In the year when the Senior "A" Six Nations Chiefs were forced to give up their three year hold on the national lacrosse championship, the Junior "B" Six Nations Red Rebels managed to go from chumps to champs, winning their first-ever Canadian title.
A year ago, the Red Rebels were an expansion entry in the Ontario Lacrosse Association's Junior B circuit. They absorbed their share of beatings during their 5-17 first-ever regular season. The club only saw post-season action because all league entrants qualified for either the Tier I or Tier II playoffs.
In 1996, the Red Rebels were quickly ousted, swept 3-0 by the Milton Mavericks in the opening best-of-five Tier II quarter-final series.
That made this season's turnaround that much more amazing. The Red Rebels ended up capturing the Founders Cup, the national Junior B tournament, staged Aug. 18-24 in Etobicoke.
Six Nations downed the 1996 Canadian champion Orillia Kings 11-9 in overtime in the championship final.
This result was considered an upset because Orillia had defeated the Red Rebels in all six of their previous meetings this season. The Kings beat Six Nations twice in regular season play and won three straight games in their best-of-five OLA final. Orillia had also knocked off Six Nations 10-7 in round-robin action at the national tourney.
"We had played them enough times to pick up some of their weaknesses," said Red Rebels' coach/general manager Vince Hill. "We just played them different defensively for the whole game. We had a full-court press on and then zoned it up defensively. They just couldn't adapt to it."
Though his charges had not had any success against Orillia this year, Hill said they were confident heading into the gold-medal match.
"They were pretty hyped up before the game," he said. "And they stayed up for the whole game, even when they were down 5-3."
Despite losing in the OLA championship, Six Nations advanced to the Founders Cup tourney because Ontario, as host, was allowed to send both of its league finalists. The six-team tournament also included the host Mimico Mountaineers, the Edmonton Miners, Nova Scotia and an entry representing the Iroquois Lacrosse Association.
At the nationals, Six Nations' lone loss was against Orillia. The Red Rebels won all four of their other round-robin matches: 12-11 over Edmonton, 14-11 against the ILA club, 22-1 over Nova Scotia and 13-4 versus Mimico.
Six Nations then advanced to the gold-medal match by edging Mimico 7-6 in overtime in the semi-final tilt.
The fact that Six Nations had a successful season - the team was 18-4 in regular season play - came as a surprise to some because the club's roster was virtually identical to last year's.
"There was just an over-all change in the team attitude," Hill said. "We didn't get rid of any bad apples. Maybe we straightened a few out though."
The Six Nations team had already surprised many OLA pundits. The team won its division in the Ontario league even though a pre-season poll had the Red Rebels listed as the fifth best team in the OLA's West Division. The national championship was even more of a surprise to many, but coach Hill said he wasn't that shocked to be celebrating a national title.
"I had the confidence in the guys to do it," he said. "But I don't think anybody else was talking about it. Right from the outset of training camp the coaches (Paul Henhawk was the other Red Rebels' coach) felt the talent was there. It was just a matter of putting it all together."
The lacrosse program at Six Nations now can claim three Mann Cups, the Founders Cup and a Minto Cup, won by the Six Nations Arrows in 1992.