Team Australia Day 9 and 10 at the WILC

Posted: September 29, 2015 by Paul Rai in General Lacrosse

The second last day of the tournament saw Australia meet the Czech Republic in the 7/8 game. The Czechs have not had a great tournament falling out of the Blue Division after a couple disappointing losses. This was our last game of the World Championships and I know the team wanted to end it off on a great note.

The game started off really well for us as we were able to score some goals. The offense was clicking and we were able to create some good offensive chances. On the backend we were doing a good job, but whenever we scored we gave up a goal. Things went south for us in the second half as the team could not get a stop. The Czechs scored easily and we could not respond.

By the end of the game the grind of the tournament started to take its toll on the team.  Three weeks of lacrosse, eight tournament games, several exhibition games, multiple training sessions and miles of travel caught up to the team. The well was dry. The players were trying, but the energy was sapped from the team. This is a team that relies on certain players to carry a lot of weight to keep the team afloat. The top teams have a deep roster of players that can be interchanged and the team never loses a step. The less experienced teams, such as Australia, rely on their leaders more. This is the nature of the beast and you could tell the team was playing on fumes.

Game ended in a loss to the Czech Republic and finished in eighth place out of 13 teams. There were some surprise teams, such as Israel and Ireland. These teams relied on North American based players to bolster their lineup and provide the team with the box lacrosse leadership to be successful. Every single player on the Australian team, except for Tristan, is Australian or lives in Australia. That is the one thing that was evident on this team. The players are from Australia and trying to build the box program within that country. That’s a tough thing to do with the limited facilities, but these players have a deep passion for the game. I have the greatest respect for this group of players, spending their own money to represent their country in a sport that is far from the mainstream in Australia. You need to love their desire to play box lacrosse. I found myself admiring their dedication and commitment to the game. It also made me feel so lucky that I have such an easy access to the sport in Canada. When I tell the Australians that I teach box lacrosse at Vimy Ridge they are in awe that such a program even exists. I do consider myself lucky.

I do need to recognize and thank the coaches and staff out the Australian team; Bob Carter, Alan Lewer, Greg Mollison, Adrian Burns and Ian Webb. All of the gentlemen sacrificed so much to be part of this team and it was obvious they love the indoor game and they love their country. They wanted only what was best for the team and they worked so hard to put the team together. So much work took place before I even arrived. The organization and preparation of the team was evident in all the details. I can only thank them for allowing me to participate with the team and be a part of the experience. It was the best sporting experience I have been a part of and it would not have happened without the Australian staff allowing me inside their team. I will always be thankful for that opportunity.

The final day of the tournament was the Bronze and Gold medal games in the Carrier Dome. A rink was built in the middle of the football field and the scene was spectacular. The USA won the Bronze medal easily over Israel in the warm up game, but virtually everyone was there for the Iroquois/Canada game. Over 10,000 people were in the dome for the final of World Championship and it was a great game. The majority of fans were cheering for Iroquois and they played hard, but in the end Canada won the game 12-8. There were some extremely exciting moments of the game that got fans were out of their seats. It came down to the Canadian goalie, Matt Vinc. He was the difference maker as he made so many remarkable saves. The Iroquois defense matched up with Canada and the Iroquois offense was better. But Vinc stood tall and some bad turnovers turned in favor of Canada. It was disappointing to the majority of the fans, but it was clear that the game of indoor lacrosse is better today than it was two weeks ago.

The Onondaga nation put on a show of a lifetime. They invested their money to increase awareness of their sport and their traditions. The entire event provided some much more than the sport. It provided educational events and opportunities for people to learn more about the Haudenosaunee. The organizers did just a phenomenal job to ensure that people who attended were going to enjoy their experience. For me  I can not express enough how superb the entire event was. The biggest regret for me was that Aidan was not able to join us for the event due to his school commitments. It would have been awesome to have have him with us.

Leaving Syracuse was sad for me. Sad because I knew it was over. The euphoria and excitement of the event was over and I knew as I drove out of the city I had been part of something special. I met some great Australians, I saw some great lacrosse, my oldest was able to represent the county of his grandfather, I was able to coach at a World Championship and I saw lacrosse go home to where it was born. I only hope of more great lacrosse experiences ahead. Four years in Langley anyone?

