It is early Saturday morning in Manchester and it is sunny and cloudless for the first time since Team Canada arrived in England nearly two weeks ago. It is quiet throughout the Team Canada camp, which it should be as the game that will determine the World Champions for the next four years is still more than nine hours away. However, if you listen closely you can hear the footsteps of the trainers, therapists and equipment managers. It is the job of Paul Wade, Terry Rayner, Steve Kopas, and Steve Lobsinger to make sure everything and everybody is ready, washed, taped, bandaged, stretched, cleaned, and mended before game time and although it is still a few minutes before 7:00AM, the” team behind the Team” is up and moving.
Today’s rematch between Team Canada and Team USA has been four years in the making. While no one in the Team Canada camp knows exactly what the thinking has been in the US camp, the unofficial word coming out of 2006 was that Team USA had some holes in its line-up that had to be addressed and these included a top level face-off man and someone who could dodge from X. And while today’s final against Canada will deliver the ultimate verdict as to the extent to which these improvements have worked, it is already obvious that Team USA is considerably stronger than they were in 2006.
However, what makes today’s game with Team Canada so intriguing is that Canada has improved by roughly the same margin as Team USA based on the differential in scores in the 2010 tournament versus 2006. Thus, from a statistical perspective, both teams appear to have distanced themselves from the rest of the world by roughly equal amounts but enter today’s match essentially as equals. The perceived equality of the two teams was affirmed in the round robin game which Canada won by just one goal.
Team Canada’s road to Manchester is much different than that of Team USA. Indeed, as late as November 2008, the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) had actually raised the possibility that Canada would not send a team to Manchester given the costs associated with the tournament. Several people who attended the CLA meeting including Stan Cockerton and Stew Begg refused to accept that verdict and a search for a group or entity to lead Canada to Manchester commenced.
On the 3rd of January, 2009, Gary Gait ran into Stu Brown, the President of Oakville, Ontario based Edge Lacrosse, at a lacrosse tournament in Florida and Gait pointed out to Brown that no group had stepped forward to organise Canada’s team for 2010. Brown was eager to help and when he returned to Oakville, he contacted Dean French of Mimico who was involved in lacrosse at many levels and had a long standing friendship with his former high school coach Bobby Allan who also happened to be the Team Canada coach from 1978. Allan reviewed the simple plan put forward by Brown and French and suggested that they add Johnny Mouradian to their group. Mouradian jumped on board immediately and provided Brown with a short list of possible coaches with Dave Huntley’s name appearing on the top of that list. Brown called a couple of players who he thought would almost certainly make the team in 2010 and they unanimously endorsed Huntley as the leader of the on field organisation.
Within days of putting together the business plan for Team Canada, Brown was also in touch with a group of business people with connections to lacrosse who he had hoped would help financially with the Team Canada business plan. This group went a step further and decided that having an MLL team in Toronto would be the best way to develop a base of players who could compete at the World Class level. The model for the team would be based on the Vancouver Whitecaps NASL team that ultimately developed the talent that allowed Canada to qualify for its only World Cup in soccer in 1984. By the third week in January, the ownership group which consisted of Curt Styres of Six Nations, Peter Fallows from Oakville, Steve Worlidge from Burlington, Jason Donville from Oakville and Stu Brown from Oakville were in discussions with David Gross to purchase an MLL franchise for Toronto, which formally occurred on the 15th of February, just over a month after Brown had spoken with Gait in Florida.
The first MLL season went well for the “Nationals” with a team composed of Canadians, Iroquois’ and a handful of extremely talented American players including Brett Queener, Joe Walters, and Joe Cinosky. The Nationals started the year on a winning streak, lost momentum in the middle of the season but then brought things together at the end of the year to win two close games and the MLL Championship.
That September saw Team Canada hosts its one and only try-out camp in Toronto which included two exhibition games with Notre Dame University in Buffalo and following the camp Team Canada was paired down to 30 players. At the same time, Dean French took over as Executive Director of Team Canada to allow Stu Brown to focus on the on field side of both Team Canada and the Toronto Nationals. French had been an integral part of Team Canada from the beginning but in the coming months his organisational skills and knowledge of the political scene in Ottawa were indispensible in allowing the Team to become fully funded and to receive political support at the highest levels. With the funding picture now complete, Canada was ready to compete on the field.
It is now mid-morning in Manchester and the weather remains perfect. Team Canada is enjoying a light warm up and will be heading back to the dorms shortly. Uniforms are now being laid out and equipment checks are being done in earnest. A light lunch is being served although most players have chosen to eat a big breakfast and not much food will be consumed until after the game.
The trainers and equipment managers have always been a big part of all Team Canada’s. As Dave Huntley says ‘the trainers and the equipment guys keep us all calm when something or someone breaks”. One of Huntley’s favourite support staff from Team Canada 1978 team was Barry Bartlett. Bartlett was a teacher at Sheridan College and his famous contribution to the 1978 team was a speech he gave. According to French, “there was a lot of whining and complaining about the weather and other stuff going on back then and Bartlett stood up and gave all of us a real severe blast of you know what. It seemed to work and I think it really got us in the right mind set for the Gold medal game back in 1978”.
