoli, Dave Besse, Norm Mallette forwards – Phil Esposito, William Verbeem, Joe Clarke, Jim Sanko, Jim Bloomfield, Mike L’Heureux, Dan Foster, Dick Lackowich, Gene Lakusciak
1 Sarnia Esposito (Lawrence) 2:16
2 Sarnia Verbeem (Bloomfield) 5:55
3 Sarnia Sanko (Lackowich/Esposito) 7:55
4 Sarnia Lackowich (Esposito) 9:35
5 Sarnia Lawrence (unassisted) 10:40
6 London Iannarelli (unassisted) 12:41
7 Sarnia Esposito (Lawrence/Lackowich) 15:40
8 Sarnia Sanko (Esposito) 17:14
9 London Kilb (Lyttle/Iannarelli) 19:27
Penalties – Besse, Scarf (major) 1;49; DePoli 18:02
10 Sarnia Bloomfield (Verbeem) :52
11 Sarnia Verbeem (Bloomfield) 1;06
12 Sarnia Lackowich (Esposito/Sanko) 2:21
13 Sarnia Foster 5:23
14 London Iannarelli (Lyttle) 8:35
15 Sarnia Chivers (Bloomfield) 11:56
16 Sarnia Foster (Lakusciak/L’Heureux) 14:45
17 Sarnia Bloomfield (unassisted) 15:58
18 Sarnia Foster (Lakusciak/L’Heureux) 19:57
Penalties – Iannarelli, Vebeem 8:47; Bloomfield 9:25; Esposito 10:01, Dale 19:20
19 Sarnia Bloomfield (unassisted) :47
20 London Lyttle (Kilb) 2:00
21 Sarnia Esposito (Sanko) 2:35
22 Sarnia Sanko (Esposito/Lackowich) 3:12
23 Sarnia Bloomfield (Clarke) 7:16
24 Sarnia Lackowich (Sanko) 8:25
25 Sarnia Lakusciak (Foster) 12:12
26 Sarnia Esposito (Clarke) 12:40
27 Sarnia L’Heureix (Esposito) 18:50
Penalties – DePoli, Pitt (major) 11:27; Esposito 16:23
London Scarf 13/11/5 = 29
Sarnia DeRush 9/11/4 = 24
(photo credit – 1972summitseries.com)
C. Scott Holland is an accomplished author, a former Western Jr. B Hockey League statistician and is recognized as the West Conference’s and GOJHL’s historian. A lifelong resident of Leamington Scott was a journalist for the now defunct Leamington Post for 26 years and currently writes for the Southpoint Sun. Among the books he has authored are: 75 Years: A History of the Leamington and Erie Shores Golf Course; A Century In The Making – History of Heinz Canada 1909-2009; Leamington Flyers 1992/93-2011/12 Platinum Anniversary Special Program; the Western Jr. B Record Book 2003/04 and 2005/05 editions; as well as updates of both the West Conference and GOJHL Record Books. He was been a member of the Leamington Jr. Flyers hockey club for the last 27 years and served many years as a board member, statistician, press box announcer, and scorekeeper among other duties. He has been named the West Conference Volunteer of Year and a Windsor-Essex Sportsperson of Year award winner. He resides in Leamington.