by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Brodie Merrill nearly choked up when responding to a seemingly innocuous question about what Canada’s 11-9 win over Team USA at Saturday night’s “Duel in Denver” meant to those in the red and white.
“It means a lot, especially being so fresh off Chris Sanderson’s death,” Merrill said, referring to Canada’s three-time All-World goaltender who passed away from brain cancer in June. “I got a little bit emotional before the game thinking about him. It’s the first time I’ve ever worn this jersey without being a teammate of his. He even coached me back for the U19 team. I miss him. We all miss him here. We wanted to play inspired lacrosse with him in mind tonight.”
The 23 members of Team Canada wore emblems featuring Sanderson’s No. 17 on their jerseys and helmets, which will be sold to benefit a trust created in Sanderson’s name. The players all paid their way to Denver just to take the field; the idea being to maximize profits earned from participating in the event to help the charity.
They had a greater purpose heading into the exhibition game with Team USA, and delivered on their intent to play inspired, downing the U.S. for the third time in the nations’ last four meetings before 4,583 fans at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Canadian attackman Curtis Dickson, back from a separated shoulder injury suffered at the end of the National Lacrosse League season, scored four goals, including two in the fourth quarter as Canada pulled away after Matt Striebel tied the game at 7 less than three minutes into the final period.
Goaltenders Evan Kirk and Angus Dineley, who backed up Sanderson in the 2010 FIL World Championships in Manchester, England, combined for 23 saves. Kirk made 13 in the first half and Dineley had 10 in the second, with a key stop on a low Kyle Harrison shot from the right alley with just over two minutes left, leading by two.
The U.S. rallied from a 5-2 halftime deficit by outscoring Canada 4-1 in the third quarter. Paul Rabil tied the game at 6 on a 12-yard shot from the left wing with 3:47 left in the third, but the U.S. then failed to convert on a pair of extra-man opportunities and struggled gain or maintain possession in the fourth quarter. Dickson’s third goal with 15:31 left broke the 7-7 tie, and although Team USA’s faceoff duo of Greg Gurenlian and Matt Dolente held a slight overall edge on Geoff Snider on faceoffs (13 to 11), Snider came up with three straight wins to help Canada go ahead 11-8.
Dickson got a step on USA defenseman Nicky Polanco and drove from point-behind to the left pipe to give Canada that three-goal lead with 5:32 to go.
“I knew they were going to be aggressive. They’re all all-pro defenders,” Dickson said of Team USA close defenseman Polanco, Lee Zink and Michael Evans. “They’re all big guys and they’ve been known to be pretty aggressive, be on your hands. I like that style against me. It helps my game. I like to take the ball to the net and I was lucky enough to beat them a couple times tonight.”
Zink said the U.S. defensive unit struggled communicating at times. There were some typical, backdoor Canadian goals to be seen. Dickson was the only multiple goal scorer for Canada, but John Grant Jr., Adam Jones, Jordan McBride and Kevin Ross each had a goal and an assist.
“They were very opportunistic,” USA coach Richie Meade said. “We gave up some very soft goals, a couple on the crease. I think we needed to be a little bit better defensively, shoot the ball a little bit better and we would have been fine.”
Striebel led the U.S. with two goals while Rabil had a goal and two assists and Brooks had a goal and an assist. The U.S. outshot Canada 47-34 but outside shots often missed the cage, although Meade said he was not unhappy with shot selection from those areas.
“Shot selection was good,” Rabil agreed, “Shot accuracy wasn’t as great.”
“It didn’t seem like we could get the ball inside,” Meade added. “I didn’t think we had a problem running by them. I don’t think we got two or three passes and made them work very hard after we ran by them. We were impatient at times. We wanted it to happen a little bit quicker.
” Drew Adams played the first half in goal for the U.S. and had five saves while allowing five goals. Jesse Schwartzman played the second half and had three saves with six goals allowed.
It was a rematch of the 2010 World Championship (won by the U.S. 12-10) that Canada was very much looking forward to. Grant, who played Game 1 of the best-of-seven indoor Mann Cup series in Peterborough, Ontario, on Friday night, arrived in Denver early Saturday morning, played Saturday night and was to fly back to Peterborough to play in Game 2 of the Mann Cup at 7 p.m. Sunday. He’s scheduled to arrive at 5:30 p.m.
“It means everything to me,” Grant said. “I’ve been playing these guys since ’98 and it’s only the third time we got them. I don’t care if it’s exhibition, gold medal game or preliminaries, we want to win every time we put our jersey on.”
While Team USA brought a veteran-heavy lineup to Denver –Steele Stanwick and Dolente were the only players on the roster to have graduated college within the last two years – Canadian veterans Grant, Merrill, Snider and defender Matt Vinc, the team “Dads,” according to assistant coach Matt Brown, led a largely young group wearing Canadian sweaters.
Six current collegians were on the Canada roster. Jason Noble (Cornell) and Reid Acton (Loyola) started on defense and Jordan Houtby (Detroit) saw significant time. Cam Flint, Wes Beg and Jeremy Noble, all of Denver, also played. Nine others graduated college in the last two years.
“We wanted to take our age out of the equation and just play lacrosse,” Merrill said. “Not worry so much about the other team. It’s really easy to watch guys like Paul Rabil and Max Seibald as opposed to believing in yourself and knowing that you’re capable of playing whether you’re a freshman or sophomore in college or you’re John Grant.”
For both teams, this was the start of the evaluation process for the 2014 FIL World Championships, which will be held at the same venue two years from now.
“A lot of us young guys haven’t had a chance to don the red and white before,” said Dickson, a 2010 Delaware grad. “We’re just out here to make a name for ourselves. The 2014 World Championships are coming up in a couple years and tryouts are right around the corner for that. We’re getting our names out there and hopefully vying for a spot on that team.”
While for the U.S. many of the names are already known, it’s a matter of team chemistry.
“It was a big feel out time for us, a new bunch of players and new coaches,” Rabil said. “It’s step one in a long process.”
Check back to LaxMagazine.com for more post-game reaction and video interviews from both sides.