International Men

July 12, 2014
Photo by Scott McCall
Photo by Scott McCall

Thompsons Lead Iroquois Road Show Into Denver

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – "We're just the roadies," Iroquois assistant coach Marc Van Arsdale said walking from the field at Dick's Sporting Goods Park with head coach Steve Beville and fellow assistant Chris Doctor after the Nationals beat Japan 24-9 in blue division pool play Saturday afternoon.

The headline attractions are the Thompsons. Beville surmised it's the lacrosse equivalent of traveling with the Beatles, and he's not far off. Every time Lyle or his three brothers walk into the lobby of the world championship host hotel where they are staying, young lacrosse fans and their parents flock to them, asking for a picture before the team heads off to a practice. In the waning moments of games, kids begin to line up along the front of the bleachers to ensure a good spot for an autograph. It's a sight to see.

Here's some of what's going on within the traveling roadshow:

Haina's Return

Jerome "Haina" Thompson joins brothers Lyle, Miles and Jeremy on the world stage in Denver. He has seven goals in two games. (Scott McCall)

Lyle and Miles Thompson are the reigning Tewaaraton Award winners, and older brother Jeremy Thompson played at Syracuse after a two-year stint at Onondaga Community College. But there is a fourth brother flying under the radar, and he wouldn't mind if you started talking about him, too.

Jerome "Haina" Thompson Jr. had also intended to play at Syracuse with Jeremy after leaving OCC in 2009, but did not make it after running into academic trouble.

Compared his older and younger brothers, he's been off the national lacrosse radar since, but hopes with a good performance at the FIL World Championship that he'll crack a Major League Lacrosse or National Lacrosse League lineup in the future. He's currently on the Rochester Rattlers practice squad, but hasn't played with the team yet this summer.

"I'll come out here and try to make a name and see what happens," Jerome said after scoring a team-high four goals in the Iroquois win over Japan. "It feels good to be playing lacrosse. I love playing it, and playing it at a high level. I've always grown up thinking I'm going to play at the highest level. That's still my goal. It's good to be out here playing against world-class players."

Jerome ran on the second midfield for the Iroquois in its tournament-opening game against England on Friday night and scored three goals. Against Japan, he was part of revolving door of pieces that subbed in and out while the team managed hot conditions less than 24 hours later. Among the highlights was a finish on the crease from a behind-the-back pass from younger brother Miles that put the Iroquois up 17-6 late in the third quarter.

"Thompson from Thompson," the public address announcer at Field 10 said.

It's a common refrain. Even more, their father Jerome Thompson Sr. is on the sideline as an assistant coach. And Jerome Jr. was now part of the autograph line.

"I can't say enough about it," Jerome Jr. said. "It's always nice to play with my brothers. We played in a couple box leagues here and there, but whenever we can get on one team together, is always awesome."

Wooden Stick Phenomenon

Top: Kevin Bucktooth with a wooden stick on the sideline; Middle: Travis Hill's lumber; Bottom: Adam Bomberry's short-stick.

Metal shaft, plastic head, how about hickory wood instead?

The latter is the material of choice of Iroquois defensemen Kevin Bucktooth and Travis Hill and short-stick midfielder Adam Bomberry, while defenseman Sid Smith blends the best of both worlds for his stick, with a contemporary head topping off a wooden pole.

The lumber symbolizes the obvious connection between the Iroquois' and roots of the game, as a small stick is placed in the cribs of baby boys, and wooden sticks, born from the land, dried, bended and shaped in a time-consuming process, are widely used in indoor games, including in the Canadian Lacrosse Association.

But their use in the field game is rare. First, they are heavy to play with and are generally considered tougher to handle than modern sticks, although the wooden versions are required to meet modern specifications just like any other.

And you need someone who knows how to make them. Onondaga stick maker Alf Jacques crafted new sticks for Bucktooth and Hill for the tournament over a two-year period leading into the games. The date 6-11-14 is carved into Hill's hickory on the head, naming the date of its completion. Bomberry's short-stick, a head stained a shade of orange and a natural shaft wrapped in white grip tape, was made in the backyard of Daniel Henhawk from Six Nations.

"They're pretty tough to handle," Bucktooth said. "Maybe about halfway through the game, you'll notice how heavy it is. It's got to be about 10 times heavier than a normal stick. But for the most part, it becomes a part of you just like a regular stick."

For the first time in the social media era, wooden sticks were on a national stage when Iroquois opened play Friday, and the lacrosse world took notice. Among the reaction, "I'd rather be guarded by a guy with a shotgun," Team USA attackman Rob Pannell quoted defenseman Kyle Hartzell as saying as they watched the Nationals' game against England.

Indeed, Team Japan and former Denver midfielder Andrew Lay came out of Saturday's game with some clear bruises on his forearms.

"I got a few of them. No question they hurt more than normal," Lay said. "It's all part of the game. It's fun to see them playing with it. It's pretty tough to cradle one of those things, so more power to them if they can handle the ball with it."

There is an intimidation factor in play, said Bucktooth, who also used a wooden stick the last time the Iroquois played in a men's world championship in 2006. The rest of the offensive players in the blue division should be on notice.

"You're not trying to hurt somebody, but it's a solid deterrent," he said. "If you swing a regular plastic stick, some of these guys are just built and big, it's like a fly hitting them. You throw one of these, they'll think about it next time. On more than one occasion, you say you're the slide man and they see past their guy that you're going to be sliding, they'll go the other way."

Bomberry said he simply likes the feel of the wooden stick better, and that the head never bends like a plastic one could, especially in hot conditions like Saturday.

As far as maintenance, Bucktooth said the main concern is keeping the cat gut that serves as one wall of the head -- connecting the top piece of hickory to the base of the head -- tight and free of impediments. And usually storing it standing up straight. If the gut loses its tautness, the bended hickory of the head will try to return to its natural straight shape.

"You usually don't leave it on the ground like this," he said, while talking about it and picking it off the hot turf.

Inside Scout

The Iroquois are now 2-0 in pool play with their next game 8 p.m. local time Sunday against Canada in what could be a wildly entertaining affair.

Lyle Thompson is the first player opponents try to game-plan around and he is running out of the midfield, and not starting on attack as fans may have come to recognize during his record-setting junior season at Albany. The Iroquois starting attack consists of Randy Staats, Miles Thompson and Cody Jamieson. Lyle, Denver rising sophomore Zach Miller and Jeremy Thompson are the first-line midfield.

How Canada decides to defend the Iroquois will be intriguing. After its three-goal loss to Team USA, Canadian goalie Dillon Ward said at times the defense need to trust their one-on-one matchups more. They also have zone packages to employ, but the Thompsons have said in the past that going that route doesn't bother a group that is used to throwing the ball around in tight spaces. Do we get a Brodie Merill vs. Lyle Thompson matchup?

Against Japan, Randy Staats had two goals and six assists and Miles Thompson had two goals and seven assists. Lyle had two goals, but was being rested throughout the game along with fellow first-line midfielder Zach Miller. Given the heat, mandatory water breaks were called for the Iroquois staff rotated players consistently, trying to keep them fresh.

Syracuse-bound goalie Warren Hill has looked solid thus far, and faceoff men Jeremy Thompson and Vaughn Harris have combined to win 55 percent, but they and the Iroquois defense will face its stiffest test of the tournament against Canada's multi-dimensional offense and draw specialist Geoff Snider. Of course, the nearly all-wooden back-line could surprise some and intimidate others.

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