The flight carrying Team Canada back to Toronto is somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic. Kevin Crowley, Mark Steinhaus, Billy Dee Smith and Taylor Wray are all wracked out while Chris Sanderson intensely watches the movie overhead. Mrs. McClellan walks by, discreetly keeping an eye out for the boys on the team, like she has done each and every day since the team left Canada. One of the support staff is listening to an iPod and cueing up Neil Young’s “Long may you run” as the plane gently makes its way over soft clouds and through blue sky on its way back to Toronto.
By the time the plane lands at Pearson International Airport (and how fitting given the former PMs love of lacrosse) Team Canada will have been away exactly two weeks. It goes without saying that everyone connected with this team will never forget these two weeks for the rest of their lives. The mood amongst the Team Canada players following the loss to the USA was disappointment but not devastation and Dave Huntley put the mood of the team into the appropriate context. “This is the best team I have ever coached and a really special group of guys that came together over the past year and a half. Winning the gold medal would have validated what we all know and feel about this team. But the US team was a special team as well and in the end, they won”
Indeed, there is strong statistical evidence to support the notion that both Canada and the USA brought to the 2010 World Championships two superb lacrosse teams that opened an unprecedented gap between the rest of the lacrosse playing world. Huntley gives a lot of that credit to the NCAA but adds “the best players in the world are playing in the MLL and NLL on a weekly basis and if you want to compete with the best teams in the world you have to develop your players by playing in the best leagues. There are lots of people in the lacrosse world who have underestimated the importance of the MLL and NLL but hopefully this World Championships will open a few eyes”.
As for any major post mortem on the championship game, Huntley says “there is no major post mortem to be done. Both teams entered the game fairly evenly matched on paper and over the course of 160 minutes of lacrosse played over two games, the margin of victory was a single goal. I don’t think there were any major tactical flaws in either team’s game plan. It just simply came down to the wire and late in the game more bounces went their way than ours. Congratulations to the USA on a great win”.
Looking to the future, Huntley remains extremely optimistic. “This team has a large contingent of young players who will probably have a good shot at making the team in 2014. Typically, 8-9 players will carry over from the previous World Championships and I think that will be the case once again”. Huntley adds, “At the same time, we have 197 Canadians playing in the NCAA at the end of the 2010 season and probably another 500 playing in the MCLA and CUFLA. The coach of the 2014 team is going to have a huge base of players to choose from. I think we are going to come back with a really strong team in 2014.
The plane is now less than two hours away and we are somewhere over Canada. There is a sense that things are winding down. Being away from home gives a sense of perspective and it allows one to appreciate the things that are taken for granted when one is always so close to it.
So what is it about this game of lacrosse that has kept us so engaged and enthralled for so many years? First and foremost it is the game itself – it is fast, violent, poetic, and creative. It creates character and characters and wraps us in sweetgrass when we are down and brings us immeasurable joy when we are up. But beyond the game itself lacrosse has other virtues. Canada is a nation that redefines itself every ten to fifteen years and yet lacrosse is one of the few things that we did well when we were first starting out as a nation and that we continue to do well today. Can you name another? Lacrosse is also one of the few things that we have learned to share with the aboriginal peoples of Canada without destroying it or politicising it. As such, lacrosse has been and remains a part of our identity as a people that is bigger and more enduring than simply the action that occurs in the box or on the field. Lacrosse defines us as Canadians in a way that few other things can.
The plane carrying Team Canada is now less than an hour away from home and it’s been a great ride.
To the players, the coaches, the administrative staff, the referees and the parents of Team Canada 2010 and the sport of lacrosse, thank you for sharing your journey – and long may you run.
JP Donville – July 25th, 2010