Panthers team from 1984 to be recognized at CIS championships

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(ISN) – Charlottetown, PEI —If the present-day UPEI Men’s Soccer Panthers need any more inspiration to perform when they kick-off their CIS campaign Thursday evening, a look over to the sidelines where a number of the 1984-85 team will be cheering them on should give them an extra boost.

It was 30 years ago that arguably the most dominant team in Panther’s soccer history made it to the semi-finals of the CIAU championships, following a year in which they had won the AUAA title after an undefeated season, took home all the major individual conference honours, had six players named to the all-star team, and had four of the squad named all-Canadian.

“It was a special group of players who came together so well,” remembers coach Gordon Wilson of the squad, that included a mix of Island talent with some outstanding recruits.

“We had won the division the year before, but when Alan Spink from Dartmouth joined us we went up another level, “recalls Wilson, who remains the only Panthers soccer coach to win three conference titles.

Spink joined an already potent midfield of Islander Don MacKenzie and team captain Glen Smiley, and with the talented Richard Pierre-Gilles always likely to break a game open in combination with lethal striker Scott Neil, it was a nightmare time for opposing conference defenders. Even if they did mount any attacking threat, the steady Steve Polenz, and the goalkeeping duo of Trent Hayes and Jean Francois Painchaud were usually on hand to deal with the danger.

The team went 9-0-3 in regular season before defeating UNB in the final, securing a second straight trip to the CIAUs in Ottawa, where their hopes of winning the university’s first ever national title were denied in controversial circumstances. In the semi-final against Carleton, a Don MacKenzie goal was harshly ruled out with the score still at 0-0, before the Ontario champions went on to win 2-0.

“The referee called a foul against Don on the goalkeeper that should never have been,” remembers Wilson, while MacKenzie himself recalls, “that it was a very harsh decision. I don’t like criticizing the official but I got there first, chipped the goalkeeper, and looked on in disbelief as the goal was called back. We had the balance of play and I am sure we would have gone on to win.”

Despite the disappointment of that one game, MacKenzie remembers the time with great fondness.

“That team really put soccer on the map on PEI. It was a great spirit and the community and student body really came together. We had great crowds, and there was wonderful excitement around the field. It was a lot of fun.”

The 1984-85 Panthers team has been named the Honourary Chair of the CIS Championships, and will be recognized at half time during the game between UPEI and the Saskatchewan Huskies, which gets under way at 7:00 pm.

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