October 13, 2013

Split Canada Squads Impress vs. Denver Pioneers

by Will Cleveland | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

See also: Denver's Press Release on the event

BUFFALO – When goalie Brennan Donville surveyed his defense on Saturday afternoon, he couldn't help but smile. He also wanted to pinch himself.

Donville, currently a sophomore at Cornell, got to play behind a defense that included all-world performers Jason Noble, Matt Vinc, and Brodie Merrill as Team Canada conducted its first day of fall scrimmages at Canisius College.

"It was pretty crazy to tell those guys in front of me where to slide or where to move and then have them immediately do it," said Donville, who backstopped Canada to a silver medal at last year's U-19 World Championships.

Split into two squads (Canada Red and Canada White), Canada scrimmaged the talented squad from Denver University. Canada Red shook off a slow start to rally for a 14-10 win over Denver in the early scrimmage. Former Delaware standout Curtis Dickson led an explosive Canada White side with six goals as the Canadians cruised to a 22-6 win over Denver in the nightcap.

With the late addition of Chris Corbeil, coach Randy Mearns and Lacrosse Canada brought 52 players into this four-day training camp and will utilize the experience to trim the roster down to 23 for next year's World Championships in Denver. Billy Dee Smith and current Denver standout Wes Berg each missed the scrimmages due to injury.

Canada will continue its training camp with scrimmages on Sunday against Robert Morris and host Canisius. Mearns also serves as the head coach for Canisius College.

"We want to give these guys every opportunity to be successful on the field and we want to give them an opportunity to make a national team," Mearns said. "From a Canada Lacrosse standpoint, because of more and more players going down and having the opportunity to play in the NCAAs and getting coached by phenomenal lacrosse coaches, there are more talented guys playing field lacrosse. The lacrosse IQ has gotten so much better over the last 10, 15, 20 years. Because of that, everybody is good. They are just very, very good. It was hard to narrow the roster down to these 52 guys."

Canada Red shook off a shaky start to post a solid victory against Denver. The Pioneers jumped out to a 5-2 and then a 6-3 lead in the first half. Denver maintained .a 6-5 lead at halftime. The Pioneers took a 7-5 lead on freshman Tyler Pace's goal. After the teams exchanged goal, sophomore Jack Bobzien scored two straight later in the third to give Denver a 9-8 lead. Canada Red responded with four straight goals to take a 12-9 lead.

"It was shaky at first with it being the first time all of us have played together, first time having our sticks in our hands this weekend," said Noble, a former Cornell defenseman, who got to suit up on the Red side with his twin brother Jeremy. "Towards the end of the game, we really started playing well and came together as a team. I think we looked a lot better as we got to know each other's tendencies. It's just great to be out here with some of the best players and play against some of the best schools."

Canada Red had 13 different goal-scorers in the first Denver scrimmage. Ryan Campbell led Canada with two goals. Bobzien, Tyler Simmons, and Bailey Dodds each scored twice for the Pioneers.

Jason Noble noted that it was an honor to be on the same field as his twin brother and also Brodie Merrill, his mentor from Orangeville, Ontario.

"I never thought there would be the day that I would play with both of them again," Noble said. It's an awesome feeling playing with Brodie. I've been looking up to him for as long as I can remember. And then playing with my brother again, it's awesome. It's just awesome not playing against him."

Mark Matthews, a former attack standout at Denver, said it was just fun to compete.

"You have to impress (the coaches and officials from Team Canada), because they are the ones making the team," said Matthews, who scored an impressive one-handed goal in the opener. "This is more of a great to know each other kind of thing. We feed off each other and we've all played with or against each other growing up. We kind of have the same mentality with box lacrosse. We are just trying to feed off each other and help each other out."

Mearns said he was impressed with the team's ability to make adjustments mid-game, noting that some attackmen were able to show their versatility by lining up in the midfield.

"We want to see what everybody brings to the table," Mearns said. "Then we want to start to make some decisions to develop a training roster going into the World Championships.

"As Team Canada lacrosse continues to evolve and has a program that is not only us and U-19 but also has the women's side of things, we can talk about concepts and we can talk about a crease slide and all this terminology, because they all get it. They all have big-time experience. In the past, we needed to practice that for five or six days."

That level of commitment and adjustment was evident in the second game as Canada White came out flying. The Canadians jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first three minutes and were never challenged by the Pioneers. Denver, which flew to Buffalo the day before, was clearly winded after the first scrimmage.

Canada led 6-2 at the end of the first quarter and 11-4 at halftime. Kevin Ross and current Virginia attackman Mark Cockerton each netted two goals in the first half for Canada. Each finished with three goals. Former Ohio State standout Logan Schuss added two goals.

But it was Curtis Dickson who propelled Canada Red. He scored five of his six goals in the second half as Canada Red cruised.

"You are playing with some of the best players in the world, so they make it pretty easy for you," Dickson said.

Dickson noted that the Canadians were able to learn quite a bit after watching Denver in the first scrimmage.

"We saw how fast that Denver team is," Dickson said. "They are up the field in the blink of an eye, so we didn't want to get into too much a track meet with them. But at the same time, we wanted to take advantage of our fast breaks. I think that is definitely one of our strengths. They are obviously pretty banged up and a little tired as well in the second game. We played well and did the things we had to do and capitalized on our chances."

Overall, the Canadians have to be pleased with the first day of scrimmages. Of the 50 players who suited up, 25 of them scored goals. The depth is envious, but it makes the process of narrowing down to the final roster even more difficult for Mearns, his coaching staff, and the officials from Team Canada.

Denver coach Bill Tierney said his team will use this experience at the international level to fuel another run as the Pioneers look toward 2014. Denver got strong debuts from freshmen like Tyler Pace and Zach Miller and from returners like junior midfielder Sean Cannizzaro (two goals in the second scrimmage) and senior goalie Jamie Faus (strong net play in the opener).

"Obviously the first game was a little bit more of what we think we're all about," Tierney said. "No excuses, but these guys kind of unload on you bringing in the second round. For us, it's great. It's great for our guys to find out how real men play the game. They are physically strong. We really had to work hard for goals, especially in that second game, and that's a good thing. That will make playing against college teams just a little bit more bearable."

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