March 15, 2010

Mondays with Matt: Canoodling with Canucks

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Stony Brook men’s lacrosse coach Ricky Sowell didn’t discover Jordan McBride in some British Columbia arena or on some converted Canadian hockey rink. No, Sowell found McBride in a cookie-cutter American high school lacrosse camp, Top 205.

Old biases die hard, however. For most, McBride was either too one-handed or not fast enough. But boy, could he handle the wand.

“I started recruiting Jordan when I was at St. John’s in the summer of 2006. But the fact of the matter is, he was at a camp that 100 other coaches were at. Loved his hands,” Sowell said. “When I came to Stony Brook, he was the first guy I called. He was looking to land anywhere… We were in hot pursuit of Jordan. Wherever I ended up, he was coming.”

And wherever McBride went, Kevin Crowley would follow.

Now, the juniors from New Westminster, B.C., are tearing it up as teammates for the No. 15-ranked Seawolves. McBride’s most recent masterpiece: a seven-goal outing Saturday in Stony Brook’s 16-12 victory at Delaware. He outdueled the Blue Hens’ Curtis Dickson -- another British Columbia product -- who scored six goals.

Dickson (30g) and McBride (21g) are the top two scorers in Division I, but they’re not the only Canadians causing damage.

Crowley, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound behemoth, has feasted on smaller foes and ranks right behind McBride with 20 points (11g, 9a) in four games.

Delaware's Curtis Dickson catches up with fellow British Columbians Kevin Crowley (left) and Kyle Belton following Stony Brook's 16-12 victory in Newark, Del. Dickson ranks No. 1 among NCAA Division I scoring leaders.

© Kevin P. Tucker

Take a jaunt west on the Long Island Expressway, and you’ll find Ontario products Jamie Lincoln and Jay Card killing it at Hofstra, where the Pride rose to No. 6 in the USILA Division I poll thanks to an upset Saturday of Johns Hopkins. Lincoln, a Denver transfer, had five goals and three assists. Card had two and four, respectively, in the Pride’s 14-6 win.

They weren’t the only Canadians on the field. Fellow Ontarian Zach Palmer, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound midfielder whose play belies his size, has emerged as a starter on Hopkins’ vaunted midfield next to Michael Kimmel. Though held scoreless Saturday, he had a hat trick in the Blue Jays’ victory over UMBC earlier in the week.

And how about Robert Morris? The Canadian-laced Colonials are off a 5-0 start and made their debut this week in the USILA Division I poll at No. 19. Three of their top four scorers -- Trevor Moore (12g, 13a), Corbyn Tao Brambleby (13g) and Kyle Matisz (11g) – hail from north of the border.

Heck, you don’t even need to be Canadian to experience the box lacrosse persuasion. Just look at what the Gibson brothers are doing at Yale.

The Bulldogs are 4-0 and ranked No. 17 in this week’s USILA poll. Matt Gibson (9g, 8a) and Brendan Gibson (8g, 3a) are both Long Island born and bred, but they joined Seattle native and teammate Greg Mahoney (7g) in British Columbia over the summer with the Langley Thunder.

“It was a rude awakening,” Brendan Gibson, a senior and Yale captain, said in the fall. “It’s a completely different game.”

Drexel stunned Notre Dame last week and went from receiving votes to being ranked No. 12 in this week’s poll. Stunning, that is, unless you check out what Chris Bates, now at Princeton, left behind for Brian Voelker. Freshman attackman Bobby Church, of Coquitlam, B.C., netted the game-winner on a feed in front of the net to seal the win in overtime.

This just in: the Canadians can finish. They won’t leave the crease with anything but a clean plate. They hone their skills in humid, 100-degree ice-hockey rinks, shooting on 4-by-4 goals. Cabin fever breaks in floor-wide brawls.

Just ask Gibson. “I got in one fight,” he said. “Somebody tried to fight me, but he couldn’t get my helmet off. The next time, he was successful, and we fought.”

Or Joel Matthews (St. Catharine’s, Ontario), the 6-foot-3 freshman midfielder who has given us a reason to write about Detroit Mercy, the only current Division I program in Michigan.

Or Ontario transplants Ryan Serville (Toronto) and Cameron Mann (Hamilton), who have brought instant legitimacy to Jacksonville, the first Division I program in Florida.

Even the establishment can’t help but lick its Canadian chops.

Travis Comeau has forced Georgetown into a four-man attack rotation. The Alberta product is too slick to keep on the bench.

Syracuse, the two-time defending Division I champion, was the original destination for Canadian stars. It’s not like the Orange has fallen asleep at the wheel, either. Cody Jamieson, anyone? Stephen Keogh?

