Canada, U.S. Dig in for Another Fight with Gold Medal on the Line

PHOTO BY ADAM SCOTT

U.S. attackman Rob Pannell gets undercut by Canada defenseman Graeme Hossack on his way to the goal in the first quarter of Team USA's 11-10 victory in a round-robin game last Saturday.


NETANYA, Israel — It had to be you.

For the eighth time in the last nine iterations of the Federation of International Lacrosse Men’s World Championship, the United States and Canada will vie for the gold medal Saturday at Netanya Stadium (10 a.m. local, 3 a.m. Eastern on ESPN2).

The North American neighbors have met in the last five championship games of the quadrennial event. The U.S. won in 1998, 2002 and 2010. Canada won in 2006 and 2014.

“You know it’s going to be a fight,” said Ned Crotty, a three-time U.S. midfielder who scored the game-tying and go-ahead goals in the 2010 final, a 12-10 U.S. victory in Manchester, England. “We’re going to get our punches in. They’re going to get theirs. It’s going to be a game of swings.”

That certainly proved to be the case in a riveting round-robin encounter last Sunday. The U.S. built a 6-2 advantage and led 9-7 in the fourth quarter before Canada scored three straight goals to take a 10-9 lead — a run punctuated by midfielder Ben McIntosh off a snap feed from behind by attackman Mark Matthews.

Team USA midfielders Matt Danowski and Paul Rabil responded with the game-tying and go-ahead goals, respectively, and the U.S. held on for an 11-10 victory despite needing a last-minute man-down stop after faceoff specialist Greg Gurenlian’s stick was deemed illegal.

“That was as good of a lacrosse game as I've ever been involved in,” U.S. coach John Danowski said afterward.







McIntosh is an example of how Canada has caught up in the field game. In addition to playing box lacrosse, the Coquitlam, British Columbia native played field lacrosse for five years before boarding at Western Reserve Academy in Ohio and starring there in both hockey and lacrosse. He went on to have a decorated four-year career as a two-time All-American at Drexel, setting the school’s single-season scoring record with 48 goals as a senior in 2014, and was the No. 1 pick in the 2015 National Lacrosse League draft.

McIntosh, who comes into Saturday’s finale as Canada’s top-scoring midfielder with 12 goals and four assists in six games, alluded to the built-in chemistry the team has since the players predominantly come from the same two provinces (British Columbia and Ontario) and grew up playing series box lacrosse with and against each other.

“It makes the biggest difference,” said McIntosh, citing Wesley Berg, Curtis Dickson and Matthews as Canadian players with which he is familiar.  “Chemistry is not something you can teach, and it’s not something you can practice in the 10 days that we have here.”

The U.S. attempted to foster a similar dynamic in establishing a core of players who competed together over the course of seven weekends dating back to January 2016, when Danowski first coached the team in an exhibition against the University of Denver at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Crotty said the U.S. coaching staff — including assistants Joe Amplo, Tony Resch and Seth Tierney — has its own chemistry that has made it easy for a group of 23 professionals to bond with them and each other.

“You really have a short amount of time to make the team feel like a team, and they’ve done an unbelievable job of that in our time here,” Crotty said.

PHOTO BY ADAM SCOTT

Canada Dillon Ward’s, MVP of the 2014 world championship, leads all starting goalies with a 68-percent save percentage through six games. He made 24 saves against the Iroquois Nationals during the round robin and added 13 more in a 15-4 win over the Iroquois in the semifinals Thursday.

Of course, all the chemistry in the world won’t make a difference Saturday if the U.S. can’t figure out Dillon Ward, the Canadian goalie and reigning world championship MVP. Ward has been even better in 2018 than he was in 2014. The 6-foot-5 stopper has averaged nearly 11 saves per game, including a 24-save performance against the Iroquois Nationals in the round robin.

Ward was up to 13 saves Thursday before Canada lifted him midway through the fourth quarter of a 15-4 win over the same Iroquois team.

Scott Marr, offensive coordinator for the Iroquois and the head coach at Albany, likened Ward to one of the greatest goalies of all-time.

