February 8, 2011

Indoor Influence Apparent at Convention

by Corey McLaughlin | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

BALTIMORE – During the last live field session of the US Lacrosse National Convention on Jan. 22, a goalie was dressed to the nines in his bulky box lacrosse gear, waiting to enter a drill. Jamie Munro, the former Denver coach and indoor pro, led a simulated practice with a group of field players, explaining during a 3-on-2 exercise how to "integrate the two-man game" into what they were doing and the nuances of picks. And grizzled Canadian national team coaches past and present, Johnny Mouradian and Dave Huntley, chatted off to the side.

Think the Canadian influence on the game isn't alive and well?

Earlier in his own speaking session titled "The Convergence and Integration of Indoor and Field Lacrosse," Mouradian, the general manager of the National Lacrosse League's Philadelphia Wings, a former five-time coach of the Canadian national field team, and current president of the newly formed American Indoor Lacrosse Association, said to a room of coaches, "I'm glad you all are here because you realize the big movement that is going on."

Indeed, it's hard to follow NCAA lacrosse and not see one Canadian or another darting around the field, and having a significant impact. More than 200 Canadians are at United States colleges playing the outdoor field game. They grew up playing indoor, or box, lacrosse -- the game played in converted ice hockey rinks featuring 5-on-5 play with goalies, 4' by 4'9" goals, no long poles, and a 30-second shot clock. And they've brought their unique style built from that environment to the U.S., leaving their footprint on the college game.

Guys like Tom Marechek come to mind and just recently, Stony Brook midfielder Kevin Crowley, from New Westminster, British Columbia. He is Lacrosse Magazine's preseason player of the year and was drafted No. 1 overall by the Hamilton Nationals of Major League Lacrosse the weekend of the convention.

Two of LM's preseason top-10 men's Division I teams, Stony Brook and Princeton, the latter coached by former Wings player Chris Bates, use a box lacrosse offense. It goes both ways, too. Several members of Team USA's 2010 FIL world outdoor championship team play in the NLL. The FIL world indoor championship will be held in May in Prague.

"If you listen to NCAA lacrosse games, what is Quint talking about? What are they talking about?" Mouradian said, referring to Quint Kessenich, the ubiquitous ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins goalie. "They're talking about the two-man game, the hybrid game."

The Canadian influence is real. But what exactly is it and why do Canadian players do what they do?

It starts simply with the fact that "we grew up playing with glass and the boards," Mouradian said. Indoor lacrosse is said to date to the 1930s when the owners of Canadian hockey teams sought events to fill their bowls or boxes – hence the name, box – in the summers. To this day, hockey is Canada's national winter sport and lacrosse is Canada's national summer sport.

The features of the glass and the boards and the rules of the indoor game lead to some behaviors you may see from Canadians playing the field game, such as:

1. Below-the-waist cradles

"You look at Canadians, they catch the ball, and they have a below-the-waist cradle and sidearm cradle. Everyone goes, 'Where did they learn how to cradle?'" Mouradian said. "We learned it from the glass and the boards."

When players step on the floor, "We would get up against the wall and just start throwing and rolling the ball. The ball would bounce back and we'd pick it up. As opposed to kids' playing field, they start to pass and catch up here [above the waist]. We learn how to pass and catch down here. Because so many of the Canadian guys played hockey they were used to this below-the-waist cradle. And our sticks are in our fingertips, rather than our palms. Everything starts with the fingertips so when we take advantage of the boards, rolling, catching, it's in our fingertips then we'll bring it up. We're automatically in our fingertips, not in our palms."

2. Aggressive passing; conservative shooting

"Our guys grew up playing box lacrosse with a 30-second shot clock in their head," current Team Canada coach Dave Huntley said. "What ends up happening is that Canadians typically pass aggressively, shoot conservative. In box lacrosse, if you shoot wide, the ball hits off the boards and [the other team] gets a breakaway the other end. In field lacrosse, you shoot wide, you get the ball back usually. Typically in field lacrosse, you pass and you miss, the ball goes out bounds and you lose it. In box lacrosse, you pass and you miss, the ball hits the boards and you're probably in a position to get it back."

"The 30-second shot clock is huge," Mouradian said. "In field, kids have as much time as they want. In indoor lacrosse, the goalie makes the save, you have 10 seconds to get it over -- and part of that 10 is 30 seconds to take a shot. You take a shot, the goalie makes a save, you get it back. Now you have 10 seconds to get it over. You don't have time to hold on to the ball and do all this stuff. You have to get the ball and bring the stick into the ready four position. You have to be ready to pass, shoot, dodge or fake and you have to make that decision really quick."

3. Two-man game, picks and screens

In close indoor lacrosse quarters, like on a basketball court, picks and screens are a definitive characteristic, much like dodging in field lacrosse. A two man pick-and-roll can have many variations -- brush picks, slip picks, give-and-gos -- that hopefully lead to an offensive player getting open.

"There's not enough of that in field. In field, everything starts from a dodge. In indoor everything starts from a pass, a give-and-go, picks and screens that create the opportunities to dodge," Mouradian said. "The dodge happens as the next step."

4. Fakes, including but not limited to those on the goalie

The concept of being a triple threat in the field game includes being able to pass, shoot or dodge. In indoor, it's those three plus faking, hence the "ready four" concept.

"Deception is by far the most under-taught thing," Munro said, while demonstrating winding up in the face of a defender to imitate a shot and passing over or around him. "People teach faking, but they teach it in the context of faking a goalie, or a specific fake for specific play, when really faking should be an overarching theme. If you want kids to manipulate the defense, wind up and you can see what's going on, see the field."

"Shooting on a 4' by 4'9" goal is a lot tougher than a 6' by 6'. When you're in front of the smaller net and there's a goalie with pads, now you have to fake and use your shoulders," Mouradian said. "There are different benefits of learning how to shoot on a small goal."

Knowing the concepts are one thing, but teaching them is another. Take faking or winding up on a startled defender, for example, which Munro taught the group of players that Saturday night at the US Lacrosse convention.

"Keep saying it and the kids will get it. They're not used to faking because most of their life they've just been dodging," he said to the coaches in attendance, putting an emphasis on the word dodging like it was sour milk. "If you can integrate faking into your game, it's like double dribbling in basketball. You pick up your dribble, you fake, you dribble again. You can do whatever you want."

The Canadian indoor influence is already visible. As more players are exposed to the style, maybe this is just the start.

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