It’s not just a Division I phenomenon, either. Sowell recruited Kyle O’Brien hard out of Whitby. He did it the old-fashioned way, tracking O’Brien in the Ontario box lacrosse ranks.

O’Brien ended up at Division II Dowling, where he currently ranks among national leaders with 19 points (11g, 8a) in three games for the No. 7-ranked Lions.

Surprised No. 8-ranked Mars Hill took No. 5-ranked Limestone to overtime Saturday? You shouldn’t be. Not with Canadians like Danny Farmer (14g, 14a) Tyler Farmer (16g, 8a) and Eric Benesch (16g, 7a) filling up the back of the net for the Lions of the South.

In Division III, Whittier almost upended No. 17-ranked St. Lawrence. The Poets, led by the nation’s top scorer in Danny McQuade (21g), fell in double overtime. McQuade is another New Westminster product.

It’s staggering, exhausting even.

Sowell likened it to the international influence in professional basketball, where the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Manu Ginobili are as accomplished as any American player.

“There’s been a Canadian invasion,” Sowell said. “It’s no doubt changing our game, and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight.”

Robert Morris head coach Bear Davis said the Colonials’ up-tempo style is a direct result of a recruiting strategy that targets Canadian players.

“They play with the shot clock all summer long, so they’re accustomed to getting up and down. They have fun,” Davis said. “It’s tough to recruit those guys and tell them we’re going to slow the ball down. They’re not going to want to come play for you -- the good ones won’t, anyway.”

Sowell is also an assistant on the 2010 U.S. men’s team that will try to regain the gold medal it lost to Canada. He enjoyed the verbal judo with McBride and Crowley during the Winter Olympics. And even though neither player qualified for Team Canada’s 23-man roster, former Stony Brook standout Rhys Duch will suit up for the Canucks.

In fact, U.S. colleges have helped most of the Canadian players sow their outdoor oats. Their vaunted attack consists of former NCAA stars Garrett Billings (Virginia), John Grant (Delaware), Zack Greer (Duke/Bryant), Kevin Huntley (Johns Hopkins) and Merrick Thomson (Albany).

But Sowell won’t back down.

“We’re trying to get something back that is rightfully ours,” he said. “We feel like we have a pretty darned good team heading over to Manchester in July.”

Take Five

1. It wasn’t a good weekend for the Gvozden brothers. Hofstra sophomore goalie Andrew Gvozden already lost his starting job and was thus denied another opportunity to play against his brother. It didn’t matter much, however, as Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala pulled senior goalie Michael Gvozden in the first quarter of a 14-6 loss.

My take: Message sent. Cue Petro’s annual love-hate saga with his goalies. Does Gvozden boast the mental toughness to respond to his benching the way Jesse Schwartzman did in 2007?

2. Amid an 0-3 start, Towson has its own goalie controversy. Junior Travis Love will make his first career start when the Tigers host Navy on Tuesday, supplanting senior Rob Wheeler, the Baltimore Sun reported.

My take: The clock’s ticking on the Tigers and head coach Tony Seaman, whose job is in jeopardy. And while Wheeler has carried Towson at times, his struggles between the pipes left Seaman with no other choice but to make a change.

3. John Grant Jr. missed the Rochester Knighthawks’ 9-4 loss to the Orlando Titans in NLL action Saturday for the birth of his daughter Gabrayel Louise, the Peterborogh (Ont.) Examiner reported.

My take: How long before lacrosse has its own Danica Patrick? If I’m an MLL or NLL executive, I would have already taken a late-draft flyer on Dana Dobbie.

4. Extreme weather continued to hamper the college lacrosse season. After blizzards in February and hurricane-like conditions in March, playing conditions have been compromised.

My take: Not to get all political, but um, global warming? I’m guessing former Notre Dame standout Peter Christman probably has an opinion on all this.

5. Despite the weather, Loyola University christened its new, $66 million Ridley Athletic Complex with a sold-out crowd of 6,000. The No. 16-ranked Greyhounds fell to No. 8-ranked Duke, 8-5.

My take: Huge win for the Blue Devils, who salvaged a tough week that included losses to Maryland and North Carolina to get back to .500. As for the stadium, Ridley just leapfrogged Northwestern’s Lakeside Field and Denver’s Barton Stadium as the nicest lacrosse facility I have seen firsthand. Even I got goose bumps coming out of the tunnel to see the grandstands, state-of-the-art scoreboard and plush club boxes overlooking the synthetic turf on Baltimore’s hilltop.

Then again, torrential rain and fierce winds might have also contributed to that effect.

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