Dispatch from England #5

Dispatches from England – Canada at the World Lacrosse Championships – 2010 – #5
Finley McGuire Merrill is less than 48 hours old but he already owns two lacrosse sticks. His future in Canadian lacrosse is an open book. For now he will have to leave the history writing  to his father Patrick, his uncle Brodie and a band of brothers who hail from places like New Westminster, Peterborough and Calgary.  The mood in the Canadian camp is happy and relaxed. Besides the good news in the Merrill household someone has managed to get the coffee maker working and the Tim Horton’s coffee is flowing freely. 
Today is officially the first day of the World Championship with the opening ceremonies set to occur around 5:00 PM with the first game of the tournament at 7:30PM.  As of lunch time, the word on Team Iroquois is that they are still coming but they will not be playing in the opener as scheduled. Germany will now play host England in the opener tonight. There is only one game scheduled for tonight and Canada does not play its first game until Friday at 4:30 against Japan.
Jeff Gombar is one of the assistant coaches with Team Canada and one of the nicest guys you will meet in Canadian field lacrosse. Gombar is both a box and field lacrosse goalie and is the goalie coach for Team Canada. He grew up in Port Moody, played his junior and senior box lacrosse in Coquitlam and his NCAA lacrosse at Whittier College in California. This is Gombar’s fifth World Men’s Championship with the first three appearances as a player and the second two as a coach. He also has one U-19 World Championship behind him as well.
If you had asked Gombar when he attended his first World Championship as a player if he could ever imagine himself as a coach at the World Championships the answer you would have received was no. This is not due to a lack of desire – he simply didn’t think he would get that chance.  As Gombar points out lacrosse has a funny way of taking you places and you never know where you might end up. In 1997 Gombar was part of the coaching staff of a B.C select  team that won the Canadian U-19 championship (in Oshawa of all places) and there are several players from that team that are in Manchester.  Besides Gombar, Travis Taylor and Travis Gillespie who are both coaches with the Dutch national team were also on the 1997 team. To Gombar’s delight, he has just discovered that Jordan West-Pratt, a long pole from the 1997 team and a fellow Whittier grad is playing for Team Germany. 
Germany is one of the more intriguing teams in the World Championships as the country has rapidly developed the strongest club system in Europe. In the two previous World Championships Germany has placed 8th on both occasions. Last night, Germany played Australia in an exhibition game and lost 5-2 while dramatically outplaying the Australians in most phases of the game – except finishing. The Australians are typically the third or fourth best team at the World Championships and with the German’s having played Australia so closely there is now speculation that the German’s might become the first continental European country to break into the top 6. This task becomes easier if the Iroquois do not show up but based on their play against Australia, it would not be unreasonable to see the Germans upset either England or Japan and possibly even Australia in a re-match.
The opening ceremonies are now an hour away and the word within the athlete’s village is that the Iroquois are now not coming.  This is a huge blow to the cache of the tournament but a development that many have been bracing for. Virtually every player on Team Canada has  friends on Team Iroquois so the loss is felt on many levels. A few minutes later Team Canada heads out to the stadium with Shawn Williams’s son proudly carrying the Canadian flag which is attached to a long pole lacrosse stick.
For many years the World Lacrosse Championships was a four team affair but the last two decades have witnessed exponential growth at the World level.  The 1990 World Championships was the first to see the Iroquois compete and 1994 saw the Japanese enter for the first time, expanding the tournament to six teams.  In 1998 the number of teams jumped to eleven and then fifteen teams four years later in Perth, Australia. In 2006, twenty-one teams attended the games hosted by London, Canada and this year there are thirty one teams playing in Manchester, England. 
As the teams walk into the stadium, the sheer scale of the World Championships is illustrated by the fifteen minutes it takes for all of the teams to file in.  Jeff Gombar’s comment “lacrosse has a funny way of taking you places and you never know where you might end up” is aptly illustrated as we take note of the Canadian’s who walk by the front of the stadium.  There are Nanaimo brothers Lewis and Cayle Ratcliff marching for England and Guelph’s Jahn Alexander marching for Argentina. Dane Hansen from Welland is there with Denmark and Rob Griffith from Halifax is with Team Finland. Noah Hoselton from Nepean is playing for Slovakia along with Brady Vrecko from New Westminster. Daniel de la Casa who plays for the Toronto Beaches walks by with Team Spain and Hofstra star and Orangeville native Greg Michelli looks sharp in a Team Italy uniform.  Team Holland has six Canucks on their roster and Scotland has four. Finally, Team Iroquois enters the stadium with a flag but no athletes. The games are now officially opened, and there is now only a small hope that Team Iroquois might still get to England.
England and Germany are now warming up for the first game and one thing appears to be readily obvious – as much as Germany has improved, England is still a very good lacrosse team. This point is reiterated as England takes the opening face-off and scores quickly.. As the first game jitters begin to dissipate both teams begin to settle into their respective strategies. The English seem to have more poise than the Germans but the Germans are very athletic. After the first goal, Germany begins to control the play and only a couple of sharp saves by English goalie Ben McAllister have kept Germany off the scoreboard. Then the momentum shifts back to England and by the end of the first quarter it is 3 to 0 for England.
The Germans go on the power play early in the second quarter and suddenly it is 3 to1. This score holds for several minutes and then Lewis Ratcliff rifles a pass to the crease man and it is 4-1 for England. Germany comes back with another goal and then Ratcliff scores his first goal of the tournament and England is up 5-2 as the quarter ends.
The third quarter is a tough one for Germany as England scores five goals in the quarter and Germany fails to respond. England will go on to easily win this game and Germany’s dream of closing the gap between the top six teams and the next tier down will have to wait for another opponent Germany is a good team but England is still a much superior team.
In England, the first day of the World Lacrosse Championships have come to an end. Meanwhile, back in Canada little Finley McGuire Merrill lies in his crib dreaming about lacrosse and his father and the places it might take him some day.   

J Donville

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