Canada vs Japan – Game Story #1

CANADA WINS OPENER 17-4 OVER JAPAN;  U.S. UP NEXT

     MANCHESTER, England _ It won’t be so easy Saturday, and everybody on Canada’s team knows it.
     Head coach Dave Huntley’s squad opened the world field lacrosse championships with a 17-4 victory over Japan on Friday and immediately turned thoughts to the impending battle with the Americans (2:30 p.m. EDT Saturday), who are hungry to get the title back after losing to Canada 15-10 in the final four years ago.


    “That’s going to be a bigger, stronger team than the Japanese,’’ says defenceman Jon Sullivan of St. Catharines, Ont. “We’re going to have to come with a better-prepared and stronger game.’’
     Attacker Jordan Hall of Surrey, B.C., voiced similar sentiments.
     “They’re  very athletic,’’ he says of the Americans. “On Friday we played a team that was a bit undersized and the American team is the opposite.
     “It’ll be a challenge physically. We made a lot of mistakes in the first half against Japan and I’m glad we got those out of the way before facing the Americans.’’
     Defenceman Billy Dee Smith of St. Catharines envisions a war from the first whistle.
     “We have history with them,’’ he said. “No one is going to take anything for granted.
     “We want to play the same way we played the second half Friday and play unselfish. I believe in everybody on this team.’’
     Zack Greer scored six goals in the opener after potting 12 in exhibition wins over Scotland and the Netherlands the previous two days.
     “He’s been terrific,’’ Huntley said of the Whitby Wonder. “He’s making his shots and he’s getting in good places so guys can find him.’’
     Greer was an NCAA star at Duke and Bryant and he’s been a dominant force for Canada so far.
     “I really worked hard out there,’’ he said. “We ironed out some more kinks and we’re really looking forward to the next game.
     “We want to come out flying.’’
     The Japanese were in a 2-2 tie with Canada at the mid-point of the first quarter.
     “We kind of started slowly,’’ said Huntley. “We were a little careless with our fouls but we played really good defence when we got things rollin’ in the second half and stopped taking penalties and controlled the ball.’’
     Canada scored 13 consecutive goals to go up 15-2.
    Kevin Huntley, who is the coach’s son and lives in the Baltimore region, and Corey Small of St. Catharines each scored three goals against Japan, Mark Steenhuis of St. Catharines got two and John Grant Jr. of Peterborough, Ont., Dan Dawson of Oakville, Ont., and Shawn Williams of Oshawa, Ont., added one each.
     Steenhuis, one of the top scorers in the indoor National Lacrosse League with the Buffalo Bandits for many years now, had never played a senior men’s international game on the big field for Canada.
     “I think he’s starting to figure it out,’’ coach Huntley said. “Mark is the only guy on our team who hasn’t had some field lacrosse experience before this year but every game he’s getting better, and that’s what we thought he’d do.’’
     Steenhuis, 29, has waited a long time to try the field game.
     “It felt good,’’ he said after his international debut. “It takes a couple of days to adapt to the new surroundings a little bit with the flight and everything like that.
     “Getting into the first game was big for me. Being able to come overseas and represent my country with this group of guys is something I pretty much dreamed of. It is a dream come true for myself and it is an experience I’m going to remember.’’    
     He says the big field works well with his style of game.
     “The angles of shooting are a lot different from the indoor game, which I’m more accustomed to,’’ he says. “I have to make adjustments in order to help my team out.’’
     He was making the adjustments impressively well Friday.
     Small said he was a touch nervous to start. Like Steenhuis, he’d never played for Canada internationally.
     “As the game went on, our whole team settled down, stuff started working and we started clicking out there,’’ he said.  “It was a great experience for my first international game.
     “The whole experience so far _ the plane ride over with all the guys, settling into the dorms and being in a family-vibe group has been awesome so far.’’
     Chris Sanderson played all but the final 15 minutes, when Evan Kirk went in to give his fellow-Orangeville, Ont., native a rest, and he got the goaltending win in his first world tournament game since the ‘06 game for gold.
     “It was a little more competitive than I was expecting,’’ said the 36-year-old goalie. “The Japanese continue to get better and belong in this bracket.’’
     When Canada won the world title in 2006, it defeated Japan 18-7 in first-round play.
     Lining up for the pre-game anthems was emotional for Sanderson, who had brain surgery in December 2008.
     “To hear the anthem, I teared up,’’ he said. “I saw my brothers in the stands and it was emotional. It was awesome to be back out here.’’
      Coach Huntley will rely on him heavily.
     “He’s seeing the ball great,’’ said coach Huntley. “He’s got a lot of energy. He’s probably not as quick as he used to be but he might even be seeing the ball a little better so that’s awesome.’’
     All the players were happy to see Sanderson get the win.
     “Sandy is a gamer,’’ said Kevin Huntley. “He made a lot of good stops. It was impressive for a guy to be doing what he’s doing right now especially given what he’s been through.
     `He’s an inspiration for everybody. I know the defence played very well in front of him as well. Hopefully we can keep that going and keep our confidence up and play strong the rest of the way through.’’
     Huntley seems to score every time he shoots.
     “They scored the first goal so I kind of got a little worried there at the start this being my first tournament,’’ he said. “But we showed how unselfish we can be out there.
     “A bunch of guys scored the goals and we were moving the ball around really well. We got down to business and shared the ball and had a good time out there.’’
     Canada’s physical presence was too much for the Japanese.
     “We’ve got quite a size mismatch on that team so I think it would be stupid of us not to utilize it,’’ said Sullivan. “We did that well.’’
     A big reason for Canada’s back-end dominance was six-foot-three bruiser Smith, who is one of eight returnees from the ’06 squad.
     “Overall, we did a really good job of not getting frustrated,’’ he said. “They’re a real disciplined team and we knew that coming in.
     “You really don’t know how much better they’re getting in four years and they got quite a bit better. It’s going to be scary to see them four years from now. In the first quarter, stuff we are usually sure about, it just wasn’t there. They’d come back and have good long possessions. We were rushing things.’’
     Many of the players are on teams in the Major Lacrosse League, which uses a shot timer in games. There’s no such timer in this tournament.
     “We’ve just got to be a little more patient,’’ said Smith. “We did a total 180 in the second half and we played as a team and ultimately did what the coaches asked of us and it all worked out.’’
     Now it’s on to the round-robin crunch against the USA.
    “Everybody is excited about it,’’ said coach Huntley. “It should be a good game.
     “We know them real well and they know us real well so there won’t be any surprises.’’

Neil Stevens, Team Canada media contact

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