January 26, 2014

Thul, Galloway Anchor USA White at Champion Challenge

by Sean Burns | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Related: In-Game Blog | 12 Who Impressed, Lingering Questions | Photo Gallery

Garrett Thul had two goals and earned Most Outstanding Player honors for USA White at Sunday's conclusion to Champion Challenge, the annual US Lacorsse event. (Scott McCall)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With one final chance to shine for the U.S. men's national team coaching staff, Garrett Thul made the most of it, earning Most Outstanding Player honors after helping lead Team USA White to a 12-5 victory over Team USA Blue at Champion Challenge.

"It's very cool to be able to play my sport at the national level," said the former Army attackman Thul, who scored twice in the second half as USA White widened a 5-4 halftime lead into the winning seven-point spread. "Going to West Point and serving, it's a very real thing to me. To be out here in a more public arena and wear the red, white and blue is an honor."

Thul was joined by USA White teammates Marcus Holman (two goals) and Steele Stanwick (one goal, two assists) in helping put the game awa in front of the fans in Florida and before a wider audience online at ESPN3, where the game was broadcast live. It will be re-aired at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday night on ESPNU. Ned Crotty led USA Blue with a pair of goals, including the only man-up score of the contest.

With the evaluation period behind it, the U.S. men's coaching staff will now decide who makes the next cut to 30 men who will train for the coming months leading to the Federation of International (FIL) World Championship in Denver, where Team USA hopes to win gold for the second straight tournament. The final 23-man roster will be decided prior to the tournament in July.

"[Champion Challenge was] a culmination of everything," Team USA head coach Richie Meade said. "There's a body of work that everybody came in here with. We've seen these guys play a lot. We've practiced with them more than anything else. We've lived with them.

"The guys that eventually get to represent the United States should feel a debt of gratitude to the guys that were involved with this training team."

John Galloway had a strong showing in net in the second half, taking over for Drew Adams after the break and allowing just one goal over the final 40 minutes of game time to anchor the defensive effort for USA White. Jesse Schwartzman and Kip Turner split time similarly for USA Blue in a goalie race that is largely considered to be neck-and-neck among the four candidates.

"They're all great," Meade said. "They're stopping the ball, leading the defense and all those types of things. It's going to be difficult to get down to the two we're eventually going to keep."

"It will be a nerve-wracking couple days," Galloway said. "It's been a fun process and just a cool priveldge to compete with all these guys."

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the faceoff battle, where none of the three specialist candidates stood above the rest this weekend after the withdrawal of Greg Gurenlian due to injury from consideration.

However things shake out, it's clear after Champion Challenge that the team that represents the United States this summer will be seasoned and ready to take on all challengers after a tryout process that has involved hard decisions for every position at every turn.

"However the coaches want to do it, they're going to put together a great team," Team USA Blue defenseman Lee Zink said. "They're going to pick the best team. The team is going to be awesome. They're going to play a certain style and select the guys to do it. I'm excited to play, if not, it's OK. I gave it my best."

The 30-man roster will be announced on Feb. 5.

"It’s going to be tough calling these guys," Meade said of trimming the roster. "Nobody wants to do that, but that’s what I got to do."

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