Gold Medal Game Preview: U.S., Canada Set for Latest in Rivalry

PHOTO BY ADY KERRY

Graham Bundy Jr. is one of two captains, along with Cole Kirst, of the U.S. U21 men's team.


LIMERICK, Ireland — One more to go.

An event that was originally scheduled for 2020 but postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic will reach its conclusion Saturday night, as the United States and Canada take the field in the gold medal game of the World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship.

Opening faceoff is set for 2 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. local time) on ESPNU between sides that also opened the tournament slate. The U.S. won 7-5, but both teams have improved as the tournament has progressed. The U.S. has won eight gold medals in this event, and seven have come against Canada. The other came against Australia (1996).

“We’ve asked our men to not chase the scoreboard, but to chase our best,” U.S. head coach Nick Myers said. “Tomorrow night is an opportunity for us to do that. We have a very formidable opponent, but at the end of the day, we truly believe it starts and ends with us and look inside and chase the best version of ourselves.”

In the opening contest, U.S. got dominant performances from goalie Liam Entenmann and its faceoff unit. Entenmann, an All-American at Notre Dame, went the distance and made 11 saves, while Jake Naso (10-1) and Alec Stathakis (4-0) combined to win all but one faceoff.

Here’s what to expect Saturday at the University of Limerick.

SCOUTING CANADA

Scoring Defense: 4.7 goals per game
Scoring Offense: 14.3 goals per game
Faceoffs: 64 percent (third in tournament)

Ross Scott (15 goals, 11 assists) has the most individual points of anyone in the game. The Rutgers attackman has been dynamic behind the cage, bolstering an already versatile Canada offense. The U.S. held Scott to one goal and one assist in the opening contest.

“Canada is a team that, offensively, jumps off the page at you. The addition of [Scott] behind the goal adds a dimension to their offense that they’ve probably never had, maybe never had at any level of a national team — a dynamic, two-way dodging attackman,” Myers said.

Owen Hiltz (17 goals, six assists), Brock Haley (seven goals, 15 assists) and Thomas McConvey (12 goals, three assists) are also dangerous options for Canada.

At the faceoff stripe, Bo Columbus (78-for-120, 65 percent) has been the team’s leader in gaining possession. But Jake Naso, who dominated Columbus opening night, is back from injury and has won 13 of 15 faceoffs in the tournament. With Naso and Alec Stathakis (79-for-98, 80.6 percent), the U.S. holds the statistical faceoff edge overall.

On defense, Canada is anchored by Caleb Creasor (22 saves, 58 percent) and has a healthy balance of short sticks who can push transition. The Canadians thrive in unsettled situations, and that’ll be the team’s goal on both ends of the field.

“We expect to see both man and zone, and that can be tricky for your offense in terms of trying to find a rhythm,” Myers said.







SCOUTING THE UNITED STATES

Scoring defense: 2.83 goals per game
Scoring offense: 14.17 goals per game
Faceoffs: 81 percent (first in tournament)

Physical defensively and precise offensively, the U.S. is looking to get out and run in transition and the strength of a defensive midfield that attacks the opponent’s hands and makes settling into an offense almost impossible.

With the possession advantage Naso and Stathakis have provided, plus the efficiency of the offense, the defense has yet to work for prolonged periods, keeping the unit fresh and ready to attack.

With Pat Kavanagh and Cole Kirst orchestrating the offense from X, the U.S. has leaned on a handful of scorers. Brennan O’Neill (16 goals, six assists) and Alex Slusher (13 goals, eight assists) have had the hot hand in the championship bracket, but the offense is much deeper than that dynamic pair.

Graham Bundy Jr. (13 goals, one assist) and CJ Kirst (10 goals, five assists) have taken advantage of their opportunities, too.

A defense led by Entenmann, who’s made 26 saves (72 percent) over six games, is made even more sturdy by some of the top defensemen in college lacrosse. Poles Kenny Brower (Duke), Ryan Schriber (Michigan), Jacob Snyder (Ohio State), Michael Alexander (Yale), Jackson Bonitz (Navy) and Quentin Matsui (Virginia) have been pests thus far, and shorties Pat Hackler (Princeton), Jack Monfort (Yale), Jake Caputo (Duke) and Danny Parker (Virginia) have done their jobs.

Myers preaches that all 23 of his players embrace and dominate their roles. That’s the key to winning gold on Saturday.

“I think you’ve got to back up who you are by doing repeated action, repeated behavior,” Myers said. “That’s ultimately what character is all about. It’s not saying it. It’s doing it. We challenged these men in a lot of different ways.”

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