Team Australia Day 8 at the WILC

Posted: September 25, 2015 by Paul Rai in General Lacrosse

This one hurts. Really hurts because the team came so close to knocking this Blue Division team off. I think the English know they were pushed to the limit today and were hanging on to dear life. We battled hard today, so hard. The entire lineup competed from the first whistle and we had a chance with the last shot to tie the game. They executed the offense and the defense. We had over 70 shots on goal and many of them point blank shots on the net. We scored a late one that looked to be in, but was called off for crease violation. No matter the call the players did not give up. I know this hurts the overall standing of the team, but this could have gone either way. It is sports in the most cruelest of fashions. It can be heartbreaking and this one was just that. But we dust off the pain and get back tomorrow against the Czech Republic for the 7/8 game. The Czechs started in the Blue Division, but have hit the skids so hopefully they are a fragile team we can take advantage of. If we do the same thing as today we will be okay.

All the guys played well today. We made some great adjustments defensively to shut them down and we make some offensive shifts to create offense by coming over the top. I was impressed at how the players adjusted and how much they have learned over the past 10 days that I have been there. The competition will do that. It will force teams to get better or get crushed. These guys are getting better.

This is not an easy sport. It is a very demanding sport. It is physical and exhausting. This team is heading into its eighth game in nine days at this tournament. I have to hand it to Ian Webb and the trainers the team has brought on board. Ian has been meticulous in their preparation, their stretching, their pregame routine and their post game routine. The Australian approach is so much different that the North American approach. Their use of ice baths, measuring body weight and just tracking injuries has been a great assistance to the team. Ian knows his stuff and has been integral to this team’s overall performance. He is a true professional. Big game tomorrow and I am sure Ian will have them ready physically to play.

Team Australia Day 7 at the WILC

Posted: September 25, 2015 by Paul Rai in Alberta Lacrosse, Vimy Lacrosse
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Yesterday the Australian team played Serbia. The winner of the game would proceed to play England and give itself the opportunity to play for fifth place in the event. Serbia is coached by Edmonton resident Stu Sterparn, who I have known for almost 15 years after playing with him with the Edmonton Outlaws and winning a couple of President Cups together. One thing I will say about Stu is that he loves the game of lacrosse and he cares about helping the game out. Stu was brought into coach by Brian Gorodetsky, another Edmontonian, currently living in Serbia. Brian has been in Serbia for several years and five years ago started box lacrosse in the country. He was able to gather some equipment up with help from some of his North American contacts and get the sport started in the country. Five years later he was able to bring a team to the World Championship and he is playing in the event. This is what lacrosse is all about. It is about playing the sport, not about the politics and bureaucracy that can suck the energy out of the game. It is about getting people interested in the sport and experiencing the joy of competition. I have the utmost respect for Stu and Brian, paying out of their own pockets to assist in bringing the country of Serbia to Onondaga for the World Championship. Stu and Brian were also joined by another young Edmonton lacrosse player, Taylor Yaremovich, so Edmonton was going to be strongly represented in this game.

Serbia is led by Ilija Gajic, Alex Gajic and Nik Bilic, three players with NLL experience. After watching their previous game on video it was obvious those three players were leading the team as well as coaching the players on the floor. Everything was going to be running though those three players. I also knew there would not be a lot of structure to the Serbia team as their inexperienced lineup would make that difficult. They would be setting some picks and shooting away. When we were in the warm up we learned that Ilija Gajic would not be playing as he broke his wrist in the previous game. This would give us an advantage.

The game ended up following the same pattern as our game against the Turkey team. We were very sloppy. I think we came into the game a little complacent. Our energy levels were not what they were against Finland. There were some players in different roles and that may have caused some problems, but I think the mental focus of the team was not where it needed to be. We struggled all game to get a good lead on the Serbs. Whenever we had a lead we surrendered it and we were even down late in the third quarter 11 – 10. Nik Bilic, for Serbia, was on fire. We did not defend him well and he scored with ease on us. We paid the price for not being focused on defense.

In the end we pulled off the victory 17 – 13, but it was far from a pretty win. In a competition such as this one, there are going to be games where things do not go exactly as planned. The team has played six games so far and won five of them. There has been a lot of success so I will not make too much of the Serbia game. I do know the England game will be a battle. They have a world class goaltender in net and some strong offensive players. Our focus today will need to be sharp and our execution perfect. If there was one game where we need to stay out of the penalty box, it is this one. We struggle with the discipline and for once I do hope we can win that part of the game.

It has been a grind for these Australian players. They have been here for almost three weeks and I am sure they are getting worn down. I respect their efforts and their compete level. Even when the team is not doing well, the players work hard. It is getting near the end of the event and the next two games are so important in the final standings. A lot of work ahead, but also a lot of fun.

