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Lacrosse: the stories

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In Conversation with Johnny Davis

 Iconic player, one of the most prolific scorers in the history of lacrosse – John "Shooter" Davis is a genuine Canadian lacrosse legend. Standing five foot nine and a half inches and hitting the scales at 165 pounds, John Davis was a giant when it came to scoring. Tagged "Shooter" by a member of the Oshawa Green Gaels Executive, Davis scored 577 goals, along with 436 assists totalling 1013 points in 180 games during his Junior career. Averaging 5.6 points a games, Johnny Davis played on four Minto Cup championships (Hastings Legionnaires in 1961 and the Oshawa Green Gaels in 1963, 1964 and 1965). During his years as a Gael, Davis wore #43 – assigned to him by Coach Jim Bishop.

Johnny Davis continued his prolific style when 1966 he moved up to Senior lacrosse where in his rookie year with Peterborough he scored 51 goals and had 69 assists winning Rookie of the Year and celebrated the year as a key player on the Mann Cup champions. Davis collected the Mike Kelley Memorial Trophy as the Mann Cup MVP. With the Lakers, John Davis wore #9, a sweater number his coach Bob Allan felt "Shooter" should wear.

Overall, during his Senior lacrosse career, John Davis scored 921 goals, along with 1184 assists for a total of 2115 points in 441 games. Averaging 5 points a games, Johnny Davis played on two Mann Cup championships (Peterborough Lakers 1966 and 1973).

In addition to his OLA career, John Davis represented Canada in a 1967 World Tournament which included Canada, the United States, England and Australia. The 1966 Mann Cup champion Peterborough Lakers team were chosen to represent Canada in the 1967 tournament.

Furthermore, John Davis played two full seasons in the initial National Lacrosse League in 1974 and 1975. He was the captain and star player for the Montreal Quebecois. Of note, Davis tallied 459 points including 189 goals in two seasons in the NLL. Montreal lost to the Quebec City Caribous in the 1975 NLL finals in six games.

John Davis' collection of scoring titles, most valuable player awards and all-star recognition are numerous. Johnny Davis has been inducted into the Peterborough & District Sports Hall of Fame (1982), the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1985) and the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1984).

Mr. Davis granted an interview to discuss his illustrious career. In chatting lacrosse with Johnny Davis, you quickly discover how gracious and humble a person he truly is.

#1 You began playing lacrosse at age 5 or 6. Who introduced you to the game?

JD – I first handled a lacrosse stick around age 3. We lived a couple of blocks away from Miller Bowl, maybe a three-minute walk. I helped my brother Terry who was the water boy for the Peterborough Timbermen. When the water bottles got empty, Terry would throw them over the screen to me, I would fill them and then toss them back to Terry. We were always at Miller Bowl, but I did not take the game up in an organized manner until age 5.

#2 You have always been known as a gifted goal scorer; How did you develop your skills?

JD - Again, I think of Miller Bowl. Mr. Johnson was in charge of Miller Bowl. He allowed me to hang out with my lacrosse stick. Mr. Johnson asked if I wanted something to do - I had a job of hammering the nails that had popped out of the boards. I decided to practice by deliberately taking a nail to stick out several inches.

"There was always a player who would have you sit on the edge of your seat. I wanted to be that good. I wanted people to sit on the edge of their seat when I had the ball. I wanted fans to know when I had the ball, something was going to happen. I wanted to be an impact player. The more I could do to help the team, the better I liked it" - John Davis

That nail became my target. I would practice my overhand, side-arm, underhand and behind the back shot by pounding the nail back into place. When I had hit the nail enough times that it was flush with the boards, shooting practice was over. I was around age 6 or 7 when I began doing this. My target was a nail head on the boards at the Miller Bowl.

#3 What personal strengths do you believe made you such a great lacrosse player?

JD – I always had powerful legs which gave me good speed and the ability to beat defenders one on one. Being down at the Miller Bowl almost everyday, I did plenty of running, cutting, starts and stops. I lived at the Miller Bowl. I think I also had good vision – you know, the ability to anticipate how a play could develop.

#4 Did you have a favourite "go to" play or move? (Did you come up with your own plays?) If yes, please tell us about them.