“The only goalie I remember being that good is Larry Quinn,” Marr said. “I mean, this guy’s standing on his head. We got good shots, and he’s making unbelievable saves.”

Quinn was a four-time All-American and three-time national player of the year at Johns Hopkins in the 1980s. He played on three gold medal-winning U.S. teams and was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2000.

That’s a heady comparison, considering Ward, 27, played collegiately at a small school in Kentucky (Bellarmine) and has been almost exclusively a box lacrosse goalie as a professional with the Colorado Mammoth.

“Larry Quinn is the best goalie I’ve ever seen. But this kid…” Marr said, before trailing off a bit. “In our first game, of the 24 saves, he probably made four, five, six box-like saves where he used his elbow, we hit his shoulder and he got hit on his knee. He’s so big in the cage, he takes up so much of it that shooters hesitate sometimes how to shoot it and where to shoot it. It can mess with you. We have some of the best shooters in the world, and he stonewalled us.”

Marr thought the Iroquois could get to Ward by shooting overhand, noticing that he would hold his stick down by his hip from that release point. It didn’t matter Thursday. Overhand, sidearm, submarine — Ward gobbled up everything.

U.S. goalie John Galloway was able to match Ward early in the teams’ round-robin game and made a spectacular save on Dickson with 4:17 remaining in the fourth quarter and the U.S. trailing 10-9. That could have been the dagger. Instead, Danowski scored on the next possession.

Both Ward and Galloway will have their hands full against dynamic and multi-faceted offenses.

“USA really shares the ball well. Very skilled. Canada’s just sneaky. They do sneaky stuff on offense with the backdoors and the BTB passes where guys cut in—they catch you off guard a lot of times,” said Marr, who was an assistant coach for the 2006 U.S. team. “They do a great job of spinning the ball from one side of the field to the other and catching a goalie when he sees shots trying to get in position. That’s probably John’s biggest challenge, picking up that ball off of the quick shots.”

Both Crotty and McIntosh emphasized offensive efficiency as keys to Saturday’s final.

The book on Canada says it will sustain long possessions before springing into action, but that might be an oversimplification. The Canadians have proven to be more dangerous in the half-field and substitution games than playing six-on-six in the box.

And their defense — comprised of veterans Brodie Merrill and Jason Noble and rangy youngsters Graham Hossack and Ryland Rees — is better than it gets credit for.

“They’re big. They’re mean. They’re used to the indoor [game]. They move very well. Their short sticks are very athletic and comfortable in space. Usually you imagine box defenders, short sticks, not being as comfortable on the field. These guys are very comfortable,” Crotty said. “We saw that they come out and get you. Their defensemen have a lot more field experience than maybe they did in the past. They’re very athletic. They’re mean. They play with a certain amount of grit. And Brodie never gets old. It’s unbelievable to have him back there. And then you have Ward in net, who’s a monster. We definitely have our work cut out for us.”

TALE OF THE TAPE
Canada (5-1) vs. USA (6-0)

OFFENSE
Canada – 13.6 GPG
USA – 16.3 GPG

DEFENSE
Canada – 6.0 GAA
USA – 4.8 GAA

FACEOFFS
Canada – 53% (72-for-136)
United States – 70% (99-for-141)

GOALIES
Canada – Ward (65 saves, 68%)
USA – Galloway (29 saves, 50%)

TOP 5

Canada

  • Jeff Teat, A – 13G, 8A
  • Curtis Dickson, A – 16G, 1A
  • Mark Matthews, A – 6G, 10A
  • Ben McIntosh, M – 12G, 4A
  • Josh Byrne, A – 6G, 6A

USA

  • Ryan Brown, A – 22G
  • Marcus Holman, A – 16G, 5A
  • Rob Pannell, A – 10G, 10A
  • Jordan Wolf, A – 8G, 11A
  • Tom Schreiber, M – 10G, 7A

SERIES HISTORY

  • USA is 16-4 in 20 all-time meetings (4-3 since 2006)
  • Five of last six games decided by three goals or fewer
  • Canada defeated USA 8-5 in 2014 final

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