International Men

July 18, 2014

Defensive Adjustments Power Canada Win Over Iroquois

by Theresa Smith | Special to | Twitter | World Lacrosse 2014

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - Faces etched with concern, sticks gripped overly tightly, and doubt creeping in. Welcome to the Canadian experience, amid a 4-1 deficit to the underdog Iroquois Nationals.

"Once we got down we were a little tight, and your mind starts to go to some bad places,'' admitted veteran Brodie Merrill.

Merrill and his long-stick defense crew proved to be a key part of the rebound effort in a 12-6 come-from-behind victory on Thursday night before a pro-Iroquois crowd of 7,889 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

After surrendering four first-quarter goals: a pair by Lyle Thompson, another by Miles Thompson, and the opening goal by Randy Staats, the Canadian defense did not allow a goal until 15:23 remained in the final quarter.

The defensive adjustments in front of 23-year-old goalie Dillon Ward vaulted the Canadians into the gold medal game of the FIL World Championship for the eighth time.

"When the buzzer went off it gave me goose bumps,'' said defenseman Matt Vinc. "This is my third time being able to play in the finals. We weren't successful in 2010, and hopefully we'll use that to get ready for a tough U.S. team that ran through the round robin and again tonight (22-3 semifinal rout of Australia).''

Canada 12, Iroquois 6: Gallery | Recap
Dillon Roy and the Canada defense shone in its mission to slow down the powerful Iroquois offense, pitching a shutout over a huge portion of the middle of the game after the Nationals went up 4-1 early. (Scott McCall)

Vinc, 32, again demonstrated amazing versatility playing long pole defense on a vast field when he's best known for stopping shots in close quarters as a box lacrosse goalie for the National Lacrosse League's Rochester Knighthawks.

"I like the opportunity to play field lacrosse,'' Vinc said. "It is a totally different game. In this case, I am just one of the guys who plays a role. The skill players do the rest for us.''

With 22-year-old long pole defender Jason Noble sidelined by an ankle injury for most of the game, Vinc's playing time increased, along with that of Kyle Rubisch, a rabid one-on-one defender. Together with Merrill and Dillon Roy, they were tasked with keeping in front of the cat-quick, dynamic Thompson brothers, Lyle and Miles.

"We wanted to really make it tough for Lyle to get the ball, and try to take him out of the equation as much as you can,'' Merrill said. "He's a special player. You can't shut him down. You just try to limit him, make it hard on him. That was a key, and our offense had nice long possessions, and Geoff Snider was a key at the faceoff X.''

Lyle, who missed his team's quarterfinal win Wednesday over Scotland to be in Los Angeles for the ESPY Awards, made a quick impact, sprinting from behind the goal for a wraparound shot that found the back of the net for a 2-0 lead, and scoring again on a low whipping shot for a 3-1 advantage. On a man-up a few minutes later, he passed to Miles in the slot for another goal and a 4-1 lead.

"Having that day off to think about this game, we were a little too anxious,'' Vinc said. "We were grabbing our sticks a little tight. The good thing is we have veteran leadership and a great coaching staff and we regained our composure. You really saw a good team effort those last three quarters.''

Among the keys to stopping Lyle and Miles scoreless the final three quarters was a smart, physical defense designed to deal with the zig-zagging brothers, who stand 6-feet and 5-11, respectively, and weigh 180 pounds.

"They've got a lot of chemistry too,'' Merrill said. "There's a lot of skill up front. It is very tough to defend. It is unorthodox, and they are very balanced offensively too. It was a big challenge. We tried to just make them play as much defense as we could, and do our best to keep it out of their sticks and control the play.''

Merrill, who stands 6-foot-4, and weighs 205 pounds, has lost a step at age 32. Consequently, his experience advantage was crucial against Lyle, 21, and Miles, 22.

"As you get older you get a better feel for the game and certain situations and you adapt,'' he said. "We have a really young team, so we try to provide some leadership, some steadiness there, especially in adverse situations. We went through it in the first half. There were some long faces there at certain points, so we tried to regroup and trust the process, and we were able to come through.''

Merrill managed to be physical while being whistled for only one penalty.

"It is a tough balance because you want to play hard and be physical, but they have an amazing man up and they are pretty automatic with it,'' he said.

Yet not as automatic as usual, as Iroquois Nation scored only twice on seven man-up situations as the Canadians communicated continuously to cover open spots and the long poles and middies were able to cut off sprints to the net.

"We were undisciplined to start and it cost us, but we were able to get over that hump and finish really strong,'' Vinc said.

As a result, Canada gets another shot at the United States, following a 10-7 pool play loss to the Americans at the start of the tournament on July 10.

Roy is among the first-time gold medal game participants for Canada. Moreover, he will take on Team USA in his adopted home town, having starred at the University of Denver and become a fixture for the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse.

"Colorado is my home, it has great people and it is a great place,'' he said. "Having the event here, having all these different countries come is such a great honor just to be a part of it, let alone be able to represent an unbelievable country. It is one of the most honorable things I've ever done.''

While the U.S. is favored to win its 10th World Championship in the 12-time history of the event, Roy is confident.

"We have developed chemistry and are peaking at the right time,'' he said.

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