Team Australia Day 5 and 6 at the WILC

Posted: September 23, 2015 by Paul Rai in Vimy Lacrosse
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Yesterday on Day 5 of the Championship, Australia met Finland in a rematch of their opening game. That game was a one goal win for Australia. This time around we were missing some players as Trevor Brennan, the goalie from that game, was out with a broken ankle. Also Tristan banged up his ankle and knee against Ireland and was sitting out. The team took the philosophy of “Next Man Out” and guys were ready to step into the lineup. In long term competitions such as this, it is important that players are prepared to play at any time.

Billy Martin started in net and other players were stepping in throughout the lineup. We knew the Finns were going to be shooting outside a lot. They have a couple of young players that they rely on heavily for their offense and we needed to shut them down, We also reiterated again that penalties could be the difference, It was going to be a game where we had to grind it out and find some ways to generate offense.

We had the lead most of the game, but we could not get that big lead we wanted to. We would be up by two or three and then Finland would cut the lead. We were good at responding with timely goals and even though we were better disciplined we still lost the penalty game. We took several more penalties than the Finns which gave them opportunities to score. I have to give a pat on the back to Billy Martin. He was outstanding, We discussed with him challenging the shooters and he did just that, stepping out on the shooters and giving them little to shoot at. He had a wonderful game. He made some spectacular saves and was just what the team needed when their confidence was a little fragile. It was a great moment for him and the team.

We still, as a team, are making mental mistakes. I think so many of those mistakes are not due to effort, but just experience, making decisions in the box game have to happen fast, if you have played a lot of games at a high tempo then those decisions are instinctual. Understanding the clock management, substitutions, extra man offense, and transitional play are all situations where we make mistakes. I do think this competition will be a learning experience and hopefully those lessons can be shared back in Australia for other players. That would be the bigger benefit.

I do want to recognize Captain Keith Nyberg. Talking to him the other day I learned this is his sixth world championships in box and field lacrosse. That is a lot of commitment, physically and financially and I expect personally. When he scored the other game it was his first international goal ever. That is awesome, Keith is definitely the leader of this group. He is emotional invested into the success of this team and I have enjoyed watching him play and lead this team from up close. I feel honored to be a part of this and be on the bench when he scored a beautiful goal. That was fun.

Today is a day of rest for the boys before taking on Serbia tomorrow. They will be tough as they have some NLL players that will carry the load. We did not do well against Ireland and their pro players. We will hopefully have learned something in that game. The next games are all about our placing in this event. We win and we place higher. Every game is critical at this point.

Team Australia Day 4 at the WILC

Posted: September 21, 2015 by Paul Rai in General Lacrosse

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Today was a tough one. We played against a gritty Irish team and we struggled to score goals and we were very careless defensively in the first half. The Irish goalie was very good and our inability to hit out shots really hurt us. By the end of the game we were tentative with our shooting and our confidence was shot. Trevor Brennan, our goalie, was knocked out early with and ankle injury and that threw us into chaos. The final score was 12 – 4, but we were down early 8 – 2 and could never recover.

Discipline and composure are so important in these competitions. We need to better at that part of the game. I understand the adrenaline and the willingness to compete, but control is so important. When the Irish team had the power play, their Canadian players made short work of us. Stephen Keogh, a pro player for the Rochester Knighthawks, took advantage of our mistakes and scored several goals on us. Ireland scored at least five or six power play goals. Give credit where credit is due. They had a good game plan and executed it on us.

On a sidebar note, Alberta lacrosse was represented well at the game. Tristan, Ben Snider and Andrew McBride all participated in the game. I was on the Australia bench and Able Conn was on the Ireland bench. Nice to see at the end of the game that the sportsmanship and love for lacrosse was evident. Got to give Snider and McBride their dues, those two guys anchored the defense for Ireland.

Tomorrow we meet up with Finland in a rematch of our first game. We will have a different goalie in net and possibly some more changes due to injuries. Hopefully we learned some lessons and come out to play hard against this team. Let’s hope the confidence is high and the shooting accuracy is on mark. These Australian players are passionate about their team and their country. The fans of the team are so exuberant in their cheering and overall support of the team’s efforts. It is great to see. The players all mean so well in their efforts, we now need to point them in the proper direction. Their experience may be limited, but not the love for the game. They all want to win, it is so obvious. Now they are going to require a complete and near perfect performance to keep their dreams alive to move on to a Blue Division game. I am a believer of these players and their coaches. Time to get it going.

Team Australia Day 3 at the WILC

Posted: September 21, 2015 by Paul Rai in General Lacrosse

The third day of the tournament brought us a match up against the Swiss team. Switzerland had not won a game yet and were giving up goals. When I watched them play they played hard and were a scrappy team. Their stick skills were not great and they did not have structure in their game. This is to be expected from a new team in the FIL with very little influx of North American players on their roster. We rested a few of our players that had played a lot of minutes over the past two games. This is always a concern because you never want to take any team for granted. Before the games started both teams sang their national anthems. That was a lot of fun. I do think it may be time for Tristan to learn the Australian anthem, that may be a fine to the team fund.

