Dispatches from England – Canada at the World Lacrosse Championships – 2010 – #6
Canada will play Japan today for the first time in four years. The last time these two teams met was in London, Ontario. In that game, Canada played what was described as a lethargic first half before exploding offensively in the second half of the game for an 18 to 7 victory. The leading scorer for Japan in 2006, Shinya Maruyama is back again this year and the Japanese roster is both bigger and faster than in 2006 and has prepped for these games with an exhibition series played against Notre Dame University in June.
Team Canada’s equipment managers Terry Raynor and Paul Wade are the unsung heroes of the team and attend to all kinds of odd tasks to get the team ready to play. As they lay out the uniforms that Team Canada will wear they proudly point out a new feature on this year’s jersey and that is the club crest program. In addition to the Team Canada logo on the front of the jersey, each Team Canada player will wear a logo of an amateur organization that has and continues to support the player in his lacrosse endeavours. Shawn Williams will wear a Whitby minor lacrosse badge on his arm, while Ruys Duch carries the Victoria Shamrocks logo on his jersey. Dan Dawson sports an Oakville Hawks logo on his sleeve while Jordan Hall has a New Westminster Salmonbellie logo on his – and so it goes for the rest of Team Canada.
Indeed while this week is a celebration of International Lacrosse the “club logo program” is clearly an attempt to acknowledge and connect with the club system which sits at the core of Canadian lacrosse. Team Canada assistant coach Randy Mearns, whose full time job is that of Head Coach at Division I Canisius College is a classic case of someone who developed almost exclusively within the Canadian club system before going on to represent his country at the World Championships.
Mearns grew up in St Catharines Ontario, which was and remains one of Canada’s great lacrosse towns. Growing up as a kid in the 1970’s, St Catharines boasted three clubs, the Spartans, the Athletics and the Golden Eagles. The 1970’s were a prosperous time in St Catherine with plenty of good jobs coming from the automotive and manufacturing plants that surrounded the city with a population of 130,000. According to Mearns, “most of the dads worked in the plants from 7AM until 3PM and they were always free in the evenings to take us to lacrosse. After the game, the dads would often hang out at the back of the arena, having a beer or two and thus as an eight or nine year old kid, you might spend 4-5 hours at the arena, hanging around with all of your buddies and always with a lacrosse stick in your hand’.
Randy Mearns started playing lacrosse in tyke and for the first four years he had the same coach – Gerry Galloway. Mearns recalls that Galloway knew the fundamentals of lacrosse but his focus was on making the sport fun. In Peewee, Mark, Gary and Gordy Hallowell took over and Mearns recalls this period in his lacrosse career as the time when he really started to learn the details of the game. By the time he was playing Junior A lacrosse, Mearns was now playing for the St Catharines Athletics which was coached by Jim Brady and for one year by Buff McCready. At the time, Randy simply saw his teammates as kids that he grew up with, guys like the Kilgour brothers Darris, Rich and Derrick, Trevor Bidale, Derrick Graham, Steven Fannel and Clayton Henry. Mearns adds “at the time we didn’t realise how good we were because we always seemed to finish second to Peterborough in Ontario”. Finally, in 1990 the Athletics won the Minto Cup and within two years many of the players from Mearn’s childhood growing up in St Catherine were playing in the NLL or NCAA. As Mearn’s reiterates, “virtually every guy on the team learned all of his lacrosse in the club system that was in place in and around St Catharines.”
The Polish lacrosse program does not have a club lacrosse system like the one that exists in Canada. What Poland does have is an extensive number of expatriates living in North America whose children are eligible to play for Team Poland. This includes Josh Coveleski from Duke, Christian Dzwilewski from Providence, Colin Jesien from RIT, Mark Todd from Towson, Mike Szpiech from Elmira and Justin Rychlicki from Canisius. Today’s game against Bermuda is Team Poland’s first ever in an international competition. They beat Bermuda 20-2.
