MANCHESTER, England – Chris Sanderson played as if he’d never been away.
It was remarkable.
Sanderson, who underwent brain surgery in December 2008 and who hadn’t tended goal in a field lacrosse game since helping Canada win the world title in 2006, was outstanding during a Tuesday scrimmage against Scotland that served as a warmup for Canada’s 2010 tournament opener Friday against Japan.
“Awesome,’’ replied the 36-year-old native of Orangeville, Ont., when asked how he felt working in a crease again. “It was great to be back on the field.
“Even though it was an exhibition game, taking to the field felt great and then once the ball dropped I went back to four years ago. I felt comfortable in there and comfortable with the guys and I think it went pretty well.’’
Sanderson didn’t face a lot of shots but excellent positioning, good angle reads and quick reflexes allowed him to stop all but one shot he faced in his three quarters of action.
Head coach David Huntley was impressed.
“I think he’s gotten better,’’ said Huntley. “Like wine, he’s done well in the cellar ageing.
“Chris is like a coach on the field and our defence will play better each game with him out there. We’re blessed to have him back.’’
Assistant coach Jeff Gombar, a former goalie, was quick to commend Sanderson for preparing so well for his long-awaited return.
“A lot of that is keeping mentally sharp,’’ he said. “You play the game in your head and you watch shooters’ tendencies and react.
“When you get back in that crease it’s like riding a horse. You get back on it. He’s going to be fine. He’s a little rusty but he’s feeling good, and he looks good.’’
Sanderson has undergone aggressive chemotherapy since having a brain tumor removed 18 months ago.
Huntley was enthused by his team’s overall performance.
“I thought we were terrific,’’ he said. “The whole purpose of this was to see if we’re getting better every day and we were better this morning in practice than we were yesterday and in this scrimmage we got better in each quarter.
“That’s the goal the guys have set for themselves and I think as long as we do that we’ll be alright.’’
Zack Greer of Whitby, Ont., scored four goals.
“It was a good start,’’ he said of Canada’s effort. “We worked hard and got some kinks out. Scotland played a good game. They work hard, too. It looks like it’s going to be a fun tournament.’’
Garrett Billings of Langley, B.C., scored three goals.
“It felt good,’’ said Billings. “It was the first time I’ve ever pulled on this jersey so it was a great experience.’’
John Grant Jr. of Peterborough, Ont., played only the first half and scored two goals while setting up several others.
“We started out strong,’’ he said. “At times we looked a little apprehensive but once we got into the flow of things we started to gel.
“Some of the goals were the result of as many as six consecutive passes and their goalie was spinning around like a top. We’ve got some things to work on but we’ve got a few days before we play our first game. I think we’re on track.’’
Scotland coach John Kenney said he was happy with his team’s play and lauded Canada’s offence.
“The Canadians worked the pick and roll to perfection,’’ he said. “They shoot quick and hard. They’re going to have a good tournament.’’
Huntley described Kenney’s team as being “plucky and enthusiastic.’’
Scotland goalkeeper Tim Higgins said he and his teammates relished the unexpected opportunity to play the reigning world champions. Scotland was originally to have faced the Iroquois Nationals in the warmup game but that team hadn’t arrived so Canada offered to fill in.
“It was the experience of a lifetime for all our guys,’’ said Higgins. “They’re the best team in the world right now and if you’re going to measure yourself you might as well measure yourself against the best.’’
Most of Greer’s goals came from underhand rockets that planted balls just under the crossbar.
“I was worried at first that I was going to have a bunch of bruises but they’re such good shooters that I didn’t get hit,’’ said Higgins.
Jordan Coffey of Brampton, Ont., scored a goal for Scotland. Coffey played for the Brampton Excelsiors when they won the Canadian senior championship last year and several Team Canada players were teammates during that title run. He’s now playing for the Ajax-Pickering Rock in the OLA Major Series and was sporting two black eyes courtesy of a Shawn Evans punch in a game against the Peterborough Lakers. He was asked if scoring on Sanderson was a more pleasurable experience than was absorbing the Evans punch.
“Yup, yup, a lot easier to take _ both physically and for my pride as well,’’ Coffey said with a grin.
Playing against Canada was a novel experience for him.
“It’s tough playing against your own country,’’ he said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing for Canada. My mom was born in Scotland and I had the opportunity to come over here and represent Scotland so I jumped at the opportunity.’’
Team Canada media contact: Neil Stevens at Loose47@live.com<