by Neil Stevens
(This article originally appeared in the print version of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse today and receive the magazine as part of your membership benefit package.)
Canada's team has yet to be picked and it's still six months before the trip to Denver, but coach Randy Mearns has his mind made up about one thing.
"Our goal, our mission, is to bring gold back to Canada,'' Mearns said.
Winning would ease the nagging disappointment over relinquishing a fourth-quarter lead and letting the U.S. take back the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship in the 2010 final in Manchester, England.
"It was extremely hard to take from a coach's standpoint. But when you think back on it, it was much harder on the players," Mearns said. "To lose it after they'd put so much hard work into it, it was just heartbreaking for them. The U.S. team got on that late run and we couldn't get the ball back. Kudos to them."
Canada's strategy for the 2014 world championship is not necessarily aimed at dethroning the Team USA. Mearns, who is entering his 15th season as coach at Canisius, would rather put together the best possible lineup, develop winning chemistry and reach peak performance come July. Assistant coaches include Gary Gait (Syracuse women), Matt Brown (Denver), Taylor Wray (St. Joseph's), Ed Comeau (McMaster) and Jason Levesque (Alma).
"England, Australia, Germany, the Iroquois, Japan is improving, whoever we play — we'll take it a game at a time,'' Mearns said. "We won't be overlooking anybody. We don't want to just concentrate on one nation. We'll try to be the best Canadian field lacrosse team ever."
Team Canada received 97 player applications. Fifty-one players were invited to an Oct. 11-14 evaluation camp in Buffalo. Mearns was impressed with what he saw as split squads scrimmaged Denver, Robert Morris and his Canisius team. The mix of players ranged from returning All-World picks in attackman John Grant Jr. and defenseman Brodie Merrill to 2012 Canadian under-19 team members Jesse King (Ohio State) and Chad Tutton (North Carolina), with pro indoor and outdoor veterans such as Curtis Dickson and reigning Major League Lacrosse MVP Kevin Crowley in between.
"It is safe to say that this is the deepest and most qualified group of Canadian field lacrosse players trying to earn a spot to represent Canada," Mearns said at the time.
"A lot of them will be playing in the NLL this winter and some
will be back with NCAA teams," Mearns said. "We'll monitor their
progress and then get a group back together in May or June before
we head off to world championship. Nothing is concrete yet, but
we're excited about the group we will have."
There now are 300 Canadians playing men's field lacrosse at NCAA programs, and the number keeps growing, meaning Canada is capable of forming one of the top teams in the world every four years. That doesn't mean an 11-9 exhibition win over the U.S. at the Duel in Denver in September 2012 was of any relevance. Many top players on both sides did not participate, and Mearns said it mostly provided a chance to look at recent college graduates or current collegians.
Canada has strength in numbers on offense with former college stalwarts like Garrett Billings (Virginia), Cam Flint (Denver), Zack Greer (Duke), Adam Jones (Canisius), Stephen Keogh (Syracuse), Kiel Matisz (Robert Morris), Jordan MacIntosh (RIT), Mark Matthews (Denver), Jordan McBride (Stony Brook), Logan Schuss (Ohio State) and current NCAA players King, Tutton, Mark Cockerton (Virginia) and Denver teammates Wes Berg and Jeremy Noble.
Geoff Snider, Canada's faceoff man in 2010 and tournament MVP in 2006, is back in the mix after resurfacing with the MLL's Charlotte Hounds last summer. Merrill headlines a defense that could include former Cornell first-team All-American Jason Noble and some young talent in front of a new starting goalie.
Emotions will run high when between the pipes. Chris Sanderson, Canada's three-time All-World goalie, and Kyle Miller, Sanderson's backup on Canada's 2006 world title team, both died of cancer. Four goalies — Angus Dineley, Evan Kirk, who played well at Duel in Denver, 2012 U19 goalie Brennan Donville (Cornell) and Dillon Ward, who last year led NCAA Division I in save percentage at Bellarmine — are in the running to make the final 23-player roster.
"We have to be mindful of arriving at a balance of youth and veterans, style of play and all of those things. There'll be some guys from the 2010 team, a leadership corps, but I couldn't put a number on it," Mearns said.
No matter the composition of the Canadian roster, Mearns expects
a steep challenge in Denver.
"I look at these world championships as the Olympics of lacrosse," Mearns said. "US Lacrosse is the host, and they do things very professionally, so we know they'll be ready."
Asked of Team USA's strengths, Mearns replied, "What aren't going to be their strengths? You look at the player pool and the level of talent they'll have, and they'll be strong everywhere. We'll try to be the same — strong everywhere."