JD – Yes, I made my name on beating my man out of the left-hand corner. I liked to come across the top and shoot a backhand. I practiced the move at the Miller Bowl pounding the nail in with one of my four shots – overhand, side-arm, underhand and backhand.

#5 What made you such a passionate player? A fan could see when you played. The look in your face – the love of the game, the intensity?

JD – As a kid, I watched the Peterborough Timberman play. And there was always a player who would have you sit on the edge of your seat. I wanted to be that good. I wanted people to sit on the edge of their seat when I had the ball. I wanted fans to know when I had the ball, something was going to happen. I wanted to be an impact player. The more I could do to help the team, the better I liked it.

#6 Do you think you had any particular weaknesses?

JD – I was not a good face-off man. Which was OK as I played the wing. When I played - players played both offence and defence. I felt I was good on defence. I had a lot of pride in my defensive part of the game. I was pretty good on loose balls, too.

#7 As a youngster, was there a particular player you admired or tried to model yourself after?

JD – For sure – Bobby Allan and Jack Bionda.

#8 As you developed to become the genuine super star player you were, was there any particular team mate you admired?

JD – I wouldn't say I was a star – I was just one of the players. It's a team sport. Cy Coombes, Joe Todd, Jim Hickey, Ken Ruttan and of course, we had goaltender Pat Baker.

#9 Was there any particular opposition player you found tough to play against?

JD – Only one. I could honestly say – I could never beat him and that was Bruce Wanless from Brampton. Bruce was huge and so strong. And he knew I couldn't beat him. Often, when I tried to beat him, he would say, "Not tonight Shooter, not going to happen".

#10 Was there any specific goalie you had trouble scoring on?

JD – Not really. I studied opposition goalies. During the warm-ups, I would watch the other team's goalie. It helped me figure out where they were strong and more importantly, I would see their weakness. That's what I would work on during the game and where I would shoot.

#11 Did you have a favourite shot?

No. But, I had a bit of a secret I would use on a breakaway. I would look at the top left corner and I would put the shot in the top right corner or bounce shot it by the goalie. I would always use this strategy to trick the goalie.

#12 Did you have a favourite coach? If so, who and why?

JD – There are two. Jim Bishop with the Gaels. Jim taught me how important even what you might think was not important was. Something a simple as the extra step on pivot or a short burst of speed could be the difference. If you played for Bishop – you knew all about conditioning and being in top physical shape. And of course, Bobby Allan. Bobby was brilliant. He was good at line combinations. Bobby always put me with Cy Coombes. Bobby Allan used me on the penalty killing. I loved being on the penalty kill. I could often draw a penalty on the other team as I ragged the ball or I could go hard to the net and get a scoring chance. It worked both ways.

#13 Was there any particular team you played on that holds a special place in your memory?

JD – Every team I played with was special. If I have to pick one – it would be my year with the Whitby Redwings in 1961. (Editor's Note: John Davis scored 122 goals, added 68 assists for a total of 190 points in 34 games). Most games we had only eight players, so I was on the floor almost all the time. When I became too tired, sometimes I would take a penalty to get a rest.

#14 Was there any particular personal highlight or achievement you are most proud of?

JD – I guess my return from Oshawa to Peterborough in 1966. The team and I had a great year. (Editor's note: Peterborough won the Mann Cup. John Davis was the league's Top Scorer, Rookie of the Year and MVP in the Mann Cup).

Also in 1967, Brooklin picked me up to go West for the Mann Cup to play against the Vancouver Carlings (Vancouver won the Mann Cup in 6 games). Before the first game, they called me out to centre floor. The place is packed and I am standing there at centre by myself. They announced, I had just been named athlete of the year for the City of Peterborough. They gave me a standing ovation. I did not know I had won it. That was the moment I found out.

#15 How do you think your teammates and coaches would describe you?

JD – (With a long chuckle). I don't know. When pushed to respond, Mr. Davis stated, "I guess they would say I was a little good, maybe average". (Which brought some laughter).

#16 Was there any one important lesson you learned from your time as one of the true legends of lacrosse? Anything you carried through life?

JD – Yes! Do what you can to always get along with people. Playing lacrosse, I developed so many friendships. So many years after I was done playing, it is the friendships that still matter so much. I had true friendships. Even today, Joe Todd is still one of best friends right now.

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Wednesday, 01 February 2023