Most sports that start out in only one part of the world will employ relatively lax citizenship rules as a means of spreading the game to other parts of the world. This was certainly the case with the sport of rugby 30 years ago. However, rugby has long since adopted citizenship rules that are as stringent as soccer. In the lacrosse world, the definition of who is Swedish or Dutch has been a minor issue up until recently. However, with the rapid improvement in European lacrosse in particular there are now plans to tighten the citizenship standards employed in International lacrosse. By 2014, strict rules around citizenship will almost certainly be in place.
In the meantime many teams try to downplay how many Americans or Canadians play on their team so as not to discredit their national teams and home grown talent. A case in point is the Czech Team which lists only one player as having a connection to Canada with that being Chet Koneczny who lists his club team as York University. However, when the Czech takes the field, five players are wearing hockey helmets and they have stick skills that are all wrist. This does not mean for sure that they are Canadian’s as the Czech Republic is the only other lacrosse nation that is a “box lacrosse first” and “field lacrosse second” nation – but it does make you wonder.
The Canada versus Japan game is now an hour away. Coming into the 2010 World Championships the biggest question mark overhanging Team Canada was goaltending. Over the past twenty years Canada has developed great depth in all other field lacrosse positions exception goaltending, a point illustrated by the fact that no Canadian goalie has played in the MLL or in an NCAA Final four since the last World Championships in 2006. That is not to say that Canada does not have good, young up-and-coming goalies like Evan Kirk and Angus Dineley. But Chris Sanderson remains Canada’s only goalie who is battle tested at the highest levels of the game. That said, Chris Sanderson is 36 years old, battling brain cancer and has not faced a shot in high level competition in four years.
It is game time and while the weather is overcast and threatening rain, conditions at field level are perfect. Canada loses the opening draw, the Japanese advance and in seemingly a matter of seconds Wataru Tsugu has a shot on net and its 1-0 for Japan. Canada wins the next face-off and after 2 or 3 minutes of sloppy midfield play by both teams Japan suddenly gains passion and Sanderson is forced to make a superb close-in save. A few minutes later Japan takes a penalty and John Grant Jr, playing at X feeds Mark Steinhaus with a perfect pass that is in the net in a fraction of a second. Canada has tied the game 1-1.
A few minutes pass, another Japanese penalty is called and Kevin Huntley sets up Zach Greer for his first goal of the game and Canada’s first lead of the game. But the Japanese don’t back off and when Canada takes a penalty at the 6 minute mark of the first quarter Ken Ikegawa makes Canada pay and the score is tied 2-2. John Grant Jr. then goes to work and takes a nice feed from Greer and its 3-2 for Canada. A minute later it is Greer from Grant and Canada is up 4-2. Chris Sanderson makes another spectacular save to finish the quarter.
Canada starts the second quarter two men down and quickly works itself out of trouble. Ryan McClelland then makes a beautiful interception of a Japanese pass and rifles the ball to Greer who fires it into the Japanese net and Canada is now up 5-2. Huntley then scores a minute later and its 6-2. This score holds until half time as Canada continues to find itself in the penalty box and its defence keeps the Japanese attack at bay. Curtis Manning is having a particularly strong quarter but Sanderson has been forced to make another two big-time saves.
Canada starts the quarter a man down and Sanderson once again is required to make another big stop – but the shots are increasingly coming from the outside as the Canadian defence starts to gel as a unit. A minute later, Canada goes on the power play and Dan Dawson scores on a nice feed from Huntley. Then the goals starting coming quickly, first Corey Small, then Shawn Williams, then Greer, another from Huntley, and then another two from Small. At the end of the third quarter it is 13 to 2 for Canada
Sanderson leaves the game. He has just played 60 minutes of high level international Lacrosse and answered a lot of questions. Players and coaches tease “Sandy” on the sideline that they could be that good if they only played for 2 weeks every 4 years. Evan Kirk enters the game to get some back up minutes in the unlikely event that he is ever needed to stand in for Chris Sanderson.
The fourth quarter goes by quickly with Huntley and Greer finding the back of the net. Kirk makes a spectacular save off of a Japanese attacker in close and a few minutes later he makes another. Crowley is now taking face-offs for Canada, losing the first one and winning all of the rest. Canada and Japan will exchange meaningless goals as the game winds down, and the game finally stops with Canada defeating Japan by a score of 17 to 4.