The game started off tough for us as we tried to find some offensive rhythm, but when we finally found the back of the net the flood gates opened and we scored easily on them. It helped that the Swiss took numerous undisciplined penalties giving our power play unit several chances.  We were very good on the power play and created chance after chance. We even scored on the hidden ball trick as I think only a few people in the rink knew where the ball was.  Jeff Joy was very good for the team scoring four goals and four assists.  Rodney Maher and Peter Kwas each had three goals each. It was a great day where we had contributions from different players. Spreading the scoring around will benefit this team as we move forward and we need to get offensive contributions from all players. Keith Nyberg scored a nice pick and roll goal with Dave Gal assisting, so even the defensive guys were getting into the action.

The end result put us in the perfect spot. We won the pool and now will take on Ireland later today. The games now pick up in intensity and we will have to raise our game. The team is happy with what they accomplished in the first three games, but this is now a different round and the expectations and pressure will be higher. The team has worked hard to get here and I believe they will be mentally prepared for today’s game.

The day ended yesterday with most of the team heading to watch Canada take on Iroquois at the War Memorial Arena. Another great crowd, that definitely was pro Iroquois, was on hand for this affair.  Iroquois was in control of most of the game as they had the lead 8 – 4. Canada was out of sync and Iroquois’ ball movement was exceptional. They were fluid and were executing at a very high tempo. They caught Canada flat footed at the start of the game. Mark Matthews, from Canada, kept his team in the game scoring five goals. He was the reason Canada was hanging around and the Canada made the run to tie the game and then take the lead. Also Aaron Bold shut the door on the Iroquois late in the game and the experience and defense of Canada was able to secure the win.

It was a phenomenal game of skill and speed. The way the game is suppose to be played. It was fast, clean and physical. It is a lot of fun to watch the two teams go at it. The best players in the world playing in front of appreciative fans. It was great to be a part of it and I look forward to more games like it this week. Oh and by the way I got fined today for not knowing what a Joey was.

Team Australia Day 2 at the WILC

Posted: September 19, 2015 by Paul Rai in General Lacrosse

The second day of the tournament saw Team Australia meeting up with Turkey in an afternoon game at the Main Onondaga Arena. The temperature in the arena was high probably hovering over 80 degrees. The boys would be sweating it out today. Turkey defeated the Swiss yesterday and with the strength of their goalie Scott Komer, were not going to be a push over.

My coaching experience has shown me that tournaments are about sustaining consistency. I also know that the adrenaline that can carry teams in the first game can be lost suddenly in game two. I was worried about a let down in this second game. The game started off exactly as we needed it to. The offense that struggled to score seven against Finland put up six early goals in the first quarter.  We had the lead at the end of the quarter by a score of 7 – 3. I thought that we had the momentum and that the game was going to proceed with us continuing to score goals and shut the door on Turkey.  Unfortunately whenever we created some separation from the Turkish team they would storm back with a couple of goals. I will give them credit they played with some intensity against us and would not go away.

Overall it is tough to be angry with the offense when you score 21 goals. We had over 70 shots on the the Turkish goalie and even with 21 goals against I would say that he had a great game. We had numerous shots right on the crease and he battled hard against us. Defensively it was a tough game. Turkey played a game where they relied on individual players to create offense and they did well at shooting from far out to score on us.

When there are 38 goals being scored in a game the game tends to be longer. Today with all the goals and all the stoppages in plays the game was dragging on. Yesterday the game against Finland seemed to go way too fast and today I felt that time was standing still while I was on the bench. It most likely was not the best game for the spectators, but the end result was a win and Australia now had two wins. Basically we control our own destiny to the next phase.

Have to recognize Matt Taylor and Caleb Hall with huge games today as Matt scored five goals and Caleb had seven points for the team. We needed a giant offensive output and both players were able to help lead the team. Defensively I thought Wade Hammond was a big leader on the back-end, When things were getting a little scary for us he would end up making a big play. We have a lot of energetic and intense players on defense and Wade is one of those guys.

On a side note Tristan was the Kangaroo suit person today. The team has determined the person who is the fines leader for the day has the honor of wearing the suit. His crimes were missing the first six practices and having his father meet up with the team before he did. I definitely think he deserved all of those fines. He does look very cute in the suit.

Switzerland tomorrow. Early morning game. Time for rest.