Another name from the past was Bill (Bert) Donnelly. According to Huntley” he was a Rexdale guy and the equipment manager in 1986 and his son Mike and I were teammates at Johns Hopkins”. Donnelly was the team comedian and he was great at keeping the team loose. Huntley believes that the 1986 US Team was the best team he ever saw play relative to where the rest of the world’s game was at and Donnelly worked hard to make sure that he did his part to get Canada ready. Of course, at the end of the tournament everybody had their eye on a piece of choice equipment and Huntley says “Donnelly could be bought for a bottle of Canadian Mist”.
More recent Team Canada’s have seen a different style of trainer or equipment manager with the Team. Heather Griffiths was from the west coast and Huntley says “everyone still remembers her as someone who really knew her stuff and always had a smile on her face. She had a real calming effect on people and that’s not something that’s in the job description but it’s really important for team chemistry’. Dave Murray and Rob Zinc were similar kinds of guys. According to Huntley” Dave Murray was just this unflappable guy who was very competent at what he did”. When Huntley talks about Rob Zinc he prefaces his comments by saying “aka Tuxedo Kid” and then points out that “Zinc was really good at stretching our minimal equipment budgets to the max”. Zinc was also renowned for finding a way to keep Geoff Snider’s sticks cold in London, Ontario during the heat wave in 2006.
This year’s crew of equipment managers and athletic therapists are as strong as ever. Terry Trayner is arguably the most versatile guy on the team as he is both a police officer and massage therapist by training and is the head equipment manager for Team Canada. Paul Wade is Terry’s wing man and was an equipment manager for Team Canada in 2006 and has been the equipment manager for the Brooklin Redmen for the past eight years. Steve Lobsinger is from Kitchener-Waterloo and has been the Toronto Nationals head trainer for two years and was the NLL’s Chicago Shamrocks trainer before that. Steve Kopas, who is the head athletic therapist at Seneca College and is part of the Brampton Excelsior organization, rounds out the team.
It is now thirty minutes before game time and both teams are on the field warming up with Canada in their all red jerseys and the USA in their white jerseys. The warm and sunny weather that started the day has given way to more clouds but the threat of rain is still remote. Both teams seem tense and anxious, but this should be expected. For most of the players on the field this will be the biggest game of a life filled with big games.
As the game commences there are now more than 4,000 spectators in the stadium with several large USA and Canadian flags prominent at each end of the stadium. The USA takes possession following the face-off, moves down the field and Chris Sanderson is forced to make a big save in the opening minute of the game. Both teams are playing tentatively and then suddenly John Grant Jr almost gets through on a dodge. The ball goes back down the field, Matt Striebel dodges, shoots and scores. USA 1 and Canada 0. A few minutes later Paul Rabil takes an outside shot and its 2 to 0 for the Americans. Then the two goalies go to work, Chris Sanderson makes two big stops and then the ball goes to the other end of the field and Brian Dougherty makes two huge saves. Then Billy Dee Smith goes down with what will be later diagnosed as a torn ACL.
The game restarts, Rabil is carrying the ball in transition, Canada is slow to set up, he shoots and the USA now leads Canada 3 to 0. Then Geoff Snider starts getting hot on the face-off and Canada starts to work its way back into the game. John Grant Jr dodges from X and scores and Canada is now on the board. A few minutes later Canada runs a nifty substitution play from center and Mark Steinhaus breaks in from center and Canada scores again and the quarter ends with the USA leading Canada 3 to 2.
The second quarter begins with Ryan Powell scoring a beautiful goal and the USA are now up 4 to 2. Dougherty makes another big save and then Grant rings one of the post, then dodges and feeds a nice past to Shawn Williams who scores and it is now 4 to 3 for the US. John Grant Jr then hits another post and then Corey Small goes to work for what seems an eternity before feeding Zach Greer who scores and the game is now tied 4 to 4.
Just when it seems like Canada is ready to take control of the game, the US sharpshooters get hot again. Kevin Leveille dodges from X and the US now leads by 1. Rabil then scores while the US are man up. Leveille scores another one, then Dougherty makes another big save and with only a few seconds left on the clock, Brendan Mundorf scores. At the end of the second quarter the US leads Canada 8 to 4.
The third quarter starts with a long slow period without much real action at either end, Finally, John Grant Jr grabs the ball and scores a highlight reel over the shoulder goal and the USA lead is cut to 3. A minute later Sanderson makes an amazing save with his right foot and Canada goes back up the field and Grant feeds Billings and the US lead is now cut to two. Canada then runs its nifty substitution play once again and Kevin Crowley scores on a feed from Corey Small. With only a few seconds left in the quarter, Kevin Huntley scores and the quarter ends with USA and Canada tied at 8 goals apiece.
The fourth quarter starts well for Canada as Zach Greer dodges and scores and Canada now leads the USA 9 goals to 8. Brian Dougherty then makes two big saves and then Mundorf scores for Team USA and the game is tied at 9 goals a piece. The game is now being played at a frantic pace, and Grant gets the ball and scores and Canada leads by 1. Ned Crotty comes right back and ties it up and a few moment later Rabil scores to make the score USA 11 and Canada 10 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game. Canada is trying to get the ball back, the USA is doing there best to run down the clock, and with only few seconds left on the clock the US scores again into an empty net and the game is over.
The US has defeated Canada by a score of 12 to 10 and once again become World Champions.