Canada Slams Slovaks in Indoor World Games
by Neil Stevens
PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Canada opened the world indoor lacrosse tournament on Sunday with a 27-1 victory over Slovakia, a newcomer to the box version of the sport.
It was an opportunity for the world champions to work on things.
''We know the Slovakians are a developing lacrosse nation,'' said head coach Ed Comeau. ''They played hard and we played hard, and that's what we said we wanted to do.
''We didn't want to disrespect them or the sport so we tried to play hard and give them a good game. I think they played well for the level they're at.''
Jeff Zywicki scored seven goals, Shawn Evans six, Colin Doyle, Rhys Duch and Jordan Hall three each, Stephan Leblanc two and Mike Carnegie and Josh Sanderson one each.
''Each game out we'll focus on getting better,'' said Comeau.
''It was good for our O and our D played hard. We moved the ball
well and ran some plays and tried to get ourselves in sync.''
Zywicki appeared to be in sync from the opening faceoff.
''It was a good start to the tournament for us,'' he said after his repeated success at the edge of the crease. ''We were quite a bit better than them so we were working on stuff in our own end and getting used to playing with each other. We played real well and did what we wanted to do.''
Doyle said it was all about developing good habits.
''You start some chemistry with guys you haven't played with before or guys you haven't played with in a long time,'' he said. ''Our defensemen get to know each other and you start to learn your systems. This whole tournament is about progression. You have to respect your opponent, respect the game and at the same time respect the fact you need to get better. That's our approach.''
There was a lot less rough stuff than Canada's forwards are used to in their NLL games but Slovakia's defensemen didn't shy away from laying on hits when they could.
''The boys were moving the ball well,'' said Evans. ''Slovakia is not a strong team but they pushed us all over the floor. We just tried to execute the basics on pick-and-roll plays and get ready for our next game.''
Canada led 9-0 before Slovakia got its first shot on goalie Anthony Cosmo. It was 13-0 after one quarter and 16-0 in the second when Brad Vrecko shot over Cosmo's left shoulder for Slovakia's lone goal.
''It was a good shot, actually,'' said Cosmo. ''It was a nice high floater that I wasn't expecting to go high and it went right over my shoulder. He was looking low and tossed it high. He must have been talking to Junior (Grant).''
There was a level of difficulty to his task despite the score.
''You knew given their level of experience they weren't going to get a lot of quality chances against our defense,'' said Cosmo. ''The trouble with playing guys without a lot of box experience is that they throw a lot of looks at you that you aren't used to.
''So some of their shots look like they're just flogs at the net but they're hard for a goalie to pick up because you have no idea where they're shooting the ball. Credit to them, they did a great job and hopefully they can expand their game and get better for possibly the next world tournament.''
Matt Vinc took over from Cosmo for the second half. It was 25-1 after three quarters.
''It was obviously a long game for us,'' said Travis Taylor, who is from Vancouver and who is coaching Slovakia during a pause in his tenure as field lacrosse coach at Bristol University in England. ''We're quite proud about the way we came out and played.
''The team has only been together for the last couple of months and hasn't had much practice time. They don't even have a full-functioning box in Slovakia so to come out here and play the world champions was quite an honor so the guys are quite happy about it.''
Stasho Mraz, Slovakia's goalie, went up to Leblanc after the game and let him know he's his favourite player and that he watches him play for the Toronto Rock via the NLL.com feed all winter.
''You're not going to be able to wipe the smile off his face right now,'' said Taylor. ''He's been waiting for this one forever.
''Our entire team except for two players is Slovakian born and bred. Our goalie was in contact with Team Canada for the last little while trying to get gear for this and to play against them was a dream come true for him.''
Mraz, 39, did not take up the sport until he was in his 30s.
''It was sometimes hard to tell who was going to shoot on me,'' he said. ''But it was a great experience. It was like a living dream.''
Vrecko, 38, played lacrosse growing up in Surrey, B.C.
''I played a couple of games of senior but I was cut,'' he replied when asked to what level he progressed. ''That was a long time ago. I'm over the hill now. But this was awesome. I've got my camera and I'm taking pictures. I'm really appreciating the moment because as an older guy these kinds of opportunities don't come around often. Hopefully, years down the road I can say, 'I was part of the start of lacrosse in Slovakia and now look at the team.'''
Lack of experienced coaching is a problem when Taylor isn't around, he said.
''The players have learned from YouTube videos and TV mainly,'' Vrecko said. ''They haven't had many opportunities for somebody with experience to teach them the intricacies of the game. That's why it's great that Travis has helped us out.''
Canada's players repeatedly complemented the opposition's pluck on their way back to their hotel Sunday afternoon.
''They made us work by buzzing around a lot,'' said defenseman Pat Merrill. ''They're actually pretty athletic and they move the ball around fairly well. We wanted to work on good habits _ keeping them in front of us, working on our defensive system and focusing on little things like not getting beat by ball carriers.''
''They tried hard,'' said defenseman Sandy Chapman. ''They're definitely learning the game so you've got to be ready for the unorthodox out there. It was good especially on defence to talk through it because you have no idea what they're going to try and do. We got to work on a lot of communication out there.''
Canada plays Australia on Monday and England on Tuesday. The winner of the group gets a bye to the Friday semifinals against a top team from the group comprised of the Iroquois Nationals, the United States, the Czech Republic and Ireland.
For the first-timers wearing CANADA across the chest, stepping onto the floor was a thrill.
''It's not every day you get to play for your country,'' said Mike Carnegie. ''Despite the score, I thought it was quite an honor just to play in the game. When you reflect back in a couple of years, even though we won by so much it's still going to be a great memory.''
Added Chris Corbeil: ''It was an honor to throw on the jersey for the first time to represent Canada. It was a lot of fun out there. The score got a little out of hand but we worked on fundamentals, which we need to do and, hopefully, we'll improve every game from here on out.''