July 12, 2010
MANCHESTER, England – Jeff Gombar has watched lacrosse spread around the world.
The 30 teams entered in the 2010 world championship of the field variety is triple the number from 1994 when Gombar made his debut as a player. He represented Canada again in uniform in 1998 and in 2002, was an assistant coach on the team that won the title for the first time in 28 years in London, Ont., and is back again in the same capacity.
“It’s come a long way,’’ he says of the sport he’s had a first-hand look at growing through five world tournaments. “A lot of that has to do with the technology of the world today.
“Everybody is on the Internet and seeing things a world away that are turning them on and I think this sport is viral. People see it, they love it, and they want to be a part of it. It’s a sport that just turns on everybody, and the accessibility of equipment around the world, too, makes it all possible. The sky is the limit.’’
Gombar, 44, from Port Moody, is marketing director of the British Columbia Lacrosse Association. He helped run Canada’s first practice in a light rain six hours after the team’s dawn arrival Monday. Canada’s opening game is against Japan on Friday.
In his playing days, Gombar was just another Canadian trying to make an overnight conversion from box to field so he could compete in the world outdoor tournament. That’s all changed.
“No. 1, everyone here now is an athlete,’’ he says. “We were box lacrosse players with a bit of field lacrosse experience playing outdoors.
“Everybody here has field lacrosse experience at a high, high level whether it be collegiately or professionally. They all understand the game to a T.’’
Field lacrosse has grown to such an extent that it could one day be considered for a return to Olympic status.
“Well, I think it’s getting to that point where it can be close,’’ says Gombar. “The FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse) has done a masterful job of developing it around the world to get it into enough countries that maybe some day it could potentially be the Olympics. There’s more political stuff that we have no idea about that the FIL is aware of and I think they’re doing the right things to one day get there _ 10, 20, 30 years, who knows?’’
Gombar is part of the West Coast’s strong presence on Team Canada this year. Rhys Duch of Victoria, Garrett Billings of Langley, Jordan Hall and Curtis Manning of Surrey and Kevin Crowley of New Westminster are players head coach David Huntley will be counting on to produce clutch performances.
“It’s a young group,’’ says Duch, who was a key contributor in the Washington Stealth’s march to the National Lacrosse League indoor championship last May and who’s a key player for the Western Lacrosse Association’s Victoria Shamrocks this summer.
Duch aims to make a two-way difference.
“Legs and running,’’ he replies when asked what he can offer. “I’m more of an offensive type than a defensive player but I think I’m here to play both so I’m hoping to contribute at both ends of the field. I want to be a two-way middie.’’
This is what Gombar says of Duch: “Great stick skills. Hard, hard shot. He’s just got a great knack for goal scoring. He’s brought his box skills onto the field, and he takes his field skills into box, too. He’s just a nice hybrid athlete who can really put the ball in the net.’’
On Billings, who plays for the WLA’s Langley Thunder: “A real smooth athlete _ sort of the silent killer out there. You don’t expect him to be the shooter that he is, and then he surprises you with a rocket that you least expect. He’s a player behind the scenes who will surprise you.’’
On Hall: “He showed in 2006 that you can be a young guy and make a difference. He stepped right in as a rookie in ’06 and he’s grown every year. He’s going to be one of our younger leaders on this team. He can do it all up and down the field. He’s a great, great asset.’’
Crowley is the youngest of the five West Coast players on Canada’s team. He’s only 21, and one of only two players _ Ryan McLelland of Brampton, Ont., is the other _ still playing in the NCAA.
“He’s a big, rangy fella that can play up and down the field. He can play the midfield, run the ball, shoot the ball and be a playmaker. I think he’s going to be a nice surprise for us.’’
Crowley was a late add to the roster.
“I couldn’t be happier,’’ he says. “I’ve always wanted a chance to get some revenge from the U.S. ever since the 2008 U-19 world juniors so I’m so happy I got the call. Coming from the college game I might have a knack for dodging the long poles. I’m just going to work hard and play my game and hopefully that’s successful.’’
Manning is the lone defenceman among the five West Coast players on Team Canada.
“He played almost every position at Simon Fraser, even goaltender at some point,’’ says Gombar. “He’s very adaptable.’’
Manning plays indoors with the WLA’s New Westminister Salmonbellies.
Team Canada media contact: Neil Stevens at Loose47@live.com