Shamrocks’ Billy Breen recounts historic victory 45 years on

The St. John’s Mike’s Shamrocks were first awarded the Herder Memorial Trophy in 1979.

The Shamrocks were established underdogs walking into the Herder Finals against the Gander Flyers.
The St. John’s Mike’s Shamrocks were underdogs walking into the Herder Finals against the Gander Flyers in 1979. Celebrating their victory at Gander Gardens (L-R) are: head coach Jim Byrne, Paul Norman, Bob O’Neil, captain Nigel Facey, Bill Perry and Mark Idler (Telegram)

Cameron Gill

Billy Breen was just two seasons into his senior hockey career when his team made their mark on Newfoundland hockey history.

Walking into the 1978-79 season, the St. John’s Mikes Shamrocks were hardly favourites to gain any ground in the provincial playoffs.

“We had good games, but we mostly had a lot of brawls,” said Breen, who pointed out that his Shamrocks were built more on the pillars of physicality than on skill.

Shockingly, when the Herder playoffs emerged and the semis were complete, Breen and the Shamrocks found themselves in the finals, having defeated the St. John’s Blue Caps.

Their opponents, the highly skilled Gander Flyers, were not only regular season champions that year but also the most favoured to win the Herder Memorial Trophy itself.

“Starting off, I mean we knew it would be tough; they had Zane Forbes, Eddie Philpott – they had ’em all,” said Breen.

For the Shamrocks, however, an unlikely ace up their sleeve would soon emerge in the form of Outer Cove’s Ronnie Cadigan.

“The amount of pride (the town) had in the fact that Ronnie Cadigan was playing with this Shamrocks team, you know it was so exciting,” said James Cadigan, Ronnie’s son.

The back-and-forth finals saw both clubs using each other’s home rinks to their advantage, as neither team won a single game at home during the eventful series.

“They had more finesse on our bigger ice surface, but when it was such a small rink, it was our game,” said Breen.

Billy Breen now runs Breen's Deli and Convenience in St. John's. His brother John started the business with him.
Former Shamrock Billy Breen now runs Breen’s Deli and Convenience in St. John’s. His brother John, who also played with the Shamrocks during the 1978-79 season, started the business with him. Cameron Gill/Kicker

In the end, the Shamrocks would go the distance in the finals, pushing the Flyers to a seventh game at Gander Gardens, with a Herder championship on the line.

Ron Bolland, a die-hard fan of the Shamrocks, never missed a game.

“We went out there in this old car. How we got seats, I don’t know,” Bolland said.

The deciding game would see 10 goals scored throughout three periods, leading to a 5-5 tie and a need for overtime.

Gander’s leading scorer that season, Eddie Philpott, had recently set an all-time provincial record for points when his club met the Shamrocks.

“We went to the Herder finals that year, against the Shamrocks, and they had the luck of the Irish that year because they never had half the team we had,” Philpott said.

The intense nature of the first overtime period would see nothing settled, as 20 minutes came and went without a decision.

In front of over 1,500 fans, double overtime kicked off, with the Shamrocks quickly gaining a disadvantage in the game. 

Penalized for hooking, the Shamrock’s Nigel Facey was sent to the box for two minutes with a chance for Gander to capitalize in sight.

Heading out from the bench for the penalty kill, Ronnie Cadigan jumped over the boards and into the play, taking the puck from the Shamrocks zone with a simple dump to kill time.

“When they gave us the penalty, Ronnie was going in short-handed, saddled the blue line, and just shot the puck in,” said Breen.

What was unknown at the time to both the teams on the ice, and the fans in attendance, was how quickly history was about to be made. 

“It was coming past the bench, we jumped up, the puck went over Terry John’s left shoulder, it was in the back of the net,” said Breen.

The goal would go on to become the most iconic and memorable in all of Newfoundland senior hockey history, handing the Shamrocks the greatest upset victory of all-time in the process.

“I’ve never seen another series like it,” said Bolland.

1 Comment

  1. I remember those games like it was yesterday. I remember lining up outside gander gardens all night waiting for the booth to open to buy tickets.

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