Dickson, Canada 'O' Coming into Own in Grant's Absence
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Losing superstar John Grant Jr. right before the open of the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship when a therapeutic use exemption for banned medication was denied by the FIL, Canada had to scramble to come up with a new lynchpin on offense.
But rather than try to establish a single go-to guy that occupies a defense's attention like the hulking Denver Outlaws and Colorado Mammoth star, Canada has relied on the same strategy as the Hydra out of greek mythology (or Marvel Comic books, depending on your preference) – cut off one head, three more replace it.
Curtis Dickson has been the headliner, leading the team with 17 goals in six games, ninth-best in the tournament overall tops among Blue Division teams (Team USA's Rob Pannell, largely on the strength of a seven-goal outing against the Iroquois, has 16). Fellow attackmen Mark Matthews (14 goals, six assists) and Adam Jones (13 goals, five assists) have also proved lethal despite the absence of Grant, who has remained with the team in a coaching capacity despite his inability to suit up.
"Losing guys like Junior is tough," said Dickson, who had two of his biggest games against the Iroquois, scoring three – including the game-winner in the final minute – in the 9-8 thriller in pool play, then four in the semifinals. "But at the same time, we have so much skill on the team and big players in impact position and we've been getting better every game."
It has been apparent that the team needed some work coming out of the first game. After a quick 3-0 run to start the contest, the United States defense blanked Canada for a long stretch, going on an 8-0 run that more or less put the game away by the time the fourth quarter got underway. But with six games under its belt without Grant, they've been looking better and better as they have adjusted.
|Dickson, guarded by Tucker Durkin in the opener last Thursday against the United States, leads all Blue Division players with 17 goals in the tournament. (Scott McCall)|
In the semifinal against the Iroquois, Canada essentially did to the Nationals what the United States had done to them in the opener – going down early, but then grinding the Iroquois offense to a halt and holding on to the ball for lengthy periods of time – helped by faceoff man Geoff Snider's excellent 16-for-21 day – and scoring 11 of the final 13 goals.
"With John going out, it was a bit of a shock to the system – we kind of had to take all the plans we had as a coaching staff for the last year and a half, and throw 'em out the window," Canada head coach Randy Mears said. "But coach [Matt] Brown has done a great job, and Curtis has really had a tremendous tournament – forcing double-teams, moving the ball along. From an attack standpoint, he's really become our foundation."
Since Canada has become – like the United States – a team populated by players who have played both professional indoor and outdoor lacrosse as opposed to the box-heavy teams of a generation ago – they have reached a much more even playing field after the early dominance of international play by their neighbors to the south. Dickson played collegiate ball – as did Grant – for Bob Schillinglaw at the University of Delaware. Matthews was a local University of Denver guy, while Jones played for Mearns at Canisius. Midfielder Kevin Crowley was even the Major League Lacrosse MVP a year ago playing for the then-Hamilton (Ontario) Nationals, which was in large part a Team Canada outdoor pro team. They don't play together in that format anymore – with the team's move to Florida, many players were disbursed to other squads through trades – but they have the field knowledge and flexibility to be able to adapt and react quickly.
Fifteen years ago, the loss of a player like John Grant, Jr. would have very possibly crippled Canada's offense. Now they have the firepower to plug other guys in with enough experience to still give any team in the world fits, which is exactly what they hope to do in Saturday night's gold medal game having six games together under their belts.
"We've had some moments where you know we can do better on offense, but the talent we have on this team helps make up for almost anything," Dickson said. "When everybody out there is drawing slides and getting open, it helps you put the ball in the net more often and makes life out there pretty easy."
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