Team Canada comes together in Vail
VAIL ” Get this. Canada’s national team came to the United States to play its national summer sport on its national holiday.
Saturday, Team Mammoth spent Canada Day playing its first game of the Vail Lacrosse Shootout Elite Division. The team, which has almost an identical roster to the team that will compete for Canada in the 2006 World Lacrosse Championships, is using the tournament not only to face quality competition on a grass field, but also as a bonding experience.
“This is the first time we’ve all played together at one time,” said Steve Govett. “It’s exciting to get on the field with such good players.”
Most of the Mammoth players played against each other growing up, or professionally. But unlike their American counterparts, the Canadians usually squared off in a 6-on-6 indoor version of the game known as box lacrosse.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played proper field lacrosse,” said Lewis Ratcliff, who played box lacrosse as a kid, then played two years of field lacrosse at Ohio State before moving back to the box game. “It’ll take a couple of games.”
By the end of the Mammoth’s resounding 20-6 victory over the A-Team, the Canadian players looked quite confident on the grass and with their new teammates.
“We’re trying to figure out each other and gel a bit,” said Gary Gait, one of the game’s best players.
The Mammoth did commit a few errant behind-the-back underhand passes, but for the most part, the Canadians used their box-lacrosse-based skills to string together an offensive display.
“I would say we definitely have a different style,” Govett said. “It’s not a draw and dump, or a drive from the top (style). It’s more of a pick and roll and a two-man game with a bunch of different guys. We’ll hit the open guy. It’s not selfish.”
With more space available on the field, the Canadians found the seams that they were used to exposing on a hockey-sized enclosed surface.
“We’re used to not having a lot of time with the ball, so it helps your stick (skills),” Ratcliff said.
And is if the Mammoth players weren’t dangerous enough with lightning-quick shots, they were even more lethal with their quick releases.
“A lot of Canadian guys do well on quick sticks on the crease,” said Matt Vinc. “In tight quarters, guys have really good handles and it’s tough to get the ball from them.”
If there is one disadvantage to box lacrosse, it’s that nobody plays with a long pole.
“We don’t have any defensemen that handle it in the box,” said Gavin Prout. “So when we get out there, we may look a little clumsy. This year we were fortunate enough to have some guys who had some NCAA experience (at defense).”
There are advantages, however, in converting short-stick players to defensemen.
“Everybody has to know how the carry the ball (in box),” Prout said. “That helps you out a lot out here.”
“The long pole is pretty new to some of the guys,” said Vinc, who played goalie in college and currently plays goalie in box lacrosse, but plays defense for the Mammoth and Team Canada. “But it’s an advantage because they are such good defenders already with a short stick, then you give them (a long pole).”
Like most Canadians growing up, the Mammoth players spend a good deal of time at the hockey rink.
“I started playing hockey when I was 4,” Prout said. “As I grew up, I learned how to play lacrosse. You’d play hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the summer to keep in shape for the other.”
When Prout was 16, he hung up his stakes for his lacrosse career.
“I had to choose one way or another. ‘Am I going to chase the dream (of hockey) or get my education paid for?'” said Prout, who played at Loyola in Maryland.
Ratcliff made his decision to focus solely on lacrosse at 18, while Vinc played both hockey and lacrosse in his freshman year of college, and then put all his energies into lacrosse.
Even though most of the Mammoth get paid to play for their professional teams, that’s not the reason they are still doing it.
“There’s a passion to it,” Prout said. “We’d play professionally for free if we had the opportunity to play in front of people.”
They’ll get the chance to later this month on their home turf at the worlds. But Saturday, long after the spectators had left, the Mammoth hung out at Ford Field and bonded over a few beers.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.