Dispatches from England – Canada at the World Lacrosse Championships – 2010 – #4
It is not yet 6:00 AM and Team USA head coach Mike Pressler is already awake. He is dressed warmly and has further barricaded himself from the world with his dark glasses and Team USA hat. He walks by without acknowledgement but this should not be seen as a reflection of any lack of sociability. Almost certainly it is because he is absorbed with a myriad of thoughts and analysis that must be pondered, rechecked and completed ahead of the tournament which starts in earnest in less than 36 hours. Few coaches prepare for an opponent as thoroughly as Coach Pressler.
Mike Pressler is well known and universally respected by the field lacrosse community in Canada. Two key members of Team Canada, Zach Greer and assistant coach Taylor Wray have played for Coach Pressler and both regard him as one of the best coaches, mentors and friends that they have in the sport. While much of the world knows of Pressler in the context of the Duke lacrosse incident (of which all members of the team including Pressler have been completely exonerated), many may not appreciate just how strong his coaching resume is.
Pressler has been a winner in every lacrosse coaching job that he has held. In his very first head coaching job at VMI he went 7-4. He then coached Ohio Wesleyan for five years amassing a 69 – 16 record. At Duke, his teams went 153-82 and included 3 ACC championships and 10 NCAA Championship appearances. Since taking over at Bryant he has had a 35-13 coaching record. In addition to these accomplishments he has been voted coach of the year in virtually every conference he has coached in and in 2005 was voted USILA Coach of the Year. As impressive as his coaching accomplishments are, perhaps Pressler’s greatest attribute coming into these World Championships is the fact that he understands the Canadian approach to field lacrosse probably as well as any coach in the USA. Team USA intends to win back the gold medal from Canada in 2010 and to do so they have picked a very, very good coach in Mike Pressler.
Team Canada arrives for breakfast shortly after 7:00AM. The players have been out the night before performing a ritual that is played out in the early stages of every World Championships. This of course involves the initiating of the rookies which accelerates the integration of the old guard with the new. Eventually all of the players make their way to the dining hall with one (Mac Allen) sporting a new haircut that would be the envy of any Franciscan Monk.
Since inception, the World Lacrosse Championships has been dominated by a small number of countries that include the USA, Canada, Australia and England, with Iroquois and Japan becoming factors in the 1990’s. These teams are referred to as the Blue Division. While the top 2-3 teams in the Blue Division are secure in their standing, several countries in the second tier believe they are on the verge of knocking off either Japan or England for a spot in the Blue Division. Scotland, Germany, Finland and Holland are the most often cited names of countries that could soon join the elite six countries.
If Holland is going to emerge as the newest top-tier country in World Lacrosse then Scott Janssen, Adam Jones and Graham Bergsma are going to have to play big in the coming week and a half. Janssen who hails from New Westminster is a former star attack man with Mercyhurst who scored 30 goals in his last year of NCAA play. St Albert Ram’s work horse Alex Jones scored 39 goals in 16 games in the NCAA for Division II Dominican College. Jones also picked up 56 ground balls which suggest that this kid has both a touch around the net and grit in the midfield. Bergsma is a Toronto Beaches product who has been toiling at Fairport for the past three years and the son of John Bergsma who played professional lacrosse for the Detroit Olympia’s in the 1970’s. Besides Janssen, Jones and Bergsma, Sean Tyson from Nanaimo should also get some touches while the Dutch coaches Travis Taylor (New Westminster) and Travis Gillespie (Mission) work their magic from the sidelines.
The game between Canada and Holland is at nearby Stockport, a twenty minute cab ride away – and there is no team bus. Like a bunch of six year old hockey players, Team Canada piles into 8 or 9 cabs with the players fully dressed except for their cleats. It is a stunning site to see – our National Lacrosse Team heading off in a bunch of British taxis like “Keystone Cops” and this occurrence is made all the more surreal with the appearance of ‘the Monk” with his wonderful new haircut.
The sun is finally shining a bit and the Stockport Cricket, Bowling and Lacrosse Club turns out to be a wonderful oasis of green grass and red brick set amidst a charming residential neighbourhood. The warm-up is completed quickly and before you know it, Geoff Snider is off and running with the ball – again.
Canada’s first goal takes a few minutes to occur as the Dutch defence fill the hole and denies Canada a good look at the net. Then the goals start coming in bunches, with Greer and Huntley developing a nice chemistry around the net. Dawson scores, then Hall and then Dawson scores again. Greer buries a couple of more. The Dutch are playing hard but the score quickly becomes one sided despite a couple of spectacular saves by the Dutch goalie. At the other end of the field, Canada’s defence is equally sharp and Coach Wray continues to push his group to nail down all of the little details.
At the start of the third quarter Canada leads by a sizable margin but the Dutch continue to play as if the game is close and they have everything on the line. Janssen and Jones are beginning to develop a nice rhythm and towards the end of the third quarter Janssen feeds Jones in front of the net. Jones then makes a nice fake and rifles the ball into the top corner – Holland is on the board. Canada gets the ball back off the face-off and scores a couple more and then Jones and Janssen are at it again but this time Jones sets up Janssen for a nice goal from the side of the net.
In the end Canada wins easily but the Dutch show that they will enter the tournament with a potent and athletic offence and a strong goalie – both important factors if they want to advance in the tournament. For Canada, they have now achieved all that they can from playing exhibition games. It’s time to get on to the Blue Division games and find out what this team is really made of. Zach Greer is ready, Taylor Wray is ready and so is the rest of Team Canada.