MANCHESTER, England _ Ryan McClelland is a bright guy.
He was an honours student at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto and he recently graduated from Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.
So, when he decided to try out last autumn for the Canadian men’s field lacrosse team for the 2010 world championships, he deduced after scanning the list of hopefuls that he was a longshot to make it to Manchester.
Well, here he is. He worked hard and he made it as a defensive midfielder.
“When we selected him, I think a lot of people were surprised by that,’’ says head coach David Huntley. “I wouldn’t think there’d be anybody surprised about it now.
“He’s a terrific player. He’s got great feet. He is able to check people without giving up body position and that’s pretty unusual.’’
McClelland is making the most of this marvellous opportunity to show that he belongs among the best in the sport.
“It’s really, really exciting,’’ says the 22-year-old resident of Brampton, Ont. “Playing with these guys, some of whom I grew up being a huge fan of, is amazing. This is special.’’
In Canada’s opener, a 17-4 win over Japan on Friday, he intercepted a pass and quickly fed the ball to a fast-breaking Zack Greer for a goal.
‘`The Japanese team is a good fast team,’’ McClelland said. “They played really hard but after we got our legs going we played well. Greersy had a fantastic game and our defence really shut them down in the second half.’’
McClelland had played for Canada’s under-16 team in 2003 and this was his first senior international.
“It’s always special when you put on the maple leaf and represent Canada,’’ he says.
McClelland played field lacrosse through high school and college as well as box lacrosse with Brampton Excelsiors teams. He’s busy this summer playing outdoors with the MLL’s Huntley-coached Toronto Nationals and indoors with the Excelsiors of the OLA Major Series.
Team Canada’s back end is solid.
“I thought we took a lot of strides in the game against Japan,’’ McClelland said. “We’re all getting on the same page.
“I think we’ve got a great unit back there.’’
It didn’t take the six-foot-three middie long to figure out that he’d be selling himself short if he stood around in awe of some of the big names surrounding him. But isn’t he the least bit intimidated lining up beside the longtime pros?
“Absolutely not,’’ he says. “You can’t be in awe the entire time. You have to shake that off and say to yourself, `You’re here, you’re playing with them at the same level so go out there and compete.’
“You’re not going to be able to play and compete with them otherwise. Somebody obviously thinks that you can play with them so take that into consideration and keep playing hard.’’
McClelland is quickly gaining an appreciation for Greer’s scoring feats.
“He’s got one of the quickest releases I’ve ever seen,’’ McClelland says of the Whitby Wonder. “You get him the ball and it’s in and out of his stick in an instant. It’s pretty amazing to see.’’
And he’s seen enough close up of Billy Dee Smith to understand why the defenceman from St. Catharines, Ont., has the reputation of being one of the best at his position in the sport.
“Billy Dee has been one of the top defencemen in the NLL for years. A lot of people might not know him in the outdoor game because he hasn’t played much field but he’s such a big guy and covers so much of the field. He’s a great defender to have on the back end with us. We’re really, really lucky to have him on this team.’’
Ryan’s many boosters at this tournament give him all the encouragement they can.
Glenn and Caryl McClelland are here cheering their son on. Brother Connor, 13, and sister Courtney, 20, made the trip, too, as did grandparents Ann and Roy Onyschuk. The McClellands hold a tailgate party near the players’ University of Manchester dorms before each game.
“It’s amazing to see all the support we have, all the people who have come to Manchester to cheer us on,’’ Ryan says. “Having their support here is awesome.’’
Neil Stevens, Team Canada media contact